Expectation Creates Dissatisfaction (and what to do about it…)

May 15, 2012  

While on vacation recently, I thought to myself, “This is perfect.”  The weather was nice.  We had a great hotel room.  The food was wonderful.

Was it really perfect? Were there nicer rooms, better food, and warmer climates?  Indeed. Comparatively speaking, it was not truly perfect.

But perfection in such matters is a state of mind.  A situation is perfect purely by declaring it so. There are no absolute measures of perfection for things like vacations.

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating what is, many look for the flaws.

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

Think about your life.  Where are you least happy?  My guess is that your dissatisfaction is often a result of comparison.

Where you are today compared to…

  • where you want to be in the future (aspirations and goals)
  • where you were in the past (reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”)
  • where you thought you would be already (your expectations and those of your family, society, and others)
  • where others are today (comparison; keeping up with the Joneses)

Let’s take money as an example. Studies show that it’s not the “absolute” amount of money you have that matters. It is how much money you have “relative” to what you want.  Your financial aspirations are driven by how much others have, how much you think you should have, how much others (e.g., a spouse) expect you to have, and more.  Even if you are successful in hitting your financial goals, the more you make, the more you adapt, and therefore more you want. Higher income levels provide only fleeting happiness, and is typically replaced by the desire for more.

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

Our expectations can be about anything:

  • How many twitter followers we have compared to others (or how many we think we should have).
  • How much publicity we get compared to others (or how much we wish we had or have received in the past).
  • How many accolades we receive compared to others.
  • How many prospects return our calls compared to our expectations or past successes.
  • How nice our hotel room is compared to our expectations, other available rooms, or what we think we deserve.
  • How much food we have compared to how hungry we are, what others have, or our subconscious desire to stuff our face. (eat blindfolded and be fed by someone else; you will have a deep appreciation for the quality and quantity of the food not matter what it is)
  • The type of work we do compared to what we think we want to do, what others are doing, what society says we should do, or what our families tell us they expect

And the list goes on and on.

Nearly every area of our life has subconscious beliefs and associated desires.  The issue arises when we subconsciously say to ourselves, “It shouldn’t be this way.”

…I should have more hair (in others words, I shouldn’t have as little hair as I do).
…I should weight less.
…I should make more money.
…I deserve to be treated better.
…I wish I had a different job.
…Why does everyone else have more than I do?

Some people have an “I” problem (thanks Terry Brock for that expression).

And some people want to save the world, and that causes dissatisfaction.

…We shouldn’t have war.
…We shouldn’t have poverty.
…Why can’t we all just get along?

Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.

A Reflection of Perfection

Each year on New Year’s Eve, I choose a theme.  It is a one-word mantra that drives everything I do during the year.

The word for 2012 is “perfect.”  That is, everything is perfect by declaration rather than as defined by some arbitrary criteria.

I am absolutely convinced that anyone can, in any moment, consciously declare that everything is perfect.  It is exactly as it should be.  It can take conscious effort to have things feel perfect; it is not always easy.  But it is possible.  It is having a deep appreciation for what is rather than what we want.

Perfection is NOT positive thinking.  It is exactly the opposite.  Positive thinking is not about acknowledging what is in the moment.  Positive thinking is about replacing your true feelings with an artificial thought.

Perfection is the acknowledgement of what is now.  If you feel sad, that is perfect.  If you are in a difficult situation, that is perfect.  This present moment cannot be any different than it is.  So why try to change it?  It is futile. And why try to feel positively about it if you don’t?  Embrace the situation – and your feelings about the situation – exactly as they are.

There have been many moments over the past 6 months when I paused and brought conscious thought to how perfect a situation is, even when it didn’t seem so.

I don’t like arguments…at all.  They make me uncomfortable.  As a result, I have very few.  But sometimes they happen.  I remember one such situation a few months ago.  Although at first I wanted the “conversation” to end, I paused and thought to myself, “this is perfect.”  I then listened to what the other person had to say from the perspective of contribution. I learned a lot about the other person and myself, and it brought the two of us closer together.  It turned out perfectly.

Adversarial conversations can be perfect.  They are only problematic when they “shouldn’t be this way.”

Of course a gap between the current state and our desired future state does not always cause dissatisfaction.  Sometimes they can be a source of motivation.  But even in those situations, our future aspirations can be a distraction that causes us to miss the beauty of the here and now.  We get so focused on where we are going that we speed past where we are.

Creativity happens in the present moment.  People who are more aware of “now” are more creative.

Perfection (and the associated creativity) today leads to perfection (and more creativity) tomorrow.  And eventually you have one long streak of perfection.

And to me, this sounds perfect.

P.S. One of my favorite songs right now (I discovered it after I declared my theme, which makes the song even more perfect) is Perfect by Jami Lula.  I highly recommend it! 

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