When Expectation and Reality are Misaligned...

Inevitably, we're met with situations in our lives where our expectations fall out of alignment with reality. What we expect or assume should happen just doesn't jive with what actually happens. There's no inherent right/wrong concern here; rather, it's more a case of us understanding that many situations simply do not play out in accordance with our expectations for them. The frustration and annoyance we feel when these situations arise is given life by our desire to hold onto our (sometimes unreasonable) expectations, and refusal to accept what actually is.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. I don't like driving all that much. There are few circumstances in my life that consistently generate anger and frustration in me. Driving is one of them. I find myself constantly complaining about the lack of skill or inability to follow even the simplest of driving rules exhibited by others out on the road. It happens every time I drive. I'm certainly not the perfect driver, but do my best to follow rules, and convey courtesy and respect to others I share the road with. I expect others should be able to follow those same rules, and operate their vehicles in a manner that moves us all along in a cohesive way. Sometimes, my expectations are met; much more often, they are not. I get irritated with every occurrence of my unmet expectations, feeling that others should hold themselves to a higher standard. Road rage at its finest.

It may not be the perfect example -- there are base rules we all, as drivers, have agreed to follow -- but it does give us a glimpse as to what the expectation vs. reality gap looks like. I have a particular set of rules (those surrounding mutual courtesy and respect on the road) that I expect everyone else to follow. They may or may not live up to my expectation, and I am left with processing the result. If those expectations are not met, I will likely find myself annoyed and irritated, as my preferred outcome was not achieved. I'm left with essentially two options:

  1. belligerently stamp my feet in frustration that my expectations were not met

  2. let go of my expectations and accept the way things actually are

We may not like the notion that our ideal scenario has not played out, or that we are not ultimately in control of all things that impact us, but there are many times when accepting that things are not going to go your way actually make your life easier. That certainly doesn't mean you should let life steamroll you; rather, it means that sometimes it's a lot healthier to give up the "my way or the highway" approach, and accept reality as it is.

It can actually be quite freeing to exercise this kind of action, as it removes the desire and assumed responsibility to "set things right" or to dictate how others should act. Based on our previous example: if I can accept that other drivers will not act how I expect them to at all times, I feel much less frustration when that deviation occurs. When we are comfortable in accepting that our own individual and limited perspective of reality is just that -- one part of a greater whole -- we can begin to flow more comfortably with the world around us. Our expectations may not always flow in alignment with reality, but if we can become more flexible and less rigid in our mindset, we can experience the world in a more positive way. Or, with a bit less frustration at least.

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