Let go of your expectations
Most people assume that the solution to their emotional struggles is to do more:
The more you do to try and get rid of emotions directly, the stronger they’ll get.
Take sadness, for example:
A skill is when you learn how to do something in order to achieve a positive outcome; an anti-skill is learning how to not do something in order to achieve a positive outcome.
For example, let’s say the outcome you want to achieve is having a better relationship with your partner:
1. Embrace uncertainty
It’s totally normal to want to minimize or avoid uncertainty.
And for good reason: When things are uncertain, they could turn out badly…
Because uncertainty is pervasive in our lives, if the mere appearance of uncertainty at all makes you anxious, well, that’s a hard way to go through life…
Like any excessive fear, the antidote to fear of uncertainty is to stop avoiding it and learn to embrace it.
Think about it:
A couple tips:
2. Let go of expectations
Here’s the thing about expectations: it’s very easy to end up using them as psychological defense mechanisms.
That sounds complicated, so let me unpack it a bit:
Here’s another example I see a lot:
Do you expect that your children get straight As because you really believe that earning straight As and getting accepted to Harvard is critical for their success and happiness as a person?
Or do you expect straight As because it helps alleviate some anxiety or insecurity about your abilities as a parent?
Being self-aware about your expectations and the motives behind them is difficult because it means facing up to and accepting your own fears and anxieties. But ultimately, that’s the only way to deal with them in a healthy way.
And if you want to be truly emotionally strong, you’re not gonna get there by living in denial. It’s only through confronting our fears that we’re able to master them.
So the next time you notice an expectation bubbling up in your thoughts or behavior, ask yourself what purpose that expectation really serves?
And if you find that it’s mostly an avoidance mechanism — a way to make yourself feel better — find the courage to let it go and face those fears head on.
It’s not easy. But take out from a therapist — it’s a lot easier than having to deal with decades of pent up resentment, conflict, and lost intimacy that comes from holding on to unrealistic expectations.
3. Accept helplessness
One of our least favorite feelings as human beings is helplessness.
You know the feeling…
Actually, not quite…
The worst is when you’re faced with something awful, can’t do anything about it, but then pretend that you can as a way to avoid feeling so helpless.
See, even though you probably know worrying isn’t actually helpful to your parent, and even though you probably know that worrying leads to a lot of excess stress and anxiety in the long run, you do it because in the short-term it gives you something to do. And feeling like you can do something, temporarily alleviates your helplessness.
Of course, the long term consequences of developing a chronic worry problem far outweigh the pain of accepting your feelings of helplessness in the moment.
But like so many things in life — from carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card to eating a second helping of dessert — long-term consequences are easy to avoid when the short-term benefit is strong.
But if you want to build true emotional strength, you must be able to recognize and resist the temptation to immediately do something to avoid helplessness. Because more often than not, your helplessness-avoidance strategies will only make you more emotionally fragile and overwhelmed in the long-run.
Bad things happen and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. Living in denial about this doesn’t help anyone in the long run (and very likely will make things worse).
All You Need to Know
In the long-term, there are definitely positive actions that will help you build emotional strength. But when it comes to managing difficult emotions in the moment, it’s all about what you don’t do — your anti-skills:
by Nick Wignall
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Interested in taking some action to reduce your expectations and stop making assumptions?
Self-Help Book / Personal Development