Last night and today, I've had a relentless headache. Not the migraine, I’m-feeling-like-I’m-going-to-puke-can’t-open-my-eyes kind of a headache. But, the kind that just won’t go away and makes it hard to think clearly and put two sentences together. I’ve taken some pills, used peppermint oil and done a few other things that usually help. Nothing is touching it. I feel like I could be coming down with something, which wouldn’t be shocking, pretty much everyone in the state of Tennessee is either sick or just getting over being sick.
What I suspect is going on with my head is a combination of the start of allergy season, not sleeping well for several days, and a stressful week. But, probably the biggest contributing factor is that I just went cold turkey cutting unhealthy food out of my diet. Particularly for this discussion, sugar. If you imagine sugar as an adorable little stuffed pink unicorn, well, you’re wrong. Sugar is far more like a lovely bride turned into a screaming bridezilla when her wishes aren’t met.
Having done this before, I know that in a few days I’ll feel a lot better. I know the brain fog, the headaches, the feeling-like-I’m-getting-sick symptoms will all go away. But, in the meantime, I still have to get a podcast episode recorded, several articles written, business accounting done and be a mom with a middle school sleepover tonight. Oh, and manage to cook healthy meals and not eat the three boxes of girl scout cookies in my freezer.
I love macaroni and cheese. The whole Southern United States loves macaroni and cheese. Here, it’s considered a standard side dish like french fries or green beans. Just as commonly, it’s a main dish. I love both box and homemade mac-n-cheese. Actually. Since I’ve been eating healthier the last few years, the box version now tastes like chemicals to me. But, my point is that I never expected them to be the same dish. They don’t have to taste like each other. I can still like them both.
Like millions of other people, I love bacon. I also love turkey bacon. Not as a substitute for bacon. I just like them both. Mentally, I consider them two totally different animals. Which, in fact, they are. I don’t expect them to be the same so it doesn’t bother me when they’re not.
How does this apply to life if you’re not worrying about the food you eat? What if you don’t expect one relationship to be exactly like another, even if they’re both within your family? What if you don’t expect this holiday to be exactly like all the holidays before? What if you don’t expect one child to progress, perform, behave, speak or dress like your other child? What if we can love things equally, though they are different?
What if it’s just a willingness to let go of expectations to make room for something new and surprising?
Yesterday, because of a project I’m working on, I had a lunch meeting with a local chef who cooks whole food, plant-based non-inflammatory meals for a foundation which delivers food to patients who are in active cancer therapy. She would not approve of a Thin Mints treatment for sugar withdrawal. Ever since I spoke with her, I’ve been thinking about how our conversation kept relating to expectations.
We talked about cooking classes she teaches. When she markets them as healthy, she has fewer signups. People’s expectations are that healthy food tastes bad, and who wants to learn how to make food that tastes bad? When she publishes a menu that includes, for example, lasagna, people expect a traditional dish. She once got class push back on a healthier version of lasagna and decided to do her version and a traditional version at the same time. The class preferred the taste of her version. Even though they expected not to like it initially. On the other hand, when she markets a class as “seasonal menu” people have the expectation that they’re going to be surprised and are more open to trying something new.
It’s all about managing expectations, our own and others. What if you approached something you struggle with, with a new set of expectations? What if you decide to expect this visit with your in-laws to be different? This argument with your spouse to be different? This holiday dinner conversation to be different? How would that change your attitude? Your own behavior?
This morning as my son was getting out of the car, we had this two sentence exchange.
“Have a fabulous day!” Now, I should explain that neither of us is morning people, I don’t normally say this, and I was particularly tired and groggy this morning (a headache, remember?). It sounds much perkier than it felt…though I totally meant it.
“Have a fabulous day!” I said. As he gathered up his stuff and opened the door, my 12-year-old son responds with, “I probably won’t. And look, a really big puddle right outside the door. Of course.” I love him, but he was totally responding Eyeore to my attempted Tigger.
What do you think? What kind of day is he likely to have? Science says it will not be fabulous. Even if he stepped over that puddle intending to have a good day, his expectations would dictate his day, not his intentions. He’s not always had a negative outlook. I’m desperately hoping it's a puberty thing, a phase that will vanish when middle school is in the rearview mirror.
Our expectations shape our reality in more ways than we realize. Not in an I’ve-manifested-my-million-dollar-salary kind of way. But, in scientifically measurable ways. Imagine for a second that he would go into school that day truly with the expectation of a good day. Odds are that his day will align with his expectations whatever they are.
Your expectations affect not only your behavior but others’ behavior as well. There’s a well-known study done in the late 1970’s and repeated since them that gave teachers bogus information about students. Some students were said to be expected to “bloom” academically and others not, when in fact there was no difference between the groups other than the teachers’ expectations. At the end of the test period, the students expected to bloom academically had. Their test scores were higher. Though they treated all the students the same, the teachers’ expectations had influenced reality. Years later, it was discovered that the teacher’s behavior was subtly different to those students which dramatically increased their success in the classroom. Their expectations had influenced their own behavior, which then influenced others.
Anyone who’s had a child crawl up on their lap and snuggle for a moment, look in your eyes and say, “I love you....can I have another cookie?” knows that manipulating other’s behavior is a natural impulse. What I’ve been wondering this week is how we can use our expectations to encourage both ourselves and others into healthy behaviors.
How can I use my expectations to influence my son’s positive attitude? How can I use my expectations to eat healthier? How can I use them to influence my sales or marketing discussions? How can I use them to influence what I believe about myself?
How can you use your own expectations to improve your life?