As we were celebrating my birthday over a candlelit dinner, my husband told me that his company was demanding that he use his vacation days before the end of the fiscal year. What exciting news, right? I was thrilled. I immediately imagined him handing me an envelope. He’d look lovingly into my eyes and say, “Honey. I’ve been wanting to take you here for a long time and this just seemed like the perfect time to do it. I’m whisking you away on a 13 day trip around Europe.” My jaw would drop. Tears would pool around the bottoms of my eyes. My bottom lip would start to quiver just a bit. You get the picture, right? Man, I raised the bar on my expectation pretty high up there, didn’t I? So, when he told me his actual news of getting two days off, which couldn’t even be used sequentially by the way, I was well…. a little disappointed.
Disappointed? Did I just type that correctly? How did some really great news about my husband getting two much needed and deserved days of rest turn into a feeling of DISAPPOINTMENT for me? It’s all because one of the ugliest spoilers of the present moment…. expectations.
Have you noticed that you automatically set an expectation about an event before it even occurs? “We’ll go to this birthday party. So and so will be there so it won’t be that bad. But, I’ll want to leave by 9 o’clock.” “This movie is going to be AWESOME!” “I’ll go to this dinner but I won’t know anyone and I’ll hate every minute of it.” You are setting the bar on how you predict a future event will occur and once you do that, you are left with three possible outcomes once the moment actually arrives:
- If you set the bar too high like I did, you will be left feeling disappointed.
- If you set the bar too low, you risk possibly having a wonderful moment missed because you set the intent to be miserable. Or even worse, you didn’t even show up.
- The moment was exactly as you predicted- neither good, nor bad. Blah.
I’m not going to lie. All 3 of these possibilities are a big downer. By setting expectations on an event THAT HASN’T EVEN HAPPENED YET we sabotage the moment before it has even arrived. Crazy to think about but so obviously true. So, how do we turn the negative thoughts of expectations off? Become aware of them. When you catch yourself about to make an expectation about a future event, turn that thought off. By not having expectations of how we think an event is going to be we can just let the event be what it is.
Going even deeper into expectations, what about the expectations we make of others? We again set a bar and we can be pleasantly surprised (this rarely occurs), we can resent the person we were with for not living up to our expectations, or our meeting together will be absolutely predictable and boring and we will learn absolutely nothing new from each other. What if we just stopped setting the bar and saw each other for exactly who we are?
What about the expectations on yourself? These are probably the worst. Why? Because many of us set the bar at an impossibly high level. The bar of perfectionism is completely unattainable no matter what we do or how hard we work. When we feel like we aren’t measuring up to the bar, we are left feeling disappointed in ourselves. We are left feeling unworthy. We are left feeling like we fall short. What does this mean for us? It means that we are missing the most beautiful moments of our life.
The irony is that the closest thing to perfection is in being able to be present in the moment, which the perfectionist never attains.” –Mel Schwartz– A Shift of Mind
When we set the bar too high for ourselves, we only feel valued because of how much we accomplish or achieve. We have learned to value ourselves only on the basis of other’s approval and have become excessively sensitive to opinions and criticisms. Not only that, high expectations on ourselves prevent us from shifting into who we were created to be:
“Perfectionism is a crime against humanity. Adaptability is the characteristic that enables the species to survive- and if there’s one thing perfectionism does, it rigidifies behavior.”- Psychology Today
We have to remember that perfectionists are made and not born. We do this to ourselves by allowing our thoughts to set impossible goals for ourselves. This not only robs us of the complete joy that is ours for the taking on this earth, but it keeps us from engaging in challenging experiences and discovering who we truly are.
Want to really know yourself? Remember that you were created in the image of the Creator. You are worthy. You are enough. You are loved. Stop measuring yourself against an impossible, invisible goal and just show up, exactly as you are. That’s really the secret to life, you know. Just show up.