I want it! I need it! I have to have it! If I don't, I'm gonna... Thank goodness people can't hear what we're saying in our heads, because no matter whether the "it" we are waiting for is—to hear back from a first date, job interview, a store clerk with a price check, or just any mere sign of hope from the universe—we are going to sound strikingly similar to a child having a tantrum, even if we are dressed in a grown-up Armani suit with matching shoes.
When we say, "It better happen or else I'm gonna" fact is, the thing we're "gonna" do is get frustrated or, over time, even depressed. We create expectations, ultimatums and deals without making sure that the people who could make our dreams come true are actually in on the plan—whether that's ourselves or someone else. We say things like: I should have gotten that promotion, I was supposed to! Supposed to? Says who? Or, I should have gotten that 20-item to-do list done today. Really? That challenge would have been kryptonite to Superman. We are crushed. By what?
The real problem is that there's no handshake between our expectations and reality. We can't make people call us back, or make promotions happen, or get 15 hours of work done in an eight-hour workday. Yet we insist on having the exact outcome we were picturing in our minds. It's kind of like if a wish, a need, and a demand walked into a bar together, had too much to drink, and walked out with each other's identity cards.
You can't always get what you want. The Rolling Stones called it. But these words are as much disregarded as they are immortal. How do we prevent unmet expectations from derailing us? It's up to us to adjust our expectations to fit reality, to make the handshake happen. Reality tends not to make the first move.
Rather than expecting a refund when we are disappointed, we need to clearly distinguish between wants, needs, and demands. If this sounds too complicated, think of how you explain this to your child: "You don't need that new PlayStation 4, iPad 3, etc. You would like to have it. Your life won't be totally better with it, and it won't be totally a disaster without it.
So, the challenge in front of you is to tell those words to your inner child. Here are some strategies for making safer, smarter expectations.
Change Demands into Preferences:
Substitute the words I would like, I would prefer, or I wish for I have to, I need to, it must, it should. Notice your blood pressure ease. Rather than manufacture disappointment by insisting on something that either your life doesn't really depend on or that is outside of your control because it's up to someone else to come through, do yourself a favor and release rather than clutch.
Control What You Can:
Instead of saying, I have to get a job next month, say, I am going to send out 20 resumes, or I am going to follow up on 15 networking contacts. Those are the things that you know you can do. Will it lead to a job by next month? Maybe, maybe not, but it will create momentum and a sense of accomplishment and determination, and that’s what you really need to find a job.
Make The Covert, Overt:
I wish my husband would help out with chores more, I wish my kids would help out more; I wish my friends made plans more.
I wish, I wish, I wish! Like blowing out birthday candles, no one knows about those wishes except for you—so how can we expect people to come through for us when they really never got the memo. What’s the alternative? If you expect things from others make sure they know. Try to put your best foot forward. Rather than whining or complaining, be friendly or simply assertive (which, remember, is different from demanding), say: “I’m feeling really overwhelmed by keeping the house clean and I’d like everyone to pitch in more, because I think you all know what happens when mom is stressed. So, can you each please say two chores you will take charge of each week to help out?” It’s a win-win.
Patience is a Virtue: Dream Big* (Work Small):
Dream big, that’s what we’re told, that’s what we tell our children. But there should be an asterisk after that idea that explains that the way that we realize big goals is by small steps. If we hold out and insist that only the big win will do, well, we’ll be holding out a long, long time. Shift your expectations from the big picture to the smaller to do list. When we visualize smaller parts, that gives us options about what part we are ready to work on. If we are stuck on one part of the project, we can put it aside and find the part that we can do—the moving part. Or, if there is a part that we don’t like, we can shift to the part we do.
Get the Explanation Straight:
When things don’t work out as planned, rather than inventing sweeping conclusions that are off the mark about why, get in the habit of make sure you know the real reason. She didn’t text; she doesn’t love me. If my toddler is making me crazy, I’m not a good mother. Your first take at an explanation is going to be extreme and unfounded. Go back for a second try and find the explanation that is accurate. Sometimes you don’t know the reason why people don’t call back, etc, but don’t fill in the blank with something horrible just to have an answer. Often the explanation will come later: she didn’t text because she was in a meeting, or, I’m not a bad mother, I was totally sleep-deprived.
It’s OK Even When It’s Not: Give More Breathing Room:
If you’re ready for the expert slopes, try this: dare to make room for the possibility from the get go that things aren’t going to work out perfectly today. Say to yourself: I’m not going to get everything done on my to do list today, and that’s OK. Or, Not everything is going to run smoothly today, and that’s OK. Or, I’m probably going to be late today, or not answer all my emails, or someone might not be helpful to me today. Notice how you are not jinxing yourself, you are merely making room for expecting what is likely to actually happen. Where’s the stress in that? And you might even find that by easing your expectations, you go into your day less stressed and as a result, you more productive and efficient.
While no one likes disappointment, remember: By clutching very tightly to needing things to go exactly as we imagine, we usually manufacture it ourselves. The good news is that we can create something different, something better. Try these ideas and with more flexibility in your expectations, you just might find the other immortal words of the Rolling Stones: You get what you need.
©Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., 2012, Previously published on Huffington Post