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Letting Go of Expectations Is Good for Your Mental Health

One simple way to shift your perspective, and possibly your mood.

Key points

  • Acceptance does not mean that you sacrifice your dreams or your goals, but it allows you to be less rigid and more flexible about them.
  • Changing your perspective on events can change your negative feelings about them.
  • Distinguish between emotions that are negative and rigid (rage, anxiety) and those that can be useful (concern and disappointment).
adamkaz/Getty Images Signature
Source: adamkaz/Getty Images Signature

As we settle into 2022, many face uncertainty, including ongoing COVID concerns and the need to rethink how we work and live. As a result, our collective mental health continues to suffer.

Understanding just how directly your thoughts can affect how you feel will help you shift from unhealthy, negative emotions to a more flexible mindset. The benefit of shifting? You’ll build coping skills that can sustain you through hard times – whether it’s divisions over COVID, riffs in your family, or challenges at work.

Are You Being Realistic or Rigid?

For example, insisting that something must happen in a certain way or that someone needs to behave a certain way could lead you to feel anxious, hurt, and rageful – unhealthy negative emotions that can lead to self-defeating behaviors like avoidance or procrastination. That way of thinking is a reflection of being rigid and fixed.

Knowing that life doesn’t always deliver what you expect or that people don’t always behave the way you want will help you to manage healthy, negative emotions like disappointment, concern, and anger. (Yes, anger can be healthy – and helpful. As Audre Lorde tells us, it’s full of information.)

Instead of thinking something should happen, try thinking, “It would be great if I aced my presentation … but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I don’t.” Or, “I want my parent or friend to apologize for an insensitive remark, but I recognize that they may not.” This allows you to get to a place of acceptance — while still speaking up: Acceptance doesn’t mean that you sacrifice your values or become a doormat.

REBT Can Fuel a Radical Shift in Perspective

This technique is a part of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) – a framework rooted in philosophy and focused on perspective. REBT assumes you are a goal-oriented individual and supports you in reaching your goals. It leads you to check in with yourself, challenge negative thoughts, and consider other ways of seeing situations. It’s not about what happened to you, it’s about how you perceive it that matters — and changing your perception can change how you feel.

Life is full of uncertainty, and events tied to the pandemic are particularly challenging. Managing your expectations and shifting your perspective will help you to navigate uncertainty and be flexible, adaptable, and resilient in hard times.

Songs to Help You Navigate Change

Sometimes a bit of music (and movement) can make you feel a whole lot better. Try creating a playlist of your favorite inspirational songs that focus on being flexible, shifting your perspective, adapting to change, and even generating change. Crank it up whenever you’re feeling salty or stuck. Here are a few to get you started:

  • “Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
  • Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness
  • “Change” by Faith Evans
  • “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae
  • “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera
  • “Love the One You're With” by Isley Brothers
  • “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones