Whatever you think frustrates you, the reason behind it is always the same. Unmet expectations.
When I talk about expectations, I hear people say: “Oh well. I better not have any expectations, do I?” In fact, there is a lot of advice out there that says you better not have any expectations towards your loved ones so that you cannot be disappointed. Other studies prove that low expectations generate low quality marriages and vice versa.
No big surprise here. If you begin your marriage with the happy thought: “I’m a bum, you’re a punk. And this marriage is going to stink,” chances are you’re not going to celebrate your gold wedding anytime soon.
Take that job thinking the best you can hope for is a raise in ten years and your career will be somewhat less than stellar.
Lower expectations are simply another way of saying: I know that person is incapable, ignorant or maliciously refusing to meet my needs. Instead of waiting for their failure, I treat them like the failure they are from the get go.
Keep expectations high then? You can. If you are able to keep your disappointment for let’s say less than an hour, you’ll live your life in happiest, highest expectation of your lover preparing the most beautiful dinner every day until you actually meet them and all they say is “What? Well, there’s some cold half eaten pizza left over.”
That means that for 23 hours you are in a better position than anybody who has lowered their expectation and spends all day miserably thinking about their failing ‘loved’ ones. The problem is that it doesn’t work. Chances are after the second leftover pizza you, too, lower your expectations.
No expectations then? Not really. Without expectations life becomes impossible. If you can’t get up in the middle of the night with the certainty that the laws of gravity are still in place, and the toilet is behind the third door to the left, your pee’s going to end up in your pants before you know what to do with it.
Expectations help us operate in the world. Strawberries are sweet. The man in my bed next to me is my husband. The kitchen door opens to the inside. Those are practical expectations and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. If at any moment your expectation is not met, all you need to do is adjust your response. Throw rotten berries away. Apologize and leave your neighbor’s bed. Get an ice pack for your head and open the door to the outside. Remove pee from the flower pot.
Suffering begins with emotional expectations. When you believe that everything that happens is about you.
The bus driver grunts. He hates you. Your cup cake is smaller than the one the waitress brings your friend (yes, really!). She thinks you should lose weight. It’s raining on your birthday. God hates you. Your children never pick up their socks. They hate you.
Your reaction to anything that does not conform to what you believe the world should be is determined mainly by how safe and grounded you feel within yourself. So, what do you do?
Detach from the outside and turn to the inside.
Start asking yourself one simple question: Does a really mean b?
Kids don’t pick up socks. Does that really mean they disrespect me? Could it be (I know it’s hard to believe) that a sock-free environment is not part of a teenager’s priority list?
Girlfriend laughs at another man’s jokes. Does that really mean she prefers him over you? Could it just be that he is funny?
Turning inside has you look at your emotional needs behind every practical expectation you have (there is always one!). Attend to them. Every day.
You want to be heard. Hear yourself. Don’t say yes, when inside you feel no. Don’t say no to what you feel inside. Take a break when you need one. Allow yourself to not meet other people’s expectations when they are not in line with who you are.
You want to be respected. Respect yourself. Walk away from situations that are unhealthy. Stop beating yourself up for every tiny mistake. Be nice.
You want to receive. Give. The most powerful reminder of how much you have is giving. Give without expecting anything in return. Just because you’re overflowing and it makes you happy. A smile, a favor, money, a hug, a message, a kind word.
Whenever you feel frustrated at what you perceive as someone else’s failure to meet your expectations, feel inside what your emotional need is and attend to it. The rest will fall into place.