THE BLOG
12/28/2012 03:48 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

Reduce Stress: Upgrade Expectations to Agreements

Welcome to part two of a three-part series featuring an annual event known as an expectation extravaganza! Join us to discover ways to reduce stress caused by expectations any day of the year.

Our first post, "Faith, Fact and Fiction: Three Expectation Extravaganza Superstars" sets the stage for an annual rite of passage known as an expectation extravaganza. What is this extravaganza all about? Between December's equinox (Dec. 21) and the start of the new year, we historically face 10 days where expectations rapidly climax or crash, awash in faiths, facts or fictions.

Our first post in this series explored the terrain of faith-based expectations. What (or who) you believe in provides fertile grounds for all sorts of expectations. For example, do you believe that you're loved by all those you love? When your faith in others faces the cold hard facts about those you love, how do those facts impact your health and happiness?

Fact: The holidays and the onset of a new year are rife with expectations. True for false?

Facts. Take a moment now to ponder your definition of a fact. How do you accept something as a fact? Do you take time to verify (through first-hand experience) a fact before you accept a fact to be true? How often do you check facts? Are facts eternally true? Have you checked the facts you accepted as a child? Let's find out. Have you heard the old joke about cutting the ends off the ham? Here's my version of this joke:

A big party is happening.  As with most parties, guests are crammed into the kitchen.   The grandchild of the three generations hosting the party was overseen cutting the ends off the ham before they placed it in a pan on it's way to the oven. A guest was curious about why the ends were cut off.  So, the guest asked, "Why did you cut the ends off that ham?"  The grandchild turned to ask their parent the same question. The parent shrugged their shoulders as they turned to ask the grandparent the same question.  The grandparent said in a matter-of-fact voice, "In my day, my pan and oven was only so big.  I had to cut the ends off to cook it!"

(Okay, go ahead! Groan as much as you want. This joke readily illustrates how un-examined childhood facts filter into timeworn rites and rituals.)

How often do you explore personal facts ingrained by faith or family origins?

Facts based on expectations tied to rituals or rites are two primary sources for pain and suffering. I bet at some point you've heard (possibly said), "That's the way we've always done it, and so that's the way we'll do it now!" Have you noticed the context that inspires a similar statement? Are similar statements employed to resolve conflict (pain or suffering) or to restore harmony (happiness)?

Fact: There is pain in life; suffering is optional (at least according to those who a walk the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path). Recall the last time you had an expectation of someone or something. Did this expectation result in happiness, pain or suffering? The more faith you have in someone, the more expectations cause pain or suffering. Why? Faith feeds a sense of familiarity. Familiarity may inspire us to make assumptions. No matter how uncanny your intuition is, assumptions hold the potential to create fictional stories. Fiction feeds fantasies large and small. Fantasies fuel human hobbies like denial, neglect and procrastination (a short list of less-than-healthy human actions).

Fact: Expectations are different than agreements.  Example:  You may expect someone to be on time when you agree on a day and time to connect.  Unless you talk about the importance of being on time, and they have confirmed their commitment to be on time, the fact is, you have an expectation that they'll be on time.  If they run late, and you failed to talk about the importance of them being on time, technically you have no cause to feel pain or to suffer (as well as any reason to inflict doubt, guilt, shame or worry).

Fact: Stress can kill! How happy you feel affects your stress levels.

During our annual expectation extravaganza (aka the holidays or New Year's resolution setting), one of the best ways to dissolve expectations is to check the facts. When we co-create clear agreements by communicating (or embracing) the facts, we upgrade an expectation to an agreement.

Expectation example: You say something like, "Great, so I'll see you Tuesday night?" You conclude your connection or change the topic before you hear a yes or see a nod to confirm your request.

Agreement example: You say something like, "Great, so unless I hear otherwise, I'll see you Tuesday night at 7:30 at my place, right?" If you receive a confirmation, you upgraded an expectation to an agreement. (When you say, "unless I hear otherwise," you strengthen your agreement by communicating you want a heads up if plans change.)

Mutually-made agreements based on clearly-stated facts dramatically dissolve any need for doubt, guilt, shame and worry (ample sources for pain and suffering). When an agreement must change (bad weather, scheduling conflict, an emergency, etc.), communicate the change in your agreement as soon as you can. Failure to share a change of plans, as you already know, fuels unhealthy stress. If, in those rare situations you're unable to relay the need to update an agreement (emergencies do happen), pray tell compassion intercedes between all involved.

One last tip! Be mindful of how expectations may sneak back into an agreement through the act of assuming. For example, have you ever double booked yourself because you assumed you were free, when in reality you forgot you already made plans (or someone made plans for you)? Assumptions create brittle bridges between faith, facts and fictions. We'll conclude our expectations extravaganza three-part series by exploring the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationships we fabricate from the children of expectations known as doubt, guilt, shame and worry.

Click to read part one of this series.

Click to Fan Soul.

One last favor? Please use the share icons (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to help us on our quest to reduce doubt, guilt, shame and worry.

For more by Soul Dancer, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

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