“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.”
Appreciating What “Is” to Avoid Being Disappointed By What “Should Be”
Unmet expectations are the WORST!
We’ve all been there: the land of disappointment.
- The guy you thought looked great “on paper” turned out to be less than perfect.
- Rather than the picturesque “married life” you expected, your lived reality is a marriage on the rocks.
- The sunny beach vacation you planned for ended up looking more like monsoon season.
- The excitement of a “fresh start” with the new move has been replaced with loneliness as you struggle to find new friends.
- The baby you expected to bring an abundance of joy to your family has actually been really challenging and is a source of tension between you and your spouse.
It’s not a fun place to be.
Yet often, that’s exactly where we find ourselves: in Disappointment Valley.
Special Occasions Can Be Set-Ups for Disappointment
I don’t know about you, but the anticipation of special events, celebrations, or other mile-markers have left me particularly susceptible for disappointment in the past.
Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, …any special celebration or milestone often caused me to place high expectations on the outcomes of such events. I would put SO much pressure on these days without even realizing it.
For example, for birthdays in years past, I’d have grand, well-thought-up plans of how I pictured the day panning out.
But what happened instead?
- People I expected to wish me well forgot to reach out.
- The surprise party to celebrate with friends looked more like dinner out alone with Sean.
- The gift I hoped for remained on the wish list.
- The goals I had for my “well-though-out” life plan remained unfulfilled (this is especially true on “milestone” birthdays…such on my 30th when I remained childless, despite my expectations to have kids no later than year 30).
Birthday let-downs and squelched wishes.
Some times, I was able to swallow my disappointments and salvage the birthday.
But more often than not? There were hurt feelings and tears over my unrealized birthday dreams.
Have you been there, Friend?
A New Approach This Birthday
This past Friday, I celebrated my birthday (August 2nd) with my husband Sean and fur baby, Chloe.
I’ve been let down by birthdays in years past. This birthday, however, looked very different. This Leo was not left disappointed on her birthday this year.
The fact that my birthday did not disappoint had little to do with Sean’s level of effort.
I am married to one very thoughtful husband. Sean does little things like this in the normal “every day” kind of life to demonstrate his love.
For example, Sean is the kind of guy who wakes up early each day (even after the occasional night spent working into the wee hours) to make sure I have an expertly crafted cup of coffee to enjoy during my morning quiet time.
So, it probably comes at no surprise that Sean likes to make me feel special and he really “dials up the love” on birthdays, anniversaries, and other monumental events. And this birthday was no exception to Sean’s regular MO: he spoiled me rotten.
But my ability to enjoy the weekend had less to do with what Sean had planned for the day and more to do with my own mindset.
Sean’s plans and surprises for my birthday were no less or more substantial than years past.
However, there have been past birthdays or other special occasions wherein my mindset prevented me from truly appreciating all that Sean had planned.
Sometimes I fell victim to the trap of focusing on how his plans failed to meet the expectations of what I had hoped for. Which prevented me from being grateful for the special things he did have planned.
This birthday, I chose a different approach:
- I was intent on being grateful for whatever played out.
- I decided I wasn’t going to place any expectations on my special day.
- I was determined to find joy in whatever he planned for us to celebrate.
The end result?
My birthday weekend was full of fun, love, gratitude, and oh so much appreciation.
I was not left disappointed in the least bit.
I won’t bore you with all the details around my birthday weekend. But in case you’re interested, here are a few highlights:
Sean kicked off the day with a line-up of what he coined as “Rachael’s favorite things.”
Gift #1 was filled with travel sized “minis”…revealing the fact that we were headed out of town. The destination? One of my favorite spots in wine country: Downtown Healdsburg.
So after treating me to a fun-filled Friday night out (including a happy hour at True Laurel and dinner out at Roka Akor, a Japanese sushi/steakhouse)…we packed our bags and hit the road for an overnight stay in Healdsburg.
- There was wine tasting.
- There was sunny, summer weather (and MAN was it HOT!).
- There was bocce ball.
- And delicious food.
- And shopping the square.
- And lots of laughter and fun.
It was a birthday of connection, love, and appreciation.
Disappointment did not reign on this girl’s birthday parade.
Disappointment Isn’t Always Unavoidable
We can do our part to avoid ingratitude by doing our best to tie our expectations to particular outcomes.
However, the truth of the matter is: wan’t avoid disappoint in life altogether. Frankly, it’s impossible to do so.
We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. The fact of the matter is: disappointments will happen in life. As Jesus pointed out, we can expect troubles in this world. (John 16:33)
Don’t let this fact completely bum you out.
You see, we may not be able to avoid letdowns altogether; however, we can avoid negative mindsets and reactions.
Even in the wake of a let-down, we have the ability to adjust our mindsets and perspectives so as to ride out disappointments with grace. And even avoid the emotional bumpy path of unrealized expectations.
This birthday, I was able to avoid disappointment in large part because I remembered to implement three mindfulness tactics to help my mind remain geared for gratitude.
I’ve been practicing these mindset strategies for some time now to help train me to find joy in the “what is” present moments (vs. focusing on what “should” be or “should” have been). These three little nuggets of goodness have rescued me from grief on several occasions…including this past birthday.
Try out these three strategies for yourself. My hope is that these tactics will help you find more joy in the “what is” in the days to come as well.
3 Strategies to Gear Your Mind for Gratitude & Embrace the “What Is”
Strategy #1: Proactively step into thankfulness with a gratitude practice.
Did you know that our brains are wired with a “negativity bias?” Our brains are simply more sensitive to negative things.
Think about it. When you receive feedback about your work performance, where does your mind naturally focus? Well if you’re like most of us, the negative, right? Your mind ruminates over that one little comment about an area where you stand to improve, quickly dismissing the many areas where you’ve been told you’re excelling.
Our minds are naturally geared to focus on the negative. Which is why I think it’s important for to train ourselves to seek out the positive with intent.
One practice that has helped me immensely in developing a more positive mindset is a simple, daily gratitude practice. A gratitude practice doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming to achieve results. In fact, it can be quite simple and easy.
When I first started out, my gratitude practice looked like this: naming 3 things for which I was thankful before rolling out of bed to start my day.As the practice became more ingrained, I started to add some more tweaks: I picked up a journal to start writing down my 3 “thankfuls” and also solicited a gratitude partner to join me in sharing gratitudes each day for added accountability.
Start small and shoot for daily consistency. In time and with practice, I believe you’ll naturally find yourself thinking more positively and seeking out the positive when you encounter the negative.
Just watch: gratitudes will start popping up all over the place.
Strategy #2: Adopt and put into practice an abundance (vs. scarcity) mindset.
An abundance mindset is an important thing to embrace each day. However, we have to be even more adamant in applying this way of thinking when faced with important celebrations and events.
Why? Because big occasions (e.g., birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc.) just simply set us up for potential disappointment if we aren’t careful. There is a lot of excitement and anticipation around these events, which makes it easy to get our hope up for particular outcomes.
One way we can protect ourselves from disappointment is by intentionally choosing to take on an abundance mindset and avoid scarcity thinking.
- An abundance mindset thinks, “I have everything I need, there will always be enough, I always have a choice, the best is yet to come.”
- A scarcity mindset thinks, “I lack what I need, there is never enough, I have no choice, tough times are ahead.”
I find it incredibly helpful to welcome in an abundance mindset each day. And stressing this way of thinking in particular in advance of big occasions to avoid letdowns.
Here are 3 simple ways you can do this:
- Choose to focus on the good and what is going right in your day/situation/etc.
- Watch what you say (words have power and reinforce your mindset, so choose to speak positively and discard that negative chatter).
- Speak abundance into your life with positive affirmations (e.g., I have everything I need, I have more than enough, challenges are opportunities for growth, etc.)
Try implementing an abundant mindset this week by practicing this week’s mantra each day:
Strategy #3: Flip the script: replace grumbling with gratitude.
When things don’t go as planned, don’t become a Debbie Downer. Instead, take your thoughts and words captive to the Lord.
Bring awareness to your thoughts and words. When you notice your speech or thinking turn sour, intentionally flip that script.
It may require pushing against what you feel like doing, but do it anyway, Friend! It’s hard to stay down in the dumps if you begin to focus on the positive.
Here’s an example.
This past Sunday, our trip back to SF took longer than planned due to some pretty heavy traffic. We had planned on trying to get back early so we could take advantage of the amazing weather that graced SF that day: instead, we were stuck in the car.
When I got back, I noticed myself start to take on scarcity thinking as I grumbled, “Dang it, we missed out on such a beautiful day!” Almost immediately, I sensed the Spirit convict my downcast thoughts.
So, I chose to flip the script by recounting my initial statement and replacing it with something positive like this:
- “Actually, I take that back. I am so grateful for the lovely weekend up in wine country. It would have been great to get back in time to enjoy more of this nice day in SF; but we were so lucky to enjoy some summer weather this weekend. There are plenty more nice days to come. Let’s enjoy what we have left of this beautiful weather today.”
Start to bring more awareness to your thoughts, Peep.
And when you hear yourself becoming a Negative Nelly…flip that script!
Practice Gratitude to Find Joy in the What “Is”
Disappointments aren’t always avoidable. But we are able to work on our mindsets to help protect ourselves from becoming negative when our expectations are left unmet or life doesn’t go our way.
Gear your mind for gratitude by implementing the three mindset practices I mentioned, including: 1) a daily gratitude practice, 2) taking on an abundance mindset, and 3) flipping any negative script to positive.
To begin putting this into practice this week, I encourage you to start out each day by naming 3 gratitudes and reciting this affirmation:
I hope your week is full of appreciation as you embrace the “what is” in your present moments.
May you choose to detach yourself from particular outcomes.
May you intentionally seek out the gems awaiting you each day.
May you choose to seek out the positive in any situation.
May you experience abundant joy as you focus on being thankful for what “is”.
Scripture to Meditate on This Week
“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” – Jeremiah 33:3
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Tunes to Add to Your Playlist
Video to Check Out
Letting go of expectations for particular outcomes is a great way to avoid major disappointments in life. Here is a short video with a few thoughts on that as I reflected about my birthday weekend whilst up in Healdsburg.