Lots of our unhappiness stems from our expectations.
It’s a very human habit to form a picture in our minds of how the world should be. And then we sometimes get upset if things don’t work out the way we’d hoped.
This is such a common human experience that I catch myself doing it many times, every day.
And that’s the key – catching yourself.
It’s a bit like being Sherlock towards your own thoughts and behaviours. When you’re paying attention, you get a strong gut feeling when you’re acting in alignment with your values… or not.
I’ve found it’s well worth learning to tune in to that little internal voice, it helps you choose between right and wrong (by your own personal definition).
For me, I keep noticing that I unconsciously carry around sets of expectations about other people.
“They shouldn’t have said/done that.” Or…
“This event must go the way I want it to.”Bollinger, R (2019) – busy judging other people and trying to control the world.
(Note: sometimes this kind of judgement is entirely appropriate, particularly if the other person’s behaviour is falling short of mutually-agreed standards. But my contention is that judgement like this is usually unhelpful – it’s our attempt to impose our own internal standards onto other people, without their consent.)
When I judge other people harshly, it triggers a feeling of indignant anger. It’s dangerous. Very quickly I find myself wanting to take control of situations, imposing my will and controlling the behaviour of other people.
Fortunately, my self-awareness helps to me to re-centre.
I remind myself of the Stoic belief that I can only control myself, not others.
I take a few moments to pay close attention to what I’m thinking and feeling. I try to carefully choose how I respond, rather than reacting impulsively and fanning those interpersonal flames.
I aim for peace, rather than more conflict.
A Daily Practice
I am definitely not claiming to be an expert at staying calm. But I’m getting better.
It takes consistent daily practice, one small step at a time. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
“I’m not trying to be perfect, I’m just trying to improve a little bit each day.”Bollinger, R. (2019)
A few months ago, in my blog post “Crossing The Bridge” I talked about how I’d discovered that it was self-awareness that’s the crucial ingredient for getting where I want in life. It’s the most important factor in my spiritual growth.
The cognitive technique I’ve described in this post – letting go of expectations and returning to a place of calm – that’s a great example of self-awareness in daily use.
Sometimes the stuff I blog about might seem esoteric or obscure – difficult to implement in daily life. But at their heart, lots of Buddhist and Stoic ideas are eminently practical.
We just have to practice them!