One way to ruin our serenity and head for a relapse is to have too high expectations of ourselves and others. Inflated expectations cause stress. Such stress may actually cause us to perform worse. It is far better to have reasonable expectations to minimize stress and disappointment. We can then be pleasantly surprised should we happen to overperform. Lowering one’s expectations does not require lowering one’s optimism. We should always be encouraging and hopeful that we and others will try their best; we should always approach challenges with confidence. However, we must also bear in mind that none of us are perfect, and that intended results are never guaranteed. By lowering our expectations, we become less dependent on others (and external circumstances beyond our control) controlling our serenity. A perfect example is my use of the telephone. Let’s say I’m calling a client, and I have high expectations that the call will go smoothly such that I’ll accomplish exactly what I set out to do. First, I expect to find the telephone number easily in my smart phone calendar. I scroll through it and can’t find it. I am shocked, disappointed. “How on earth (actually I’d probably say something much worse) can that guy’s number not be in my doggone (trust me, I’d say something far worse) smart phone.” I’d worry that my entire office system was askew if I couldn’t keep organized enough to find a simple, stupid telephone number. I’d then do what I usually do in such instances - flip through my paper file where I probably scribbled the client’s number. As I flip through each page, I would feel more and more irritated and even hostile. “What an idiot I am. What a waste of time. If I had only done what any simple minded idiot could have done and taken a second ... and...” the negative messages (self-flagellation) might go on until I was actually questioning whether I was so stupid that I shouldn’t even be a counselor, that I probably should just close down my office and “What is the meaning of life any way if God himself should so punish me that I can’t find this stupid phone number.” By the time I find the phone number, I am so angry I’ll probably be unable to deal positively with the client anyway. Now, let’s take the same scenario with lower expectations. Once again, the phone number isn’t in the rolodex. But this time, I didn’t expect it to be in the first place I looked for it. Rather, I started looking for the number knowing that I had been in a hurry on Friday afternoon to go home and see my son play baseball and that I had scribbled it somewhere close by and that if I took a minute and patiently looked for it now everything would be just fine and dandy. I tell myself I am as imperfect as anyone else so why not give myself a break. By the time I find the number, I’m still serene (or as serene as can be expected on a Monday morning) and I call the client with a positive attitude. In this case, I lowered my expectations to make myself feel better so that I could be in a good frame of mind when trying to counsel a client.
Another way to have lower expectations (and therefore higher serenity) is to make plans, not results. If we make plans and don’t expect results, we have a better chance to avoid frustration because whenever we try to do something, we can’t be sure it will turn out exactly the way we envisioned it. More often than not, some strange twist occurs which “lays to rest our best laid plans.” Accordingly, we should never set out to do anything hell bent on getting certain, exact results or else we will likely be frustrated. It is wiser and infinitely more comforting to be flexible and content if our plans seem to be headed in the right direction. Furthermore, with a little faith, we will usually get results which are better than anything we had envisioned if our plans are guided by love, honesty, unselfishness and a pure, not jealous heart.
Today I will remember not to have overinflated expectations of myself and others. I will practice the 12 steps to peace and light and particularly focus on keeping a reasonable attitude and doing the next reasonable thing.