Never Be Disappointed Again: A How-To Guide

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Let’s start with a word: Expectations. They can be so dangerous sometimes. It’s so easy, though, to muster up and place big fat expectations on ourselves, and sometimes worse, others and situations that are relatively out of our control. I say it’s sometimes worse to have big lofty expectations of others because, as we’ve discussed previously, it’s really hard (read: impossible) to control others. At least when it’s about us we do often have a little more control… sometimes. Anyway, expectations of others, especially really big ones: not good. People are not always as kind, generous, thoughtful, respectful, self-sacrificing, and as good at reading minds as we are… it sucks, and it’s too bad. THEREFORE, expecting others to be as kind, generous, thoughtful, respectful, self-sacrificing as we are is a perfect recipe for… you got it.

Recently I was speaking with a client who was absolutely dreading going to her family Christmas dinner this year. It was to be the second annual Christmas dinner with a newly blended step-family after a parent’s re-marriage. Last year the dinner was awkward and uncomfortable and she couldn’t wait for it to end, but afterward felt quite disheartened by the fact that her Christmas dinner was not special, not comfortable, and definitely not enjoyable.  SO, we decided to do a little exercise. We decided that Christmas dinner this year was again going to be awkward, uncomfortable and much less than pleasant, and that’s just the way it was going to be. It would not be a fun time, and for this one mandatory gathering of family, that’s just what it was going to be: No fun. No expectations. And guess what? She came back to see me afterward and as it turns out, the dinner actually went ok. Of course it was nowhere near the best night of her life… not even close. But it WAS doable, manageable, and just about half-decent, and she felt just thrilled about this.

So the moral of the story: check the expectations at the door. Leave them at home in the back of your closet, or in a storage locker somewhere. And if you must and absolutely INSIST on keeping some of your expectations, then you are only allowed to expect most things to go okay. Then, if they go great, then GREAT! And if they go terribly, well that’s okay because you weren’t expecting too much anyway. And if they go okay, well that’s about what you were expecting.

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A while ago I wrote this posting about being responsible for ourselves and to others. To sum up, what this means is that we are responsible FOR our own thoughts, behaviours, reactions, emotions, but we are not responsible FOR those same things in others. We are, however, responsible TO others. It is our responsibility TO be kind, respectful, understanding, and compassionate toward others.

It’s not okay, and it rarely turns out well when we try to take on someone else’s downward spiralling emotions and then try to fix them, nor is it all that useful to allow ourselves to get drawn down into and stuck in someone else’s muck. That said, it’s also not all that helpful or all that conducive when relationship building if we take on an attitude of “I’m going to do, say, and act however I want and if you don’t like it that’s your problem.” Don’t forget, we still do have a responsibility toward those we care about and value.

No, it’s not always all about them, and no, it’s not always all about me. Like most things in life, a healthy balance is what we’re aiming for.

The Dance.

danceWhile doing a little spring cleaning on my I came across one of my favourite communication tools for identifying and resolving issues with others. It’s called the Awareness Wheel and it’s a great little diddy for identifying what’s really going on in a given situation and then working through the issue – especially with someone you are close to like a partner, parent, sibling, or close friend.

We’re not always aware of what’s actually going on when in the crux of a conflict with someone (or even with ourselves) so using this tool can really help bring what we’re experiencing into our conscious awareness.

Picture a wheel with 5 pie-like sections.

And then it goes a little something like this:

  1. SENSE: start with what you notice – what you’ve seen or heard.
  2. THINK: these are your thoughts, judgments and opinions about what you think is going on.
  3. FEEL: This is what YOU are feeling in the moment – sad, mad, glad, hurt, afraid etc.
  4. WANT: this is what you want to see happen, your desires, your needs.
  5. DO: this is what you will do to help resolve the issue.

And an example in action:

“Based on what you just said I get the sense that there’s an issue here (SENSE) and I think we should talk about it because it seems to be creating a lot of tension between us (THINK). I feel frustrated and hurt when you blame me without asking me what was going on (FEEL), and I’m wondering if you could talk to me about what you’re thinking or feeling before blaming me (WANT) and I will try to be open and responsive to you instead of defensive or hostile (DO).”

It takes a little practice at first but it really works well, and is typically not a defensive or negative reaction inducing way of communicating. It can actually really facilitate an open and honest dialogue.

Give it a try. You could even practice it privately to yourself next time an issue comes up, and you’ll definitely notice how much awareness and clarity it brings to what’s really going on inside of you.

Just A Moment.

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I speak and write often of gratitude and of taking time to be grateful because it really is something that is so simple to do and yet so powerful. Being regularly and intentionally grateful for even the small things in life has been shown to significantly impact ones overall happiness and well being. It can often even instantly turn a sour mood into feelings of contentment and joy. It really can make a signficant difference – like I said, it’s pretty powerful stuff.

So then, I propose we take just a moment right now to close our eyes and think about 3 things about today that we are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge, earth shattering things. The small things really do count too. It could be that you are grateful that you start work 8:30am instead of 7:30am, or that you get off work at 5:30pm instead of 6:30pm. It could be that you are grateful for the workmate who invited you to lunch, or for being able to work in a quiet office, or for the kiss you got from your partner before leaving for work, or for the text you got from a friend just to say hi, or for the fridge that kept the leftovers you had for lunch from spoiling… I think you get the idea. Now it’s your turn. 3 things. Go.

More Than Words.

sunshineThis past weekend I partook in my new Saturday morning yoga ritual at the lovely little yoga studio just down the street from my house. Now I wouldn’t call myself an avid yogi because, to be honest, I often find yoga a little too low key and breathy for my personal preference – I tend to be a mover, a goer, and a doer – which likely means that participating in the slow and steady from time to time is exactly what would be best for me. I digress. Anyway, I have been getting myself to said yoga class quite regularly and have been learning to appreciate and enjoy it more and more.

This past week, though, something pretty profound happened for me. It happened while we were doing this odd little repetitious thumb up, thumb down exercise with our arms straight out to our sides. It sounds quite simple, but man it sure doesn’t take long for said exercise to start a no-kidding-around burn in the upper arms. And I know it wasn’t just me because just as said burning started to kick in, our cheerful and bubbly little yogi guru called out an important reminder for us to breathe. That helped somewhat – as remembering to breathe usually does. But soon thereafter the burning returned. Luckily, our little yogi had a second set of instructions: she told us to start thinking about turning our pain into power. That also worked quite well for a few moments – and even better than just breathing alone. THEN she told us to actually speak the words aloud: I AM POWERFUL. And. Holy. Cow. What happened after that literally blew me away. As soon as I said those words out loud and with the gusto and determination necessary to push through the burning pain power that was starting to feel unbearable, said burning all of a sudden practically stopped, and I became invigorated with a huge surge of thumb turning vigour. In that moment, because of the words I had spoken aloud, my mind and thus my body were literally convinced that I could and would be able to make it to the end. And I did.

The moral of the story: Breathing when we are distressed, in pain, or uncomfortable? Really good. Turning our negative thoughts into constructive ones? Perspective changing and extremely helpful. Actually speaking aloud affirmative words of truth and empowerment? Totally transforming.