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Strategies for tempering expectations without hindering the joy of Optimism

In continuation from my post titled ‘the Happiness debt’, a reader wrote a comment to address the question mentioned above. I enjoy connecting with my readership so I will aim to address the question posed in the title .

So what are some of these strategies?

I did some drafting , researching and reflected many times and came up with four strategies which are as follows; there are perhaps many more but I hope this can help form a template for guidance.

1. The concept of Tragic Optimism

I explored this in my very first post . Essentially it conveys a sense of hope and meaning to be found in life whilst also acknowledging the existence of loss, pain and suffering. To be tragically optimistic would be a happy medium where instead of crushing our spirit ; the difficulties and challenges that we face enable us to grow and learn. The anxiety which can arise around giving a public speech should be seen as a challenge rather than a threat. This Pandemic and the tense political climate surrounding Ukraine and Russia can make it difficult to see the bright side or be positive. Tragic Optimism can help facilitate an altered perspective on these events as it helps develop a perspective known as ‘post-traumatic growth’ . Acknowledging and accepting the distressing feelings , can be fodder for our personal development.

Statements such as ‘I have learned how to face and adapt to life’s challenges’ or ‘I accept what cannot be changed in my life’ reflect the concept of tragic optimism. Accepting the reality of these difficulties in our life ; but also being prepared for them would enable us to cope more effectively than those who did not. A Psychologist and professor in Trent University in Ontario called Paul Wong, stated that ; ‘the road to this transformative mindset may be uncomfortable , because life currently isn’t easy’ . “It’s OK to be lonely,” he says. “It’s OK to feel bad, it's OK to feel anxious. Welcome to human club.”

2. ‘Everything happens for you not to you’

An article I read by Catherine Plano on ellevate discussed this very notion. She wrote about how there is always a purpose in everything that happens to us; the sinister events have the capability to expand our consciousness and enable us to become better version of ourselves. Rather than feeling hurt by not meeting that deadline, getting that job you envisioned yourself to get or getting married/ buying property by a certain age ; it doesn’t mean that it will never happen.

Ultimately, where you are in the present moment is exactly where you need to be. The future has not happened yet ? Have faith , one day it may come to you at the right time and if it doesn’t . Know that what is meant for you will never miss you . It will always find its way towards you . She also mentioned some key questions to ask yourself in order to settle your emotions ; reminiscent with cognitive behavioural therapy where we try to engage the brain to take the focus off the feelings :

  • What’s the bigger picture here?

  • What am I reacting to?

  • What does this situation mean to me?

  • What would be the best thing for me to do?

  • If this were happening to my best friend, what advice would I give them?

It really is as simple as life is 10% of what happens and 90% how you react to it! We have the freedom to make choices but what we are not free from is the consequence of these choices; so in order to smooth the recovery process it is essential to control our reactions . As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

3. Mindfulness.

Essentially the word ‘expectation’ is linked to the future ; because it is hoping for a certain outcome which at present has not occurred. Therefore; to not hinder the joy of optimism … Mindfulness is your best friend. Mindfulness can be achieved through many techniques and I will mention some in this post ; bearing in mind a google search/ further advise from a certified professional in mental health will yield many more results and ideas hence if you are looking for more ideas please do not feel limited by what I have written.

  • Observe a leaf for 5 minutes

A leaf is picked up and held in your hand receiving full attention for five minutes. The shape, the colour , the texture and pattern is observed. This brings you back to the present moment and aligns your thoughts with the current experience.

  • Observe your thoughts for 15 minutes

In order to bring awareness to your thoughts , you sit or lie down in a comfortable position allowing all the tension in your body to decrease. The first focus is on your breathing moving down to your awareness of what it feels like to be in your body and then a shift is made towards your thoughts. It is important to be aware of the thoughts that come in your head but to not judge or label them. These should be seen as a passing cloud in the sky of your mind.

It is possible for your mind to wander to chase a thought ; so acknowledge what took your attention and gently guide your attention back to your thoughts.

  • Mindful Breathing

Stress causes our breathing to become shallower; if we wanted to focus our attention and become more calm deeper ‘belly breaths’ should be performed. This should be done for around five minutes ; breathe deeply and slowly; counting to three on the inhale and three again on the exhale. Placing our hands on our stomach can allow us to feel the air as it moves in and out.

  • Colour breathing

Two colours are thought of ; one which has connotations of relaxation and the other of anger , frustration and sadness. For example Blue and Red. We then close our eyes and imagine breathing in the relaxing colour allowing it to fill our entire body. We exhale the ‘negative’ colour ; imagining it leaving our body and being cast away into insignificance around us.

  • The Five senses

The classic mindfulness activity ; relax and ask yourself:

  • What are Five things I can see?- the ceiling , the chair in front of you , the air conditioner , the lamp and even your hands

  • Four things I can touch?- The leathery feel of a handbag, the course feeling of your hand after you squeeze out an excessive amount of hand sanitiser, the smooth feel of your woolly hat and even a crisp sheet of paper .

  • Three things I can hear? The keyboard as you type, the clock, your deep breaths

  • Two things I can smell? The Swizzels Drumstick Squashies Raspberry Air Freshener – YES THEY EXIST ! Also, coffee in the morning

  • One thing I can taste? The sweet taste of a drink; for example my favourite Rubicon Mango drink.

  • Body scan

Our neck, shoulders, and back can be full of tension hence while sitting or lying down we can stop and check-in with how we are physically feeling; without judgement and asking ourselves ‘why’. Examples of check- in questions are :

  • “How is my breath? Shallow or deep?”

  • “Where do I feel sore or tense?”

  • “How does my (back/shoulders/face muscles/feet/neck) feel?”

Going through these cues , one by one would allow us to relax that part of the body in turn,

  • Daily Gratitude

Setting aside at least five minutes a day ; be it before bed ; first thing in the morning or during lunch ; we focus on three things we are grateful for and can write it down or say it aloud. Writing it down can be effective as we can reflect on all that we are grateful for and make a compilation of some sort if we do it daily and realise how abundant our blessings are. ‘I am grateful for my healthy eyes’. ‘ I am grateful for being able to wake up every day and keep on going despite the trauma I have faced’ are some examples.

4. Faith

It can even be as simple as this; allowing you to remain optimistic with reduced expectations. The teachings , the stories , the quotes from religious texts and figures can be a solace for many. The story of Yusuf (A.S- also known as Joseph in Biblical texts) is one example of this as he was abandoned by his brothers and separated from his beloved father for many years. The excessive tears of his father Yaqub (A.S -Jacob) caused him to lose his sight but one day he was reunited with his son ; when he thought he would never return. The lesson to be learnt from this was that one should never lose faith . Remaining strong and optimistic in the face of adversity is a part of the test of life .

I hope this post helped answer your question , and please do not hesitate to keep commenting as my purpose for writing these articles is to support my readers ; and to also support myself.


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