Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Expectation (it's all in your head)

Ok...I will write this post in the space of my lunch break and publish it, because I have now three draft posts that I've started when they were on my mind, intended on finishing, and have not yet come back to.

One failing in my earlier attempt at blogging was my posts page just filling up with drafts, and I'm determined not to repeat that pattern.

 My head is always filled with expectations on what's going to happen or what's going to be said. Like almost every mental habit I struggle with, this is not automatically a bad thing. Predictive thinking is one of humanity's greatest evolutionary milestones: it's allowed us to evade predators, build infrastructure, and ideally prepare for coming environmental threats (wow that's a charged statement, huh?)

Knowing I'm going to be hungry by 11am helps me decide to eat something at 8:30. Knowing that a coworker might make the same mistake for the same reason in the future helps me train them. But this predictive instinct can have a NASTY overdrive mode (again, like most of my bad mental habits).

I divide the ill effects into two categories: goals/plans and interpersonal relationships.


Goals/Plans

This is certainly the one I've been aware of longer. When we were a kid we all wanted to be something: we probably sat for hours daydreaming about doing that thing, all the shimmery cool things associated with it. In that kind of daydreaming, one often doesn't have the perspective of all the details associated with that situation actually being true. Being a Veterinarian (not one of my fantasy careers, but many people's) is not all cuddling dogs and giving their owners great advice. It's sitting learning about anatomy for years and retaining that knowledge, it's paying student loans, it's going over pages of lab data and interpreting it, and all sorts of other long term mundane processes. The daydreamy, detail-free version? THIS IS HOW I THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING! Whether it's cleaning the house when I get home, writing a piece of music (I haven't succeeded in that in 5 years, more on that later) or getting a graduate degree in any of several subjects I've considered...I get into a viscous cycle of imagining how it will be...and never think about what's involved in doing it, and never start doing any of those things (and if I started them...I likely wouldn't keep it up!) That's not to say I never accomplish anything...I do from time time, but I'm always contending with the obvious frustrations that arise when things don't actually match my imagined version. This gets even worse in collaborative projects...because when you've imagined a group-produced result as something different than it turns out to be...you tend to turn this frustration on the people you're working with...and that leads wonderfully into category two...the far more damaging one.

Interpersonal Relationships

Have you ever imagined those perfect words you'd say to someone you're upset with? Of course, we all have. There's again some good here. For introverts, constructing words in one's head before speaking them is a common personality trait, and it can lead to great communication, verbal or written. What if you imagined what that other person said in response? Maybe you've done that too. What if you did it for the better part of the day? What if you did it more than you actually talked to that person? THIS IS MY LIFE! It's far more common to do this about disagreements or situations with others that I feel negatively about. My imagined version of their side of the conversation is often way false, not at all something they think or would say. But the more they say it in my head the more angry it makes me...and I get looped into an ongoing imaginary fight with them. Because distraction and errant thought processes frequently take on an almost addictive pattern for  me...I totally run away with it. And all that happens is negativity gets overlaid on myself and the other person. And the more I have this negative imagined version of them in mind, the harder it is to feel at ease around them and have real conversations.


Much of my mental time is spent forming expectations about the world...more than should be for sure. When the real world doesn't meet my expectations (it never does) I can go pretty nuts about it...none of these things help me achieve things I'm objectively capable of. The self-loathing that results from this constant missing of the mark tends to only make these problems worse.

There's hope.

A few thousand years ago Siddhartha Gautama constructed a way of living in the world that included this problem as one of its central tenants. Buddha's word for it is attachment. It doesn't really describe liking things too much and it doesn't really prescribe having less, it's more about realizing that anything we construct in our minds other than what we're doing, thinking and saying right now are inherently inaccurate and out of our control. Though my utter failure to stick to consistent practices and habits in my life prevents me from being a legit Buddhist (or a very effective Christian for that matter...more on that later), these views on human thought and action have been extremely helpful to me in stepping back, taking an objective look at situations and interactions and coming to peace with them, stopping the hamster wheel and letting go. Talking at length about the current influence and position of Buddhist teachings in my life is a whole other blog post...so let me briefly describe them here as a helpful tool for some of these troublesome habits.

Additionally, drugs. ADHD medication is also a massive topic of it's own. In the context of keeping massive over-expectations at bay, they can help stop me from creating them. With the meds I'm currently on, things happen in a calmer, slower, more controlled way. I can start working on a task and build efficiency and efficacy as I go...rather than the obsessive thought about that task taking over before I even start it. Unfortunately this is a much more in the moment solution...so it doesn't apply well to achieving longer term goals...and it doesn't help me from imagining falsehoods about those I interact with.

Those I'm still struggling with...more on that later.


(and 5 minutes left on lunch!)

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