I think we need to give ourselves a break once in a while. Not necessary a break from being focused on our goals and dreams, but a break from expectations being laid on us.
We are all used to others laying their expectations on us. We’ve come to expect it (no irony intended) from others as part of living in a society. But what fascinates me is that so many of the expectations come from ourselves. We lay them on ourselves.
But it really doesn’t matter from where they come, from outside or from within; you need to carefully watch out for expectations. Of course it’s not the expectations that can cause harm and knock you off your path. It’s your response to the expectations that can get you into trouble.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Fankl writes about his time in a Nazi concentration camp. In the book he points out the difference between man and beast, beast referring to all animals except mankind. Animals, he explains, go directly from stimulus to action. That’s called instinct.
Instinct helps the animal survive. Let’s say I’m a zebra. I smell a lion – that’s the stimulus. I run – that’s the action. There’s no debating, no figuring out the odds that the lion will eat me, rather than the zebra next to me. I just run. Instinct works really well in the animal kingdom.
But as human beings we have the power to choose our response. This makes us different than animals for whom response is automatic. Frankl differentiates us from animals in this ability, this unique ability to receive a stimulus and decide how we want to respond. Frankl called this ability of ours reflection. In twelve step programs you will hear this referred to as responsibility … the ability to respond … rather than react.
But just because we have this ability doesn’t mean we always reflect before we act.
Sometimes we just react. We become automatic man. We have many sayings as to what is going on with automatic man. We say he is getting his buttons pushed or that someone else is pulling his strings, or someone is making him dance.
When we come under attack by expectations, we don’t want to be automatic man. When confronted with an expectation, automatic man reacts in one of two ways. Either he acts in accordance with the expectation, he acquiesces, regardless of whether it’s in his best interest, or he acts in opposition to the expectation, he rebels, regardless of whether it’s in his best interest. Neither may be the best action.
I’ve had experience in this, many times. My mother was a very smart woman, and she didn’t mind giving out advice to her wayward son. Unfortunately for me, I was most likely to do exactly the opposite, even when I knew her advice was good. Rebelling didn’t always serve me well!
When faced with an expectation, what we want to do instead is take time to reflect on the best response. We need to figure out what the best response would be. What would serve us best? And when we figure out what is best, for us, we go ahead and do it.
An expectation, whether it comes from outside or from within, may not equal what is best for you. Use your intent to reflect, and figure out the best answer, for you.