First words I hear, early this morning: “Ugh, bad weather today.” Bad weather? “Tons of rain predicted later today.” Okay, so forget the picnics, going to the beach, sunbathing... Yes, I groaned and cursed as I tossed an umbrella in my purse and headed out the door at 8:15 a.m.. It is a Wednesday, after all: the middle of the work week, in the middle of a summer marked by record-breaking temperatures. Water supplies are low, crops struggle to grow, algae blooms bounteously across the lukewarm waters of the Northeast. Is today’s weather forecast bad, or does it simply not correspond to our expectations?
“Have healthy expectations” is one of those buzz kill bits of wisdom. It’s the grown-up hinting that the gift you’re holding might not be the brand-name version you wanted. “Don’t expect too much!” = a coded message that criticizes, judges, and dismisses our ecstatic impulses.
Of course, we also get scolded for having negative expectations. When people tell us to, “Relax!” aren’t they really commanding us to let go of a negative expectation? But what is a negative expectation, if not a survival tool, preparedness in face of a threat? Being told to ignore that threat can feel… threatening.
The concept of “having healthy expectations” may not have the brand appeal of yoga, mindfulness, or transcendental meditation. Yet if we look closely, we see that, at their core, each of these practices exhorts us to maintain healthy expectations regarding our world, our relationships, and ourselves. Stretch that body; but don’t expect to do a full wheel your second time on the mat. Sit in stillness; but don’t expect perfect silence from the world around you. Dip into that special state of consciousness; but don’t expect to maintain it in every moment of your life. Healthy expectations enhance balance, peace, and compassion.
As depression and anxiety are marked by low expectations, restless, manic states are by unrealistically grand ones. At the center of these expectation extremes is the luxurious brain state in which the pre-front cortex reigns supreme, guiding us to respond, rather than react, to the unexpected. Emotions are allowed to color and warm our responses, and the result is a display of the best human traits: analysis, problem-solving, demonstrations of compassion, empathy.
So, manage expectations, friends, preparing for what’s likely to happen, knowing that anything can. I may have known it was going to rain, but my walk home held an unexpected thrill : the joy of walking under an umbrella reverberating with the rock & roll rhythm of a torrential downpour.