The What If Experience

Explore a new "What If..." question about life each week with some thoughts, some answers and some action steps. Share my journey of personal growth and living in possibility.
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Now displaying: March, 2018
Mar 25, 2018

If our expectations affect our own behavior, the behavior of others, our relationships and even our health, then they’re pretty important. We talked about how disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality. But where do our expectations come from? What is it that’s setting us up for those differences and that disappointment?

We begin filling up our backpack of expectations from the moment we’re born. Some of us learn to expect attention, food, dry clothes, or snuggles when we cry. Some of us learn to expect anger or neglect. These are expectations set from experience. Other expectations are set by observation, how we see our friends and family interact with each other and with strangers in all types of circumstances. Where we live, both the macro and micro cultures we live in form expectations. Society at large sets expectations, norms and standards for us as well.

Today I want to talk a bit about those expectations, the ones set for us by society and culture. And I want to talk about it because those expectations translate so subtly into our own “shoulds” that unless we’re hyper-vigilant, can seriously affect our own sense of self.

What kind of norms am I talking about? We live in a curated world. This has always been true, but technology has made so much more of that world so accessible, that we’re inundated with the message more and more. Let’s talk through a few examples.

I’m a photographer. I owned a portrait studio for awhile and I also took travel, landscapes and dog portraits for years. I started shooting in college with film, left it completely for many years and started again at the beginning of the digital revolution. I’ve watched digital photography and processing come of age over the last few decades.

I am not declaring either digital photography nor processing an enemy in what I’m about to say, please don’t misunderstand. They are tools, tools that can be used to make great art, tools that can be used for social commentary, tools that can be used to portray emotion, portray reality, and to manipulate reality. This has always been true. Darkroom images were manipulated as well. Images that move you…so most photos that are used in media, whether that’s to sell you something or convince you of something are pretty significantly manipulated.

Many of us are aware of the degree of manipulation of images of women in print and we’re aware of the damage it causes. I’m not going to rehash that. Although, I may post an example of typical adjustments made to images before publication. It’s actually not just photographic processing that manipulates reality, but the whole process, including styling hair and especially makeup and lighting. So, we know that images of women in media are highly manipulated and damaging. We know. And it still makes little difference. We’re still faced with social norms of impossible standards. And we still feel the expectation within ourselves and from others to meet those standards. But, we can’t. It’s impossible to do so.

That’s a really obvious example, one that’s made the news frequently in the last several years. But, let’s talk about a few more. Think of every example of a beach you’ve seen in print, movies or online. Think of every example of images of Fall foliage shots. Think of mountain lakes and country roads. The images we see of our natural world are manipulated too. They’re curated to include only the most breathtaking shots and then those shots are enhanced. What are the images of the travel photos you see of your vacation location? They’re taken from the most flattering angle at the most flattering time of day. Is this wrong? Not necessarily. It can be if it’s completely intentionally misleading. But, I just want you to think about how your expectations are being unconsciously formed. Are your expectations of the beach, or the woods, or the mountains affected by the curated images you see? Of course, they are. Our world is stunningly beautiful. Grand. Magnificent. But, if your real life experience is being compared to manipulated, curated images, your experience might come up on the short end of the stick. Your expectations weren’t based on a healthy model.

It’s not just photography that does this for us. I’m going to read you a few paragraphs from a piece published last week by Robert Finch about his first experience visiting Walden Pond.

It was not until much later that I realized I had been disappointed, not by Walden, but my own expectations. I had read the book and then had gone out and expected the reality of the natural setting to unfold, chapter by chapter, with the same ease and drama that Thoreau had quarried out of it only after years of hard work fashioning the landscape into the stuff of literature. It was my first lesson in mistaking art for place.

What we see, or experience in nature depends, not so much on where we are as on an almost infinite number of other factors: how much we know, or think we know about a place, our physical condition and mood, the time of day or year, the weather, the wind, the sky, the clothes we wear, whether we are alone or with other people, and so on. But often the most important factor is how we have experienced a place vicariously before we actually experience it in person.

Most of us are, in a sense, crippled in our encounters with nature because our formative experiences of the natural world are not first-hand but “packaged” – in books, movies, television documentaries, museum exhibits, guided nature walks, lectures, and of course the infinite representations of nature on the Internet. No matter how informative or professional these representations may be, we are conditioned by them to expect nature itself to appear before us in a condensed, narrated, edited, illustrated, and above all entertaining form, one that requires no investment from us.

Here’s the thing. We expect our lives to unfold in that same “condensed, narrated, edited, illustrated, and above all entertaining form.” But they don’t. Our lives are not curated. Not edited. Not enhanced. The colors aren’t saturated all the time. The walls of my apartment aren’t magnificent. They’re not Pinterest or Instagram worthy.

When we allow culture to set our norms, standards, and expectations, we’re dooming ourselves for a life filled with a vague or not-so-vague sense of, “I’m not good enough.” I’m not pretty enough. Not together enough. Not stylish enough. Not athletic enough. Not loved enough. Not organized enough. Not rich enough. Not perfect enough. Not enough.

We know our friends’ social media accounts are a curated subset of their lives. We know the fights, the late nights, the falling apart marriages, the financial stresses, and the kids checked in to addiction centers don’t usually make our social media feeds. Our whole kitchens don’t look like that pretty corner where the Instagram image was taken and our kids only hugged for a second, bribed with an ice cream cone before adorable little Emily shoved that cone up Jennifer’s nose and an all-out war broke out. Again.

We know it.

The problem is that knowing doesn’t keep us from comparing.

This isn’t an episode about the damaging effects of social media on teen self-image, depression, and anxiety, but those statistics are becoming more available. Yes, this is an issue for teens, especially because their brains, their social skills, and their coping mechanisms aren’t fully developed. But, it’s an issue for adults too.

We live in a very false, highly curated world. If you let your expectations be set by traditional media, popular culture, or social media, your life is going to fall short every time. I just want to remind you today to start being aware of what is setting your expectations.

You will be affected by this curated world we live in. We can’t help it. I’m not suggesting you withdraw. I’m suggesting you be wise and aware of where your expectations come from. Be smart about the kinds of media you consume. Be aware of the intention behind every image, story, or entertainment.

Have conversations with your family and friends about ways you can reinforce healthy expectations with each other. Expectations about our relationships, our bodies, our homes, and our natural world. Base your expectations for experiences on values rather than appearances. So, make the beach trip about family, laughter and togetherness and less about the perfect accommodations and weather. Make the point of a vacation internal rather than external. Make the dinner date about exploration, new experiences, and learning rather than about the perfect meal in the perfect place with the perfect people.

Pay attention when you think, “I should” and ask yourself where that should originates from. If it came from your values and desires, that’s great, listen to it. If it came from your parents, your friends, your social media field, then evaluate it against your own values and desires before complying with its demands.

Do not let Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, or any other social media feed tell you who you should be. You do you. If you need a break from social media because it’s setting up damaging expectations in your life, then, by all means, take a break. I promise it will all still be there when you come back. Pay attention to your own expectations, and those you’re setting up for your kids, intentionally and unintentionally. Make sure those expectations are healthy for you and healthy for their future.

That wraps up our March series on expectations. Because April has 5 Sundays, I think next week, I’m going to give you an update on the changes I’ve been working on this year and how those are going. The good, the bad and the ugly. And then we’ll jump into another four week series for the rest of April.

Mar 18, 2018

When I began researching the topic of expectations for this month’s episodes I ran a quote search. And most of what I found were quotes like this:

When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. -- Ryan Reynolds

My life motto is basically to lower your standards and expectations so you're never disappointed and never put any trust in anything, -- Tavi Gevinson

Expectation is the root of all heartbreak. -- William Shakespeare

Expectations are premeditated resentments. -- Alcoholics Anonymous

The secret to happiness is low expectations. -- Barry Schwartz

No expectations. No disappointments. -- Anonymous

Note to self: stop expecting. -- Anonymous

The best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone. --Anonymous

That felt incredibly sad and depressing to me. If you never set expectations, you’ll never be disappointed, of course, but you’ll also never feel the high of meeting or exceeding expectations. It’s like suggesting you never get into a relationship to avoid being hurt. Sure, you’ll not be hurt, but you’ll never experience the joys of love or friendship either.

Protecting yourself from all pain is no way to live.

There will be disappointments in life, all different kinds. Last week we talked about relationship expectations and when they aren’t met, the disappointment that follows. Most of what we talked about was romantic or friend relationships, but plenty of disappointments happen in work, volunteer, or social situations as well. Pretty much anywhere there are people, we’ll eventually be disappointed in someone.

We can be disappointed in ourselves, too. I was a competitive swimmer growing up. When I didn’t place, didn’t get a personal best, or I swam poorly, I was disappointed. Our own performance can disappoint us. Or, we can be disappointed in our own behavior. What if you plan to eat well, cook a healthy meal, eat the healthy meal. And then snarf down the whole box of Girl Scout cookies in the freezer. You’re likely to go to bed disappointed in yourself. Not that I have any experience with that. Nope. I have complete control over my cookie consumption at all times.

One of the quirks of imaginative idealists is that often they’ll anticipate upcoming events with the vividness of a strong imagination. Very often, this imagined scenario becomes an expectation that reality just can’t live up to. Their imagination is always better than real life. Consequently, they experience ongoing disappointment.

I’m sure you’ve experienced all of these types of disappointment at some point in your life and to some degree. And probably others that I haven’t mentioned as well. I had a counselor once tell me that I didn’t allow myself to experience disappointment and I needed to. I’ve never been able to figure out if he’s right or not. But, it’s bugged me ever since. I probably should dig into it a little further when I have some time because as I prepared for this episode, I started thinking about times I’ve felt disappointment in my life. I started writing them down in a list. And I felt something unlock in my heart. I got a distinct impression that there is some buried junk there that needs unearthing. Some things I need to deal with.

But, what are we supposed to do with disappointment? How do we process it? Well, I went on a hunt this week and here’s a summary of what I found, five stages of dealing with disappointment. Like the stages of grief, there is no one perfect way to deal with it and no typical length of time for each step, but here are some generalizations.

Turn toward the disappointment, not away from it.

Allow yourself to experience it with no agenda, not trying to fix it or get rid of it. Just feel it. As you do, acknowledge it, don’t try to pretend it doesn’t hurt. It does. Realize that everyone experiences it and It won’t last forever. Writing about how it feels can help, so grab a journal or notebook and use it as cheap therapy. One of the key things in this stage is to label it. Consciously say to yourself, “I’m really, really disappointed.” or “Oh, this is a disappointment and it feels awful.” It sounds silly, but labeling emotions switches processing locations in our brains and helps to give us a bit of distance or perspective, allowing us to get through it. Which is the next thing on the list.

After you’ve done your share of feeling--at the point it’s about to turn into wallowing--you can move into the next step.

Accept reality and let expectations go.

This is the stage where you gain some perspective and begin to deal with the reality of the situation. Ask yourself, “how bad is it really?” kind of questions. Others can help you put it into perspective as well (Often they’re overly eager to do so!). Positive activities can help; exercise is great for helping to process emotion. Begin to dismantle illusions and untruths. “I should have” or “this should have happened” can be flat out lies that keep us from dealing with reality.

One of the quotes I ran across in that initial search was, “If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.” by Terrell Owens and that has some truth to it, though I’d say you’ll still experience disappointment initially. When you accept that reality is the way things are, you can then begin to deal with it productively and move past the disappointment. At some point, you need to choose to focus on what actually is and let go of your expectation in order to move forward.

Here are a few things that can help you make that choice:

  • Your desire for healthy relationships or to be healthy yourself. Disappointment, if not dealt with can lead to anger, resentment, and bitterness over time.
  • Your values. How could the personal values of open-heartedness, love, kindness, growth, or generosity affect your choice to move beyond disappointment?
  • Caring about people. None of us is perfect and we all disappoint others, intentionally and unintentionally. Deciding that a person and/or a relationship is more important than our disappointment, can help prompt you to choose to move away from disappointment.
  • Personal growth. There are opportunities to grow in all disappointments and desiring growth can help you choose to move on.

Reframe the issue.

Laurie Sue Brockway says,

Sports journalist Sam Weinman, author of Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains, has interviewed many public figures and mental health professionals about disappointments."The psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr talks about 'framing' events in our lives in a constructive way," says Weinman. "His point is that our interpretation of what happens is in many ways more important than what actually happens. If that's the case, Loehr says, in any disappointment we need to find something useful that we can build on, or that at least lets us see even the smallest positive." The more we can learn to frame in a way that's constructive and positive while still being honest, the better we are able to process disappointment.

One way to do this is to look for the growth opportunity within the disappointment. Ask yourself what you could do differently, what you can learn from the situation, how can you improve, or what do you need to change. Growth can be difficult and painful at times, but it creates positive emotions and outcomes, momentum in a healthy direction, and of course, actual growth.

Another way to reframe your experience is to separate your expectation from your real desire. For example, you’re disappointed that a vacation isn’t turning out the way you expected because the concert you traveled to see got canceled. Can you believe it?! You're crushed! So, you might identify the real desire of the trip to be doing something out of the ordinary and relaxing. Usually, the true desire underneath the expectation can be fulfilled in many different ways. Which leads to the next step.

Make a plan and act on it.

If your desire can be filled in other ways, what else can you do? In our example, what if you googled “interesting things to do in (whatever your location)” and decided on another activity that would be doing something out of the ordinary and relaxing, like going on a sunset boat cruise. Of course, that may not work if you're landlocked, but you get my point. Making an alternative plan and acting on it puts you in control of the direction of your emotions and helps generate momentum toward the positive. It changes our focus from passive victims to active participants in our own future.

And finally, after a big disappointment that you’ve moved past, I’d suggest doing some self-reflection.


Self-reflection is ‘meditation or serious thought about one's character, actions, and motives” It helps build self-awareness, resiliency, growth, and wisdom. It instructs us, guides us and informs us. Review the expectation, where it came from, and what went wrong. Ask yourself questions like,

  • What could you do differently next time?
  • What did you learn about yourself? About others? About the situation?
  • What patterns of this might exist?
  • What do you need to change?
  • Did you deal with it in a healthy manner?

These kinds of questions can lead to better and better choices in the future.

One more comment that I’d make about the process of dealing with disappointment before I wrap up this episode. Choose to communicate in a healthy way, with others and with yourself as well. Speak positively with an intent to understand. Choose not to participate in blaming, tearing down, or insulting. Choose not to allow circumstances to label you or anyone else. There’s a big difference in thinking you made a mistake and thinking you are a mistake. It’s very easy in the process of disappointment to say things you’ll regret or make judgments about others or yourself. Instead, choose to commit to using your words for good.

Let's review! The steps we’ve talked about to deal with disappointment were to turn toward it and allow yourself to experience it, accept reality and let go of the disapoointment, reframe the situation, make a plan of action and follow it, and self-reflection. I hope this helps you next time you hit a road bump of disappointment, but I hope you don’t need this information anytime soon. Until next time, y’all have a fantastic week.

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Mar 11, 2018

William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.” He might be right! Last week we talked about the power expectation has over behavior, both ours and others'. It can be a force for good, but like many things, it can also do harm. I’ve been thinking about how expectations are affecting my friendships, how they played out in my marriage and how they affect my current relationships. Here are seven “don’ts” that will keep your expectations from killing your relationships.

Don’t expect someone else to make you happy.

Have you ever fallen into this trap? The cliche example of this is the single person that feels that they can’t be happy or fulfilled outside of a relationship. Don’t let the fact that it’s a cliche cause you to dismiss it. Or, if you’re not a single person putting that expectation on a potential crush, you think it doesn’t apply to you. But there are other ways this happens. What if you clean the house up on a Saturday while your spouse is gone and they come home preoccupied and never mention it? Should they? Sure. But, what if they don’t? How does that affect your happiness that evening? What if you send a friend a birthday card and they don’t acknowledge it? I’m terrible about this. Should they acknowledge it? Yes. But what if they don’t? How does that affect your relationship?

What if you have a hobby that you love, let’s use fishing for example. My son loves to fish. I grew up on a lake, I love everything water-related…except fishing. I’ll happily lay around in a boat with you all day while you fish, but am totally uninterested in fishing myself. My grandfathers were both fishermen…the genes just seemed to run out before me. But, apparently, they’re trying to revive in my son. What if I got into a relationship with someone who loved to fish. What if their happiness depended on me enjoying their hobby with them? That happened in my marriage. I was supportive of my husband’s hobby, I just had no interest in it myself. But, his enjoyment of parts of it depended on my participation and enjoyment. Which, I’ll come back to in a few minutes. Here’s the summary, it’s ok to have expectations in a relationship, it’s not ok to base your happiness on someone else fulfilling those expectations. You are responsible for your own happiness. No one else is. You cannot control someone else’s behavior, only your own. You’re responsible for your own happiness, you can’t put that burden on anyone else.

Don’t expect someone else to always be happy.

We are so uncomfortable with pain. We do everything we can to avoid it. Physically, emotionally, and relationally. We avoid both our own pain and that of others. So, when someone we know, a friend, spouse or child is unhappy, we tend to respond in one of three ways: we avoid it, we put limits on it, or we try to fix it. Often, we flat out avoid it. This looks like not calling a friend who is grieving or sad. It looks like telling a significant other, “ok, I’ll just give you some space until you’re feeling better.” Not in an I’ve-asked-you-and-you-want-space kind of way, but in a “this-is-uncomfortable-and-I’m-getting-out-of-here kind of way. Or, we try to fix someone’s pain. There’s plenty of time for advice or suggestions, just be sure that the advice you want to share has been invited. And lastly, we often put limits on others’ pain. You’ve grieved long enough. You’ve been sad about that long enough. You’ve been depressed long enough. Maybe they have or maybe they haven’t. Allow others to experience their pain their way for as long as they need. People need permission and ability to feel the whole range of emotions. Do not expect them to always be happy. And don’t take responsibility for their happiness. Your happiness is your responsibility and theirs is theirs. What should you do? Be with people in pain, help people in pain, and love people in pain.

Don’t expect others to read your mind.

Remember when I mentioned a bit ago that my husband expected me to enjoy his hobby with him? It was car racing. He loved all things mechanical and automotive. Me, not so much. I’m as non-mechanical as you can get and I’d rather be reading, hiking, painting or sewing than doing anything with cars. This caused some friction in our relationship. Not because I was unsupportive. But, because he expected me to enjoy it with him to a greater degree than I was able. He envisioned us attending car club meetings together and going away all the time for summer racing weekends with other car people. The problem was that I had no idea that these expectations existed. Have you ever done that? Had expectations of someone else that you failed to communicate and then as a result, when your expectations weren’t met, you know, the ones they didn’t even know about? You were disappointed, angry or over time, resentful? We all have. Sometimes we don’t even realize our own expectations exist.

This is a huge problem. No matter how well you know each other, no one reads minds. Communicate your expectations clearly. Sometimes the expectations aren’t a problem…if both parties know what they are. Sometimes the expectation is a problem, in which case knowing about it can lead to resolution instead of anger and resentment.

Don’t expect others to do things the right way…if the only right way is your way.

This is another one that’s easy to shrug off as extreme. Of course, you let other people do things their way! But, are there expectations they need to live up to? If they don’t, do they pay for that in any way? Do you let them know they didn’t meet your expectations? I’m not suggesting that you don’t have discussions in any relationship about expectations not being met…but have healthy discussions about it.

The cliche, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” Comes from some nugget of truth, right? But, if you’re doing all the things all yourself because there’s no room in your world for things done differently, then your relationship will suffer. Burnout and resentment aren’t good for any relationship.

Don’t expect the people in your life to agree with you all the time about everything.

As much as social media begs to differ, we actually can agree to disagree with other people. We can actually love people who disagree with us. Shockingly, we can even like people who think differently than we do. No relationship is going to exist in which you agree on everything. It’s just not. Maybe if you hung out with your clone all the time, but, seriously, how boring would that be? Our differences are what make us unique and interesting. Treat them with respect. Not just the other opinions or ideas. But, the people who hold those opinions and ideas.

Don’t expect perfection.

It will never exist. Not in yourself and not in others. No one can live up to that standard. We’re imperfect beings in imperfect relationships. Understand that, be willing to treat failures with understanding, openness, effort, and grace and you’ll go a long way toward a healthy relationship.

Lastly, don’t expect others to have the same idea of what your relationship should be as you do.

We come to our relationships with different needs, interests, intentions, backgrounds, habits, and values. Even people who grew up in the same family may have different perspectives on what any given relationship should look like. Siblings might disagree on what relationships with their parents should be. Friends might disagree on how much contact is expected in their relationship. There are a thousand different ways we could have different expectations about what a relationship should be like.

You can’t control anyone but yourself. You can’t make them share your perspective. You can try to figure out what each of your relationship expectations is and try to come to a common ground. This takes effort on both sides.

Those are seven pitfalls we can sabotage our relationships with by having unhealthy expectations. What can you do? Here are three ideas:

  • Really pay attention and take responsibility for how your expectations are affecting your relationships.
  • Commit to making any adjustments you need in your own behavior.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. And commit to doing it in healthy ways.

So, what happens when we let expectations get the best of us? When there’s a gap between our expectations and reality? That’s where disappointment, anger, and resentment can live. Next week, we’ll talk about how to handle unmet expectations.

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Mar 4, 2018

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?