Tag Archives: The Work

If You Want to Be Happy, Tame Your Expectations

I wanted to finish 2012 with what I think is my biggest “insight.” That is, the thing that I felt taught me the most about myself and other people. As you know, if you follow me on Twitter  Facebook, or read what I write about here (follow button on the right-hand side!), I like to learn. I think that learning doesn’t end once you leave school (whether we like it or not) and I think that learning about ourselves never ends.

I’ve certainly came across quite a few techniques, perspectives, and ways for being in the world and handling stress. In particular, I think that Byron Katie‘s The Work can be quite powerful. While I’ve never attended one of her seminars, watching the videos of people “doing The Work” can have its own cathartic experience.

I’ve noticed that one of the revelations I’ve come to this year is very similar to what Katie has said, but I still feel it to be slightly different. It’s the idea that our expectations about the world are what cause us stress, unhappiness, and you name it. I’m speaking very abstractly, so let me give you a concrete example.

Let’s say I’m having a problem with a coworker. Let’s say that coworker does something that I don’t like. Why does this upset me? Without getting into any psychological underpinnings and staying right at the surface, it’s simply about my expectations of what that coworker should (or shouldn’t) be doing that’s causing me trouble. How? Well, assuming you believe that each human being is entitled to their own autonomy, they have free will to do as they please (within the law, I suppose). If the person is acting in a way that displeases me, it’s probably because I expect them to be acting in some other way — and they aren’t. Again, still kind of abstract, so let’s make it really concrete.

Let’s say that this coworker (by the way, this example works for family, friends, spouses, pets, pretty much anything), has a particular way of answering a question with a question. And let’s say that I find this really annoying (in fact, I’d find it intriguing, but let’s go with annoying, for now). Every time I see this coworker, I’m going to remember that this coworker asks me questions whenever I ask them questions — so it’s going to make me unhappy, just seeing this person! If I happen to need to ask them something and they ask me a question back, I might begin to feel angry. Why am I feeling angry? Simply because my expectations are that this coworker should not ask me questions when I ask them questions. Should this really matter? No! This coworker can ask me questions when I ask them questions — they’re certainly allowed to do that.

Let’s try another example for which I’m sure we can all relate: traffic. Have you ever been sitting in traffic, late for something? I know I have. While sitting in this traffic, do you ever notice that sometimes people will try to “jump the line?” Does that bother you? If I’m being honest, this has certainly bothered me at times. Why should this bother me (or you)? Well, we expect that people will be kind and wait their turn right. We expect… Oh boy — there it is again! Expectations! If I didn’t have expectations that people wouldn’t try to jump the line, this wouldn’t make me upset. I might think, ‘Oh, maybe they’re in a really big hurry. Maybe someone they know is in trouble and they’re trying to go save them.’ It’s really impossible to know why someone would try to jump the line in traffic, so far be it from me to expect something from them in the way that they behave to the other drivers.

So, if I had to choose one thing to offer you from 2012, moving into 2013, it would be your expectations. Notice when you get upset/angry about something and try to discern what it is that you’re expecting should be happening in that situation. If you want to take it a step beyond, try to tame that expectations. Though, for starters, I think it’s important to notice what it is that you’re expecting in a situation. From here, you’ll certainly be well on your way to determining the root of your unhappiness.

Do You Know Where Your Filters Are?

It’s been a couple of days since I last published a post. I’ll try to make sure that I have something published everyday for the next couple of days, but it is near the end of the semester and I have more exams (3) than I’m accustomed to.

I’ve had this link on my list of things to write about, so I thought I’d put something together really quickly this afternoon and clear it off the list. I’ve written before about the importance of cleaning off the list to allow for new ideas to come in.

The title of the post at the link I’ve had on my list to talk about is: “6 surprising facts about how we see the world.” I want to be encourage you to go and read the post on the other site because there are lots of good graphics/picture/videos that help to reinforce points. That being said, there are a two things that I’ll share.

Before sharing a couple of things, I do want to mention something I remember learning during my first Master’s (that’s reinforced in this link I’ll be talking about): we don’t see the world in the present. Pardon? That’s right. We don’t see the world as it’s happening — instead — we see it as it happened. That must sound a bit strange, but it makes sense after I add some more context to it. Think about how we see the world — through our eyes. When light enters our eyes, our lens focuses the light on the retina. The retina then carries signals of light to a somewhere in the brain by way of the optic nerve. While this happens fast, it still takes time. As a result, there is a delay (albeit a small one) between when light hits your retina and your brain processing what you see. Therefore, we don’t see the world in the present. Okay, now back to that link:

According to Dr. Mark Changizi, what is also common to trichromat primates is exposed facial skin (ie. faces not covered with fur). When the skin is exposed, these primates can communicate their emotional state based on the level of hemoglobin and oxygen in the blood. A green hue of the skin usually indicates sickness (low hemoglobin, oxygen), redindicates blushing or excitement (high hemoglobin, oxygen), blue – cold, lethargy(high hemoglobin concentration), and yellow – fear or bloodless (low hemoglobin concentration).

In other words, we see color not because color exists in the physical world but because color vision is useful for communication.

It never occurred to me (though, I never sat down to consider it) that seeing color was evolutionary. There’s a great picture of what we as (trichromats) vs. other mammals.

The other thing I wanted to share:

Now let’s go a step further. We’ll show how people’s need to find answers to the most important questions of life has less to do with some spiritual search for meaning and more with the fact that we evolved a mechanism which actively interprets the phenomena we experience. In other words, we form beliefs about ourselves and the world around us because these beliefs are useful for our survival.

So what exactly is this mechanism? Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, in his article The Interpreter Within: The Glue of Conscious Experience, explains:

The answer appears to be that we have a specialized left-hemisphere system that my colleagues and I call the “interpreter.” This Interpreter is a device (or system or mechanism) that seeks explanations for why events occur. The advantage of having such a system is obvious. By going beyond simply observing contiguous events to asking why they happened, a brain can cope with such events more effectively should they happen again.

Yet, the answers we seek do not have to be based in reality. They merely have to be consistent with our experiences and perception

Beliefs can be very powerful. They can cause us to war with each other or they can simply cause us to believe something that might not be based in fact. If you’ve never heard of Byron Katie or The Work and you’re interested in learning about some of the ‘filters’ you might use to see the world, I strongly urge you to check it out.