Expectations along with underlying beliefs and other emotional factors such as anxiety drive the types of actions you take.
Expectations and Beliefs
What you believe about things shapes your perspectives and the expectations that you create.
Beliefs include ones that you’re unaware of and that manipulate you unconsciously. Figuring out these types of beliefs makes you conscious of them so you can figure out what to do with them.
Then there are those beliefs that you have a conscious awareness of but may not know just how much they still push you to take certain actions.
You can hold beliefs that contradict one another such as when beliefs instilled as a child can contradict what you know and believe as an adult. Those childhood beliefs still can and in many cases do exert a powerful influence.
Beliefs, and the expectations that arise from them or that are developed to counter one’s beliefs, help us create our experiences.
Expectations have the day-to-day power to move you forward, to keep you persisting, to make yourself feel good about yourself, or can result in suffering.
Expectations are a force in everyone’s life., but that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to them.
Expectations in Daily Life
My original thoughts on this post, the second in a series about taking back your power from anxiety and panic, had it going in a different direction.
That changed last week when I became aware of how expectations were operating in a couple of my co-workers lives as well as my own. Those expectations were causing suffering, and even caused one person to do something stupid and dangerous.
I work part-time at an answering service that handles a variety of businesses from the large and complex to some single person offices.
Here are stories about three people and the ways that expectations and beliefs don’t work to their benefit.
We’ve had some unusually hot days and an operator arrived for her shift in the middle of one.
She barely got in the door before she started complaining of a headache she had gotten mowing her lawn. She begged and hoped someone could alleviate her suffering with an aspirin, or some other pain relief.
Between answering calls she kept voicing all the things she was doing in her life, the amount of time it all took, and her hope that she’d be able to rearrange her already packed schedule to help another co-worker.
For one of the insurance accounts, we generate accident reports. It’s a time consuming process because there’s a lot of information that has to be gathered including lengthy and complicated vehicle identifications numbers or vin #s.
Communication challenges add to difficulty in getting complete and accurate information.
I expect difficulties and try to minimize them as much as possible by telling people when I need them to give me certain types of information in a specific way.
Though this co-worker is polite on the phone, when he completes a particularly trying call, he vents his frustration and anger to the room.
The source of his displeasure is usually that the person on the other end of the phone didn’t give him the information in “the proper way.”
When I asked why he didn’t just tell them how to give the information, he was adamant that people should know what to do and how to do it.
This last story is about me and the very stupid thing I did.
Though I had left the house early, traffic on my primary route to work was backed up.
I was going to be late. I didn’t have my cell phone with me, and as quick as I realized that I couldn’t let someone know I was going to be late, I jumped into action to take an alternate route.
Cutting across traffic the way I did could have gone badly, but I didn’t even think of that. My entire focus was getting to work on time and not about what could result from my actions.
What Was Going On?
How could I have been so stupid? What made me think that getting to my job on time was more important than my safety?
What was I thinking. and why did I let something that didn’t really matter drive me to such lengths?
On my safe and sane return home after my shift, I realized that my unthinking action had been an emotional response ignited by an anxiety-fueled expectation.
An old childhood belief of being powerless in the face of other peoples’ demands had been activated.
My co-worker with the expectations that cause him a lot of frustration also gets a lot of pleasure when most people fail to meet his expectations. Their failure is evidence of his superiority.
Yet, each time he feels superior it’s not truly satisfying. That’s because his expectations are sourced in his own feelings of being inferior in some way. It’s coupled with his inability to meet his own expectations for where he should be in life.
He has to settle for less when he wants more. It makes him feel powerless because he doesn’t know how to get for himself what he wants.
My grass-mowing co-worker is someone who has expectations more for herself than she does for other people.
Those expectations lead her to do things that make her unhappy and cause her to suffer because she’s always trying to handle everything – even when she doesn’t have to.
At the same time, they give her a sense of self that is based on what she does and how she does it. People value her for what she does and continually expect her to do more.
She complains about it, but feels powerless to change it.
Expectations and Suffering
What really struck me first about my co-worker’s stories is that I understood how their expectations were causing them to suffer.
That was followed by my realization of how one of mine caused me to suffer as well.
Had I been more aware of what my co-worker’s stories were trying to say to me, I might have been able to realize what was happening before I did stupid.
The reality is though that rational thought always takes a backseat to an emotional response.
There’s one other thing I need to share with you about my co-workers experiences with their expectations.
I’m very familiar with them because I had done in my life what they were currently doing.
While I was operating those types of expectations in my life, I couldn’t see how they were causing me to suffer. On some level though, I was aware that those expectations weren’t getting me what I wanted.
I wasn’t happy, accepted for who I was, and though I had had many successes, never had a deep-down, rock-solid feeling of confidence.
And underlying it all was a sense of being powerless to make any of that happen.
Expectations that you develop in order to create a level of happiness, elevate your status, or offset uncomfortable emotional issues only work in a positive way for a short period of time.
Initially you feel powerful and and feel better about yourself because you’re taking what you think is positive action that will get you want you want.
As time goes by though, things don’t change in your life and what looked so promising becomes just another method of suffering.
But . . . if that suffering is offset by seemingly positive feelings of being powerful and in control, then those expectations will begin to harden into actions that you must constantly repeat in order to maintain those “positive” benefits.
Expectations then turn into habits and ways of being in the world that don’t serve you.
And it all happens with anxiety’s help.
How Does Anxiety Use Your Expectations Against You?
Anxiety is damn sneaky. It doesn’t always hit you hard and force you to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you.
Plato said that an unexamined life is not worth living.
Anxiety says that an unexamined life is a gold mine of buried emotions that it can use against you.
And the nuggets that anxiety likes best?
Those feelings – whether you recognize them or not – of being powerless.
While you’re busy and focusing your attention on being in control and generating the power that makes you feel good about yourself, anxiety’s doing an end-run around you.
Day after day, it’s grabbing up and hoarding those feelings of unease, twinges of fear, and worry that you won’t be able to get what you want.
Throwing it into the crock pot of your subconscious mind anxiety slowly cooks up a gooey poison.
It slows your efforts, clouds your mind, while at the same time increasing your determination to work harder and get more of those “positive” benefits.
Getting a Handle on How Anxiety’s Using Your Expectations Against You
One way of telling if anxiety is using your expectations against you is to look at actions you take on any given day.
Actions fall into two categories: Wholesome and Unwholesome
Unwholesome actions: those that cause suffering, or have negative qualities and intentions, unwise actions emotionally triggered; perspectives that become skewed and change your focus, or cause tunnel vision.
Wholesome actions: ones that promote self-care, are beneficial for you and other people, make you (not your ego) feel good about the actions you took, or didn’t take.
As you take a look at your actions and drop them into one of these two categories, you may have some that you don’t think fit into either of them. Simply put them on their own list and look at them again later.
Once you’ve got your list, now it’s time to describe what you think prompted you to take the actions you did – both wholesome and unwholesome ones.
- What was the situation?
- How did you feel at the time?
- Is there a moment or a feeling you can pinpoint that caused you to take a particular action?
- How do you feel now that you’re reflecting on it?
- Is this something that you want to repeat?
That last question is to help you find not only those actions you don’t want to repeat, but the positive ones as well.
Recognizing the unwholesome actions you take brings them to your attention so you can examine them further.
The positive actions are ones that created bright spots in your day. They’re the ones that you want to focus on first.
Focus on the Positive Actions and Bright Spots
Why focus on the wholesome and positive actions that you took?
You want to do so because they’re the moments when you were in harmony with yourself.
Those moments tell you what types of actions make you feel good.
They’re tangible indications and small signs that bypassed your expectations and genuinely benefited you.
By focusing on your bright spots, you can tell your mind to help you create more of them.
Building positivity in your life helps offset anxiety and feelings of being helpless.
Rick Hanson calls this “Taking in the Good”.
Dr. Rick’s process can help you find even more bright spots in your life that you can use to boost your inner emotional strength.
Expectations built from a place of emotional strength help you take the wholesome actions that benefit you.
There is Power in the Small
The beauty of this process is that you don’t have to confront your expectations or make big changes to them.
The small wholesome changes you make – the small beneficial actions you practice – the small bright spots you create – they all combine together to create truly powerful changes in your life.
Plus, small changes help you create a foundation of confidence that helps you keep moving forward.
Right now – think of one time – any time – that you felt good about an action you took.
Bring that feeling up.
Keep feeling it and let it be the bright spot that will help you through your day.
Next step: repeat often!
For more ideas on beneficial practices click here for an A to Z listing of them.