My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. ~ Michael J. Fox
Who can relate to this scenario? You rush home to assemble the latest gizmo you bought only to find that it doesn’t work. Someone in the family gently suggests that you read the owner’s manual. Voila! Problem solved.
Owner’s manuals are useful for electronics and children’s toys, but not in personal relationships. Master Certified Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, uses the term “manual” to describe the expectations we have for other people’s behaviors, so we can feel good. Our opinion about how others should act varies for each of us. They are formed from our unique personalities, experiences and views of the world.
We may, or may not be conscious of what our manuals contain. They may be as thick as a copy of Gone With the Wind, or as thin as an Amish phone book. We use different versions depending on the relationship; our expectations for our spouses will be different than those for our employers. The point is that we all have them and we all use them.
Wishing people would behave differently creates problems for the other person, the relationship and us. We mistakenly believe that if people would just act the way we expect, we would be happier. There are numerous setbacks with this line of reasoning. For starters, our expectations are seldom communicated. How can someone follow a manual they don’t even know exists?
Holding on to this thought pattern outsources our happiness to others. We can never control the behavior of others. Even the people that love us will often fall short of meeting our expectations. Attaching our emotions to another person’s actions is a choice and one that always leaves our joy in their control. We are responsible for our own happiness. Always.
Having a relationship with constant expectations attached to it creates tension, frustration and eventually resentment. It feels like a prison. Tension filled relationships are not the foundation for a joyful life.
To improve any relationship, locate and then ditch the manuals. If you want to explore your manuals, make a list of your major relationships and write down your expectations. Here are a few: spouses shouldn’t watch so much TV, friends should remember my birthday and employers should appreciate my hard work. This will be an eye opening exercise.
We can make requests of people, but don’t attach happiness to the outcome. There is nothing wrong with making requests of people. The problems develop when we connect our emotional state with their behavior. Go ahead and ask for what you desire, change your expectations to preferences and allow people to behave as they please. Note: this does not mean we put up with bad behavior. Establishing boundaries for these scenarios is necessary and is a whole other topic.
This idea involves a huge mental shift for most of us. The concept is easily understood, but the reality of applying it takes awareness and constant practice. Do it anyway. The only thing we have to lose is hurt feelings and strained relationships.
Be you. No apologies.