(Originally posted 12th September, 2004)
You know, it’s funny what people think sometimes. They have all these high expectations about how things are going to happen and how other people around them are going to act and all sorts of stuff like that. Thing is, life often doesn’t turn out the way that we planned it, folks. Call it fate; call it God’s sense of humour. Things just happen that throw a spanner in the works of whatever carefully laid out plans we have.
A few years ago, I was doing some meditating on the nature of anger. Back in those days, I was a seething cauldron of emotion, bubbling away under the surface, just waiting for the trigger that was going to cause me to explode. They were tense times. Even little things used to upset me, stuff that should have really bounced off had I had my screwed on right.
It took me a while, but I came to what was for me a startling revelation: anger is nothing more than the reaction you have when something you had been expecting doesn’t come to fruition. I mean, think about it. Something you really want to happen does come out the way you wanted. It doesn’t matter if that thing is wishing someone you care about would ring you, or something that you think is blindingly obvious that you think that the government should be doing. If it doesn’t happen, you get upset or ticked off, right?
Anger is a natural reaction, friends. It’s not a bad emotion, if you’re using it the right way. It’s there to make us aware that something we planned isn’t working out, and to spur us into action to take steps to do something about it. It’s an early warning system and when you use it like one, it’s a very effective tool.
Thing is, people don’t know how to use it that way. It’s not something that we’re taught how to do. Instead, when something doesn’t go the way we want it to, we get the angry signal from our subconscious that we need to do something about the situation. But instead of doing something about it, most of us look at the situation through the original expectation that we had – the one that wasn’t fulfilled. But as soon as we do that, we trip that emotional early warning system again, because our expectations aren’t being met, and the anger increases. So we go round again, and look at the situation the same way again. And guess what? You just get angrier and angrier.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work and that was something of a revelation for me. Anger, like I said, is the subconscious’ way of saying “hey, you need to do something about this situation, because it’s not going the way that you want.” At that point, there’s two things you can do. You can either change the way you’re approaching the problem, and activate some sort of contingency plan so that you can work your way around the issue, or you change the expectation you have of the desired outcome. The first case is what you need to do if you’re in a situation you can change; the latter is what you need to do if you’re in one that you can’t.
This is not to say that expectations are bad things. Quite the contrary. Unless we are able to believe that the choices we make are going to bring something to fruition, life becomes one great, depressing hopeless mess. If we the only expectations we have are negative ones, that something bad is going to happen to us, then that’s all that’s going to happen, and strangely enough, we’re never going to be let down.
But people have the wrong sorts of expectations. A good expectation is a positive one that gives you a good outcome to focus on and work towards. A bad one has the same outcome, but it specifies precisely how that outcome is going to come about and that’s where most people come unstuck. Like I said earlier, life has a habit of throwing obstacles in our paths when we’re in pursuit of our goals. If your expectation includes the details of how something is going to pass, then if it doesn’t happen that way, then you’re going to end up disappointed and bitter, even if you get the end result you’re looking for.
What you need to do is just keep your eyes on the end result and don’t let things stop you from getting there. If something comes up that blocks one approach, then back up a bit and find another way of getting there. That way, the journey to your end goal becomes an adventure and you’ll probably learn a lot more along the way.