Expectation and Reality
June 24, 2014
August 8, 2011
It will come as no surprise to readers that stress and stress related problems are on the rise. A stress related problem may present itself as anxiety, depression, malaise, anger, outbursts, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, high blood pressure, impulsive behaviors, sleep problems…well…you get the idea. Stress effects everything.
A major contributor to one’s stress level is what I call “The Gap”. The gap is the difference between your expectations and your reality. An example may be something like this: I want to get this blog written today. I have time set aside for that and even though it will push me a little, I can get it done. Low stress. Expectations and reality are aligned. Now suppose I get a phone call and I have client emergencies. I now have lost the time allotted to write, and not only that, I have added two stressful hours that will run into the time I was going to use to plan a retreat. Reality has now changed. If I do not adjust my expectations, I will be incredibly stressed. I cannot do what I had planned.
In my office I see examples of “The Gap” at work in many couples. What is real, and what they expect are so totally disconnected from each other that the stress level is severe. Here’s one scenario. Both people in a couple have demanding jobs. They work long hours and they both travel some. When they come home, they are often exhausted. There is little extra time, and the time they do have is spent doing the necessary chores like food shopping, laundry, yard work, and bill paying. Secretly they are both feeling resentful that there isn’t more romance/sex in the marriage. Secretly, each thinks the other should be putting more creative energy into the marriage. Can you see “the gap?” How can one be creative and romantic when exhaustion rules and time is scarce? However, if the expectation is there, then the stress level goes up exponentially.
Another example might look like this. Eight year old Susie is struggling in school. She is the third child in a family of high-achievers. Susie is the best artist in her class, she can already cook for the family, and she has a way with animals that is almost uncanny. But her parents are very concerned about her lack of attention to her academics, and especially about her inability to do multiplication and long division. Because the other children have had an easy time at school, they are expecting her to follow in her siblings footsteps and be at the top of her class. They are anxiously drilling her every chance they get in math, and they are reminding her that if she doesn’t do better she won’t be put in the gifted section of her class next year. Susie not only doesn’t do better, she starts to do worse. She is now having stomach aches almost every morning and goes to the nurse’s station complaining of headaches at least once a week. The gap between expectations and reality is widening.
Pay attention in your own life this week to the alignment of expectations and reality. Are you paying attention to what is real? Are you working with reality or against it? Make a note of how you feel when you have a large gap between expectations and reality. Flip the coin and pay attention to your feelings when you align yourself more with what is real and have a smaller gap.
There are many ways to lower our stress levels. Paying attention to what is real is the simplest one.
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