Do Your Expectations Line Up with Reality?
I have written in this column recently about emotional hygiene and doing the necessary maintenance on feelings as well as your physical body and household. Health reminders tell us to wash our hands frequently to prevent transmittal of diseases. Did you know you can “wash” your mood, too, and give yourself an attitude adjustment whenever you want to?
When I want to have a pleasant time with Richard, I know it’s important to manage my mood and keep myself on an even keel—if anything happens that’s disappointing, annoying, upsetting or stressful, I need to re-balance myself and not let it get to me or spoil the day.
Here are some ideas for how to turn your attitude around in the most common mood-disrupting situations:
Disappointment and Expectations
We all have high hopes and rosy pictures of the future when we enter a new situation or relationship. So when life turns out not to be perfect, things don’t go the way you hoped, or you find out your partner actually is an imperfect human, just like you, it’s disappointing. You may begin by expecting that your partner will always see your point of view, or that as long as you love each other, everything will be okay, but after a while, reality breaks through and you realize your expectations were unrealistic. If you feel you’re constantly disappointed and frequently angry, consider that it may be because your expectations don’t line up with reality.
No matter how little reality resembles your dreams, there’s no need to squabble about it. We all deal with many disappointments in daily life, at home and at work. In most cases, neither you nor your partner would argue with the boss, colleagues at work, or your child’s teacher the way you argue with each other. In domestic situations, you can choose your behavior in the same way—you don't have to argue with each other. Instead of bickering like children, use your grown-up self-control to pull yourself out of the argument. If you’re fighting over silly little things, remember you're having symbolic fights—it’s not really about who didn't put the cap on the toothpaste, it’s about disappointment, who is right, who has the most power, or who deserves to be loved.
Dos and Don’ts for Handling Disappointment
Okay, so you’re disappointed. Your dream has ended in the trash bin. You may want to lay on the floor, kicking your heels, and screaming; or go on a drunken binge, or beat someone up, but if you try it, you’ll find you're still disappointed, and all that acting out hasn’t fixed anything. Disappointment is a dead-end in your road; so you need to figure out a new direction.
Here are some Dos and Don'ts to help you:
DO put it in perspective: If you're disappointed, it hurts, but your life is not over. Look to your future, and see what you can do to make it better.
DO understand that you had some control, but not total control over this: With an objective look at what went wrong, you can make plans to improve your team effort, your skills, your spirit and then look forward to the next event. Don’t blame yourself for the things you couldn’t control, but change the things you can.
DON’T give up: You’re not a failure unless you quit; so don’t quit when you’re behind. Instead, get determined to do better.
DO try to learn from the experience: Every disappointment is an opportunity to learn from whatever went wrong. Replay your mental tapes of the event, and figure out how you can do better.
DON’T expect anyone to sympathize beyond the first few moments: Sympathy feels good for a short while, but it debilitates you in the long run. You’ll feel better if you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.
Letting go of Resentment, Discontent and Frustration
Discontent and frustration are destructive, because they give rise to hopelessness and despair. If you can’t solve problems, communicate or get along with yourself or someone else, you’ll lose hope that you will ever be able to enjoy life. Resentment and frustration rob your days of the joyous and happy moments. When you’re frustrated and hopeless, you lack patience and the ability to think clearly and creatively. The good news is, you can learn patience and clear thinking.
Learning to be patient and remain calm reduces and relieves stress and worry. Cultivating patience is really learning impulse control—it’s an issue in self-management. You can learn how to do “emotional maintenance” and shake off stress, keep on track of what you want to do, and let go of frustration when something is getting to you. Patience is learning how to wait and think before acting and made sure you understand the options and take control of your own ideas and decisions. It’s a growth process, a transformation of self through awareness and learning.
To acquire patience, learn not to act on impulse, but change your thinking and attitude, and reach out for support and encouragement. To learn the necessary patience and determination that enhances your communication, these seven steps will help.
Seven Steps to Help You Learn Patience:
1: Wait: The old advice to “count to 10 before you respond” is a great way to learn patience. Give yourself a chance to give your best response.
2: Use Perspective—put your impulses or desires in perspective—will it be important an hour from now—fifteen minutes from now? Most of them won’t be.
3. Self-understanding: If you are tempted to act or speak on impulse, understand that the impulse is normal, but you don’t have to be run by it. Reactions and impulses are suspect—it's how thoughtfully we act on them that counts. If your impulsive thoughts or actions ruin moments, they’re not worth it.
4: Take a longer view: If you’re reacting because someone upset you (e.g.: your partner hurt your feelings) give a little prayer of thanks that it wasn’t worse, say a blessing for your partner, friend or co-worker (who probably needs it) and you’ll feel better. If you are tempted to act impulsively, pause a minute and consider your bigger goal—then decide if the momentary impulse is worth setting back your goal.
5. Give yourself a break: If you act on an impulse before thinking about it, acknowledge what you did, then forgive yourself and get back on track. If you find yourself acting impulsively a lot, then maybe your goal is too rigid, and you need to allow a little more room for yourself, or to renegotiate the contract with your spouse. Find an outlet for your impulses where they won’t do harm.
6. Refocus: Impulses are often a reaction to outside circumstances—for example, being annoyed because your partner isn’t available, when you could enjoy using the time you have to yourself. Make sure what you’re doing is what you really want to do.
7: Celebrate: Remember to celebrate your accomplishments and all the times you do what you intend to, keep your promises, and work things out. Frequent small celebrations are a way to reward yourself for patience, and to increase your motivation to be even more patient. Complement and encourage yourself and others.
Adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6 © 2011 Tina B. Tessina
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.