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I was thinking recently about expectations. About how we get nervous, anxious, or worried about a certain activity or a conversation that we’re about to have.

And what I realized was that the, most of the time, the only reason we’re getting nervous, is because we are building it up in our heads.

We’re playing out entire scenarios of how we think the conversation or action will go. We begin to expect that certain things will happen. And those expectations sometimes end up affecting us more than the actual scenario.

“There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness and death.”
Fran Lebowitz

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Think back to a time when you needed to have an important conversation with your boss or your parents, perhaps a significant other. If you’re anything like me, you probably put it off for as long as possible, which gave you even more time to conjure up multiple ‘what ifs’ in your head.

You were probably dreading it, and imagining various defenses based on the expectation that it would go a certain way. There might have been knots in your stomach by the time you actually sat down for the talk.

But then what happened? Did it play out like you thought it would? Was the dread or the knot in your stomach worth it? Or did they quickly dissipate as soon as the line of communication was open?

Of course, I don’t know your life or the kinds of conversations you’re having. But as for me, my most recent example of this went far better in real life than any of the crazy ‘grave expectations’ I had for it.

There was a conversation that needed to happen and I was worried that it would go badly. I was anxious that not only would the talk be uncomfortable, but that a portion of my everyday life would be awkward as well.

I was convinced that the worst case scenario was going to happen and I was preparing myself for it. Preparing so much, that I was preemptively stressing out.

But, fortunately, it did not go that way.

All the worry, anxiety, and nervousness I had engulfed myself in were just kind of “fight or flight” responses to the expectation I had that the talk would go badly.

I built it up in my mind so much that I felt as though I was on the verge of a panic attack. But when I finally sat down and said the thing I needed to say, I was met with understanding and patience. It was such a relief.

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
Margaret Mitchell

I know, I know.  Things don’t always work out this way – sometimes it really is uncomfortable and unpleasant. But even so, is the stress of expectation really necessary on top of the stress of the actual situation? Because even in those situations, the discomfort eventually goes away and before you know it life moves on.

I’m sure there are people out there that might not know what this feels like. Perhaps they go about their day always expecting the best and never worrying that things could be difficult or uncomfortable. That must be wonderful – teach me your ways!

For the rest of us, I have a proposition: The next time we’re starting to get anxious and we begin building things up in our head by laying out ‘what if’ scenarios, let’s take a second to imagine a pleasant, perfect scenario, too. Just in case. I think that it might be a worthwhile experiment that, if nothing else, relieves the tension and preemptive stress for a little while.

I think that it might be a worthwhile experiment that, if nothing else, relieves the tension and preemptive stress for a little while.

And who knows – maybe building up a good scenario in our heads will actually help us to achieve it in the long run.

What do you think about expectations and ‘what if’ scenarios? Let me know in the comments.


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