Manage Your Own Expectations

I was on a train from Sydney to Wollongong, and my partner and I were seated in a "quiet carriage". This is a place where, for the sake of passenger comfort, everyone is told not to talk loudly or on their phones, and to use headphones with their gadgets.

I didn't choose a quiet carriage; it chose us. It happened to be the carriage that stopped in front of us on the platform. But it was a nice surprise.

About 20 minutes into the trip, and about five minutes after an announcement explained the rules of the quiet carriage, some lady's phone rang, and rang, and rang as she fumbled about with it, and when she answered, she proceeded to carry a conversation with a voice that actually hurt to hear.

About halfway through the call I started to write this post, because I realised that if this had happened in Melbourne, as it often does on a tram or train, and where there are no quiet carriages, I really wouldn't have minded. At most it would have been a mild annoyance.

What had changed between Melbourne and Sydney were my expectations. Entering that quiet carriage I had expected a certain standard of peace and quiet, and although the phone wasn't that loud (and the lady's tone wasn't that bad), I found myself hating a situation that I would otherwise have barely noticed at all.

When you think of the events in your life that affect you, don't fixate on the external circumstances, believing that those are the sole source of the problem. Your internal circumstances - your expectations, biases and beliefs - will determine how you perceive all the external stuff, and therefore how it will affect you.

Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Roman Emperors, wrote in his Mediations, "Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil." (Get the book and read it; it's amazing.) He knew that even though he was the most powerful man in the world, he could not control many of the people and events around him.

Resolve to think of this the next time you expect too much from people who may or may not know what is expected of them, especially yourself. You can prepare yourself to handle rudeness, incompetence, or your own failures. And, you can be pleasantly surprised when things go well.