"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

How to Reduce your Expectations to Reduce Anxiety

Image of water flowing over edge of rocks with sea and mountains in background with text: Expect Nothing, Appreciate EverythingDo you plan out every detail of how you want things to go?

Do you run scenarios in your head about what will happen?

Are you disappointed when it doesn’t work out as you envisaged?

“Not everything will go as you expect in your life. This is why you need to drop expectations, and go with the flow of life.” – Leon Brown

Expectations are when you believe something will happen a certain way, or envisage how something will go; when you anticipate a preconceived outcome.

Expectations can be a driving force behind negative thoughts and feelings.

There are different types of expectations: 
  1.  Expectations of others; 
  2. Their expectations of you;
  3. Your expectations about events or situations and how they will turn out.

Some of these expectations are conscious: when you hope that something will go the way you want it, or assume it will. And some of them are unconscious: when you’ve already experienced something and thus anticipation what to expect.

Problems occur when these expectations start to take over and you become disappointed or frustrated when they aren’t fulfilled — or you don’t fulfil those of the people around you. 

This can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, resent, anxiety and may even result in disengaging with individual people, or social groups.

For example: 

When I moved to Holland to be with my partner I realised both my partner and his group of friends had expected me to find my own way there, whereas I had expected to be supported by my partner and his friends when I arrived. This conflict left me feeling rejected by them on a very personal level.
Although the further expectations from them was that I would turn up and join in anyway, so I had to put my feelings aside and go along with it to be accepted by them and my partner. Often though it meant I would just stand alone and not engage.

In this situation I had expectations of people, and they had expectations of me, and in the end, neither were met.

In the end it led to eventual disconnect in my relationship; I felt let down by my partner’s lack of support, and he felt let down by my unwillingness to join in. I felt misunderstood, and he didn’t understand, so a circle of resent and frustration grew.

“All the disconnected people I know are trying to be something they are not, and do something they cannot.”- David Gayson

On a smaller scale, this can happen when you expect a certain reaction from someone. You anticipate what they will say or that they’ll respond in a particular way. If you don’t get the response you’re looking for you can feel disappointed. And sometimes you react to that feeling and make a situation worse.

For example, my partner bought me concert tickets to see a singer I loved and expected me to be overjoyed about it. But as soon as I saw the tickets, I saw the seating location — 4th tier! I suffer vertigo so this was an immediate worry for me.

He had expected me to be elated, and because I wasn’t, he became disappointed, first responding with anger and then withdrawing. When I saw this I felt guilty and chided myself, feeling bad I hadn’t responded as he wanted. Thus the entire situation produced a negative circle of reactions.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” — Shakespeare. 

Having expectations can affect all areas of your life: from school to work, in relationships with friends and lover, and also as a parent and a child.

When I became a mother I wanted to be the best mother I could be. I put myself under enormous pressure to perform a certain way to fulfil my own expectations and those of society. I had expectations of what motherhood would be like, but none of them matched up to what I was experiencing. 

I struggled with the responsibility, which made me feel bad about myself, and question my ability as a mother. I felt like I was failing. It left me short tempered and frustrated, which made it difficult for my child to engage with me, and for me to engage with them. It led to feelings of inadequacy for both me and my child.

Fortunately I sought help, and realised I was living to some predefined set of ideals, which I could change. I let go of all the preconceived ideas I had about what type of mother I should be, and started to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. I started to relax with my child, and to reach out and connect — and it worked.

“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.” — Mandy Hale

In all of these instances the common factor is that an outcome was expected.

I learnt the first step in changing this is recognising you are expecting an outcome.

The second step is train yourself into stop thinking ahead and planning out how something will go, or how someone will react (positive or negative). 

You need to remain open, and be okay with whatever might happen, without trying to foresee an outcome.

Once you have done that you can focus on the moment, the here and now, and not on something further down the line. If you show up with an open mind and no predefined idea about how something should go, then you are open to all and any eventuality — and in particular the opportunity enjoy it.

“Expectations are what you expect, not how things are.” — Eckhart Tolle

By reducing your expectations of everything and everyone around you, you can reduce the negative impact of those expectations and avoid feelings of disappointment, frustration, and also anxiety.

In relationships you can connect, rather than disconnect, giving everyone room to be who they are, and not what anyone thinks they should be.

The only response you can anticipate is our own. 

You control nothing and no one outside of yourself. 

You have a choice about how you react, and how you wish to show up in any given situation, so the best option is to relax and be yourself.

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