Tom was a middle-aged athletic man living here in Santa Barbara with a 9-year old son, Jimmy. Tom was really frustrated because Jimmy would rather be on his computer than play sports. Every weekend was a battle to get Jimmy out of the house.
Tom realized that he needed to change how he was thinking and to somehow find a way to give up something he felt was very important – his expectation of having an athletic son.
We all experience everyday annoyances like these with the people around us. What turns an irksome characteristic, situation, or event into a source of continued frustration? It’s our expectations, our “shoulds” that cause aggravation. Jimmy should be enthusiastic about playing sports.
But if we dig deeper, the underlying emotion behind our frustration is anger. And that unexpressed anger has a way of coming out in in the form of unrealistic expectations, “shoulds,” and a short temper around loved ones.
Rather than continuing to stew and fume, here are four simple but effective techniques to go from expectations to acceptance.
1. Express your anger constructively.
Emotions are just pure sensations in our bodies. Emotion = E (energy) + motion. Expressing anger entails releasing that pent-up emotional energy in a safe place and a constructive way. Kick leaves in your yard, stomp through the house when no one is home, push against a doorjamb, or scream and shout into a pillow. If you use words, yell something like, “I feel SO frustrated!” Actions such as these move the energy out of your body. Do it hard, fast and with abandon, and notice how afterwards you instantly feel calmer.
2. Accept that things aren’t the way you’d like them to be.
Tom was not enthusiastic about expressing his anger physically but was open to the idea of changing his thoughts. He needed to accept what is. The best way for him to do this was to remind himself, over and over, that: Jimmy the way he is, not the way I want him to be. It’s even more powerful if you repeat it to yourself out loud. Over and over, many times a day Tom told himself “Jimmy is the way he is, not the way I want him to be. I love him. He’s not me. Let Jimmy be Jimmy.”
After repeating these words, Tom had a shift. His acceptance statement became a fact instead of a platitude. By interrupting his old thinking and repeating these phrases over and over many times a day, Tom got that he needed to accept Jimmy for who he was and find some activities they could enjoy together.
3. Accept what is and then decide what you need to say or do.
Acceptance of “what is” doesn’t mean being passive. First accept, and then figure out what, if anything, you need to say or do about the situation. Tom had a great idea. The following weekend, he decided to ask Jimmy to teach him how to text. Working together on texting led to a lot of laughter. After a while and much to Tom’s surprise, Jimmy suggested they walk to the pier and watch people fishing. They got out of the house.
If you decide you need to speak up after you accept what is, make sure the conversation is about what’s true for you, and not laced with finger-pointing, name calling, and generalizations about the other person’s character. Read this article to learn about Attitude Reconstruction’s four simple rules of effective communication.
4. Count your blessings
Rather than believing the world should conform to our view, we have the ability to focus on other things, such as counting our blessings, enjoying the beautiful day, or marveling at what wonderful people we have in our lives. If you give up your expectations that things should be different than they are, you’ll enjoy more positive thinking and feel more loving and lighthearted. You’ll suspend your agenda for others, which sets the stage for more meaningful conversations and connections.
Whenever Tom’s frustration resurfaced, he just repeated, “Jimmy is the way he is, not the way I want him to be. Let Jimmy be Jimmy.” So even though he would like to have an athletic son, he refocused on all of the positive qualities that Jimmy possessed, and found activities they could both enjoy doing together. And almost like magic, giving up his expectation and embracing acceptance allowed Tom to create a warmer, safer and more loving atmosphere with his son and entire family.