Several years ago, a good friend suggested I make a list of experiences I would like to have life & places to visit. Touching a whale in Baja was no 1 (which I accomplished in Feb 2020) & sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia was second. So, it was no surprise that a tour of Cambodia & Laos was the first big trip we took once the world opened up.
I set my expectations too high
Our trip was 20 days & Angkor Wat sunrise was scheduled for day 17, our last day of temple exploration. I thought we were saving the best for last, especially after our guide told us that it was his favourite place.
It was a disappointment.
It wasn’t the most colourful sunrise ever, but it was more than that. It was crowded, noisy & to be blunt, it’s just the sun coming up behind some towers. On reflection I set my expectations too high & thought somehow it would be life changing.
It wasn’t even the best sunrise.
And this time I set them too low
On our final day in Laos, we visited our first Angkor temple, Wat Phu at dawn & I really didn’t want to go as the guidebook gave the impression it wouldn’t be worth the effort of getting up at 4am. But this time it was magical. Every moment brought more gifts, taking a small boat across the Mekong in the dark, the silence of the temple as we climbed to the top, seeing sunrise over the river & surrounding countryside. Experiencing our first Angkorian temple as the only visitors at dawn far exceeded my expectations.
Experiences are rarely what you expect them to be
Both times I had fixed expectations, I ‘knew’ sunrise at Angkor Wat would be amazing & that Wat Phou wouldn’t be worth the climb & being tired later. And in both cases I was completely wrong.
Which reminded me that:
When I set my expectations too high, they usually won’t be met,
And the opposite is also true when I set them low, they can be a highlight,
Which can be summed up as experiences, events & places are rarely what I expect them to be (both positive & negative).
I’m sure you can think of many examples when this has been the case for you especially a time you really enjoyed something you didn’t want to do.
So, I’m wondering, could Christmas be your Wat Phu?
Do you have fixed expectation of how Christmas will be?
Do you ‘know’ how hard it will be’ what challenges will be thrown at you & how ‘bad’ you ‘will’ feel?
Remembering the brain’s negativity bias
I’d like to remind you that human brains have a negativity bias & tend to focus more on the negative rather than the positive in our lives, on what may go wrong rather than what may go right. So, your focus determines which pathways in the brain connect and therefore strengthen. This in turn determines what your brain pays attention to in the future, so if you focus on pain, worry, stress, regret, etc., you’ll have more of these in your life. Of course, the opposite is also the case. When you focus on positive things you become more resilient, optimistic, grateful, and happy.
If so, I’m wondering whether having read so far, you may now be open to the possibility of loosening your grip on your expectations?
And the stories we tell ourselves
You know that expectations are just beliefs and stories you’re telling yourself. And you’ve changed these before. Is it possible that the expectations you have about Christmas are more examples of something you used to believe?
When I approach life with an open mind, rather than fixed expectations, not only are there more surprises but it brings me so much more joy. So that’s my plan.
Is there a possibility that you could turn your head a little bit, be slightly more open minded & prepare to be surprised at what may happen?
I’d love to know.
More resources for you
And if the worst does come to pass, you can find strategies & tips to support you over Christmas here .
And a huge thank you from my heart to yours. It’s been another challenging year & I really appreciate you making space for me in your inbox.
The Christmas felt ornaments (Mr & Mrs Santa, Scrooge, Marley & the Ghost of Christmas Past) were made by me from patterns by MMMCrafts