The conflicts that rear up in our lives most often stem from unrealized expectations.
Each of us has a script we follow, an expectation of how things are supposed to go. When our expectations aren’t met, we can be delighted by the change, significantly disappointed or even angered.
When we head to a nice restaurant, our script says the host will greet us and lead us to a table. They’ll hand us menus and tell us who our server is. Then the server will breeze by, introduce themselves and ask what we would like to drink. If the server fails to come within the expected (never spoken) time, our script isn’t met. This causes a bit of turmoil – nothing too significant but enough to get our antennae up.
We might begin to doubt whether the restaurant or the service will live up to our expectations. If the place was recommended, we might wonder why those who recommended it got better service than we’re getting or how they came to make this recommendation.
There’s a whole lot going on over one misstep.
It could all be avoided if they sent someone else with a drink or an appetizer to hold us over (on the house, of course). Our script can deviate if we think it’s going somewhere pleasing; we can sink into conflict or rise into enthusiasm.
What if you’re leaving a job you loved because you have a difficult boss or co-worker who makes your days miserable? Or what if you’re in the middle of a divorce?
This is when the script gets real.
In all cases, grief, anger and disappointment are mingled with an uncertain excitement for new possibilities. The degree to which you feel any of these emotions is directly related to the importance you’ve placed on the outcome you expected – the script.
If we get stubborn and hold onto the old script, we’re bound to get stuck and become even more disappointed in our situation. We’re in danger of putrefaction. The part of us that wants to hold on to the script must be encouraged to let go. But we feel hurt, and so the conflict stays with us.
The truth is, life is chaotic, non-linear and mysterious. Sometimes things happen and our scripts don’t get followed to the letter. Sometimes the actors change the scene, and conflict is pretty much a guarantee.
So if we want to move past the great disappointments in our lives, we have to work on a new script. Here’s how:
- Identify something you want (or wanted). This could be an actual thing, a new skill, a business result, a way of being or anything else.
- Allow yourself to be okay with the idea of not getting that thing you’ve identified.
One of the most potent attitudes I’ve ever come across is the idea of ‘detaching from outcome’ – being okay with the idea of things not turning out the way you want them to. This is sacrilege in the eyes of the Think and Grow Rich school that recommends creating a burning desire for whatever you want.
But what if that goal is tied to someone else, someone whose script is not the same as yours?
Philosopher Bertrand Russell is credited with saying that a clear sign of an impending nervous breakdown is the idea that your work (or you) is very important.
If achieving the goal you set seems very important to you, then get over it! Ask yourself: In 100 years, what difference will this very moment make?
Think of just how many situations in your past seemed all-consuming at the time, but you’ve completely forgotten them.
No matter what happens around you, evolution says that you’re already a success just for being you.
So when that waiter fails to turn up in a timely fashion, assume good intent and enjoy the quiet to visit with your companions – free from distractions and avoidable conflict.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For interview requests, click here.
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