When my newly married sister announced earlier this year that she was pregnant, she was excited—and oddly quiet about it. She worried intensely and often (as I imagine most mothers do). She didn’t like talking about it. What if something went wrong? She didn’t want to jinx things her first time out.
That baby is now four months old and the happiest kid I’ve seen. He smiles easily and often, and my sister’s fears were all for naught. But the fact is that her fearful imaginings made things harder and more stressful for her. Her expectation—that something that could go wrong would, and that she wouldn’t be able to handle it—raised her stress levels considerably.
Your outlook is a product of your own relationship with expectation. What will or won’t happen, no one knows. And how we deal with the stress of not knowing, whether to hope for the best or expect the worst, the idea that our expectations always directly affect an outcome is little more than magical thinking.
Your outlook, in the end, is a choice. Some optimists claim to be born with a sunny disposition, and yet they still get to choose how they anticipate and respond to the world around them—which they have as little control over as a pessimist. The difference is that an optimist can always find something good about what happened.
A true dyed-in-the-wool pessimist, however, likely says he didn’t choose that outlook—the world has simply not proved to be worthy of more. Wrong. Pessimism is a choice, too. It’s also a last-ditch effort at control. Because, if things go as wrong as you suspect, you can say, I knew it would happen. Show me a person ruled by pessimism and I’ll show you a person who’s afraid to get their hopes up.
Here are a few ways to shift your expectations—and reduce your stress:
- Reframe stress itself. Jan Bruce, CEO of meQ recently posted a blog about how framing stress as bad can make stress worse—and so even your expectation of stress and its effects can take a toll (based on psychologist and researcher Kelly McGonigal’s work on the subject). Rather than worry that stress is going to screw everything up, learn to see stress as an ally. Your stress response, after all, is your body’s effort to cope with external risks and threats. When you can see it that way, and not as some outside enemy, you can reinterpret that stress as you rising to the occasion, rather than the world crashing down on you.
- Stop expecting people to agree with you. This comes from a great post (“7 Things You Should Stop Expecting from Others”) on inspirational writers Marc and Angel’s blog. If you go into every day expecting that there should be universal acceptance of your ideas and thoughts, you set yourself up for disappointment:“You are not in this world to live up to the expectations of others, nor should you feel that others are here to live up to yours. In fact, the more you approve of your own decisions in life, the less approval you need from everyone else.”
- Stop expecting people to read your mind. At meQ, Mind Reading is one of the key Thinking Traps that get people stuck. It presumes a few things: One, that if someone really loved you, they would know, and second, that it’s everyone else’s job to anticipate your needs and wants. This creates stress—not to mention tension in relationships. Speak up! Communicate precisely what you need and why before you get upset or annoyed. You can cut those emotional responses off at the pass, and change the nature of your day.
(Find out how to change your stress by changing your thoughts.)