Have you ever had the experience of not seeing something that was right in front of you because you didn’t expect that it would be there? I recently had that experience with trees that the city was supposed to plant in front of my house. For months there were no trees where they should have been planted. One day I saw some city trucks outside my house and went to the supervisor asking him when they were going to plant the promised trees. Imagine my surprise and embarrassment when he told me. “sir, we planted them this morning.” Indeed they had been. Why didn’t I see them? Because expectations determine perception. I didn’t expect to see them there..so I didn’t.
This got me to thinking of the many individuals and couples I work with in anger management who have told me similar stories of how expectations determine what they see or don’t see in other people or situations. Sometimes we get angry when something isn’t the way we think it should be. Adjusting those expectations is an important tool of anger management. Not only do expectations influence our emotions, they also partly determine how we see things in the first place. For instance, if we expect our teenage son to be lazy, we might well miss or mis-perceive some of his behavior that is not lazy at all.
Expectations are subtle and we often we don’t even realize they are influencing us, but they are. Research shows that happy people seem to be happier because they know how to manage their expectations so they don’t experience a great deal of disappointment or anger when there is a gap between what they expect and what they get. Try it and see if your anger doesn’t decrease! Some tips to help you do this include the following:
Mentally prepare yourself ahead of time for what happens
Stop “shoulding’ in your self-talk. This is being judgmental. Ask yourself why “should” things be as you think they should?
Practice seeing disappointing things from a different perspective
Believe that limitations are “built-in” most relationships. Learn to accept them.