An expectation, as defined by dictionary.com, is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” I would wager that you have expected at some point in your life. Expected a good test score. Expected a certain response from a friend. Expected your spouse to act a specific way. You have also likely felt disappointment when those expectations were not fulfilled.
Expectations are a tricky thing. They can certainly serve us in our journey of life, helping us along as we set goals and aspirations for ourselves. However, expectations are not always positive, and that tends to be where this subject gets fickle. When we have had multiple negative experiences in our life, especially surrounding the same subject or circumstance (or even person), our expectations begin to be negative ones. Perhaps we have a child who continually makes decisions that do not allow them to work to their full potential. We start out hoping for the best but day after day, week after week, on and on we are let down. Eventually the poor choices or adverse behaviors no longer surprise us. We realize we now expect this type of outcome; our hope for “the best” has been lost, and we are stuck in a negative frame of mind concerning this situation.
When this has happened in just one aspect of life, but especially when this pattern is repeated across several areas of life, we begin to have a negative perspective. It becomes very difficult to see any positive, regardless of how much may be there. Figuratively we have a negative filter over our eyes. So, what is the prognosis? Are we doomed to just stay in this place of negativity and gloom, or is there a possibility of changing the filter?
Good news, there is hope in this situation! To lend some understanding, our brain is the storage place for the information (good and bad!) we collect during our lifetime. When we have been repeatedly let down, it is stored in our memory center. When we have been hurt by a family member, the brain keeps score. When we have had negative or positive encounters with our partner, the brain builds “neural pathways” that inform of us what to expect in certain situations. The dread we feel before entering the room with a tough family member is expectation that things will be as terrible as they were previously. Fortunately, what neuroscience has revealed over the past few decades is that the brain is “plastic”, or capable of changing what scientists used to think was unchangeable hard-wired information. We now know that by using therapeutic techniques an individual can rewrite the neural pathways and change the way they approach and think about previously negative situations.
This process begins with being mindful about how we are feeling in our bodies as well as the message we are receiving from our brain. When we can identify that automatic response as it is being fed to us, we can halt the information being received about how to react, giving us the opportunity to create a new response. Particularly helpful in this process is focusing on something positive, or different about the situation. See, when we are stuck in a cycle of thinking or expecting negative things, our brain is tuned in to the negative around us, literally overlooking the positive! Believe it or not, it is there. We just cannot see it because of the way our brain has been trained to see the bad. So, intentionally seeing small pieces of positive help interrupt the brain’s cycle of negative filtering and allow us to begin having positive expectations.
This may seem fairly simple, and in all transparency the description here is certainly scaled down. There are hours of work that go into rewriting the brain’s responses. However, it is possible, and worth it! If you are interested in more information about this topic, please reach out! Solid Ground Counseling Center can be reached at 256-503-8586.