As for many of you, 2017 has been a challenging year for me. Through these challenging experiences, I learned about how meaning and expectations affect stress.
Much of the stress I experienced was increased because I put meaning into results I could not affect. If an expected outcome didn’t happen, I was devastated. I believed that if X happened it meant a negative Y about me or my life and I was distressed. I tied my happiness to my definition, my meaning, of certain results and also to my expectations of things I could not affect.
Our home search was one example. If we didn’t find a place by a certain date, I was upset. If the house I wanted to make happen didn’t come through, then the world ended. If our closing date was extended and extended, then we were fated to a horrible life. The only reason these bumps in the road hurt me is that I put meaning into them which was bigger than they really were. Any deadline date I had was self-imposed, meaningless. I was the one calling a certain house “the one”; I created that meaning. I created the fable that if a specific step didn’t happen in the time I defined, we were doomed.
Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. We choose Cubs or White Sox. We choose these beliefs or those. Everything in life is a choice and we can choose what is significant and what is not. When we create a meaning which doesn’t serve us, then we only create more stress.
Likewise, if we create expectations for things we can not control, we are also creating more stress. I couldn’t affect which houses went on the market and when. I couldn’t make an owner accept an offer. I couldn’t affect the slow bureaucracy processing our paperwork. Focusing on results I could not affect, only added to my stress.
Once I realized how my self-imposed meanings and expectations were affecting my joy, I got back into the moment. I released my meaning of events. I relaxed my expectations and instead embraced the flow of life. I trusted what was happening to me was for my benefit – I may not be able to see it in the moment, but I knew I would eventually see the growth the event was providing. I stopped looking at things as horrible and insurmountable, and instead made them fun. It still amazes me how things shift and fall into place the second I release my fear, anger, and disappointment and instead pretend the event is fun or at least safe. Trusting things will be OK, helps things be ok.
When you are feeling stressed, look the meaning and expectations you have defined. What value and meaning are you putting on things? Is this meaning undeniably, provably true? Is the meaning truly, absolutely important to you, or is it a belief you accepted over time? Is the meaning bringing you joy or stress? Same goes for your expectations. Are they realistic? Are they within your control? Is the expectation you are holding on to worth the stress it is causing?
Share with us your current stress and how a change in meaning or expectations could alleviate that stress.