The sun was shining over the weekend, and the unseasonably warm winter temperature reduced the piles of snow in our yard to puddles. As anyone with spring fever might do, I rounded up the family and headed outside to do some geocaching. At first, everything went expected.
We found the first cache with ease, and it felt great to get outside and stretch our winter-weary legs.
It was when we got to the second cache that everything went downhill.
I can’t tell you exactly what the trigger was. Maybe it was the fact tht we couldn’t get the GPS coordinates for the next cache to work. It could have been that my oldest was running through the woods swinging sticks at everything. It’s possible it was my youngest who was bent on destroying as much of the surrounding trees as he could. It may have been my husband who wasn’t helping me with the GPS problem or the kid problem fast enough.
Whatever the reason, I got angry. I yelled at my family and then stomped back to the car. I sulked for the rest of the afternoon. Not a pretty picture.
After calming down, I did some thinking about what went wrong. It wasn’t that I hadn’t planned the day well enough. I’m definitely an overplanner, feeling the need to know just how things are going to go.
That’s when it hit me: My unrealistic expectations got in the way of a great day outside.
If you think about it, an expectation is just a strong belief something will happen the way we anticipate it will. On our outdoor adventures, we expect good weather, for our kids to behave, for the perfect campsite, for a bug-free hike, for a fun-filled vacation… But more often than not, something happens that upends those expectations in a second.
How do you react when things don’t go as you expect?
Are you like I was over the weekend and have a ruined day?
Do you feel disappointed or let down?
Or do you roll with it when the rain drops fall, delighting in the chance to go stomping through mud puddles on your hike?
As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about escaping from expectations this week (at least, the unrealistic ones), and I thought I’d share my take-aways with you so that your family time outside isn’t ruined:
- Plan–yet be flexible. I don’t think planning itself is the problem. Most good outings require some degree of planning. What I sometimes forget, though, is to plan for flexibility. If everything is planned in detail, the littlest thing going wrong can wreck the day. However, if the plan includes some flexibility—like including multiple options or some time to explore and relax—it’s easier to roll with the unexpected.
- Remember you can’t change reality, but you can change how you respond. I’m slowly realizing that happiness isn’t about expectations; it’s about reality, enjoying the moment. I can’t anticipate when the tire will go flat or how much damage a freak hailstorm will do to the camper roof, but I am entirely in charge of how I deal with those situations. Instead of letting them get me upset, I can choose to find the silver lining, making the best of the situation.
- Evaluate how significant the expectation is. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all expectations—and maybe it wouldn’t be a good thing if we did. However, some expectations are more reasonable and significant than others. Yael Kaufman wrote in an article titled “How Eliminating Unrealistic Expectations Can Make You a Happier Person” that some expectations are just unnecessary. It’s not easy to do, but we need to be asking ourselves if the day will be *ruined* if the expectation isn’t met. Was my day really ruined after the geocaching debacle? Of course not!
- Acknowledge that unrealistic expectations cause stress. Who needs added stress in his/her life? No one I know, for sure! When we have these expectations for how everything will go, we’re living in the land of worry, anxiety, and stress. We’re focused on events in the future we have little control over. Letting go of those expectations means letting go of some stress—sounds like a good thing to me!
- Become aware of your expectations—so that you can loosen your grip on them. Each of these five “take-aways” overlap, but I think this is the one that overlays all the rest. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “I am open to the guidance of synchronicity and do not let expectations hinder my path.” It sounds so simple when he says it. The first step to escaping from those unrealistic expectations is to recognize them. It’s hard to stay “in the moment,” though; instead, I’m usually a step ahead, planning—and yes, making expectations. I need to work on awareness of my expectations so they don’t get in the way of living.
Okay, I’ve confessed my embarrassing weekend tantrum and what I’ve learned as a result. Have you ever had these moments where your expectations got in the way of enjoying reality? Any tips?