Often we associate a new year with new beginnings. We see it as a fresh start and an opportunity to do things that we either planned to do before or try something new entirely. It is for this reason that your go-to gym is always packed in January. It’s this reason why you see a lot less produce and lettuce available at the grocery store, it’s the reason why you see so many people being more active, more social, more adventurous, etc.
But something tends to happen by the end of January into the beginning of February. The gym starts to go back to its usual crowd, people aren’t really into their newfound hobbies anymore, people start getting a little less active. And then by the end of February, it seems as if the world has stopped being optimistic and starts “going back to normal”.
A lot of us chalk this up to inconsistency; which is definitely a big part of it. When we set out with our goals but don’t create a plan to bring those goals to fruition, those ‘goals’ are simply just wishes and dreams. People who set a goal in January but completely forget about it by March more than likely didn’t create a plan to back it up.
But I believe there is more to this. Creating goals and making game plans is one thing, but I think there’s another occurrence: the plateau. When we reach the plateau in any venture, we basically feel like we’re stuck; we’re not regressing but we’re also not making the progress we think we should. When we reach a plateau, it’s a lot easier to react negatively to our disappointment and shortcomings.
For example, last Friday I made a conscious decision to skip my morning workout. I figured I had been working hard all week and I was just too worn out to do it. But then the following morning…I did the same thing. And even into Sunday, I didn’t do anything. Before I knew it, the “one time” became three times. I was so irritated and disappointed in myself. While it may not seem like a big deal, I treated it like it was the biggest deal. A flood of self-doubt overcame me and I started feeling terrible as if I had already failed the new year.
Luckily, something in me said: “Oh well. You’ll just need to pick it up this week”. And starting on Monday that’s exactly what I did. But I do know that in the past I would have let that guilt and disappointment overtake me and I would have gone back to my old habits.
If lack of a game plan is the 1st thing that hinders a person’s progress, I believe disappointment is a close 2nd. This is when we create a self-loathing mentality. We ask ourselves “What is the point?” And we start having thoughts that validate our feelings to just quit and to never get our hopes up again.
We Can’t Live in Disappointment
One of the most devastating things I hear people say is: “If I don’t get my hopes up, then I don’t have to be disappointed later”.
I can’t imagine living a life where I find it easier to live in disappointment rather than taking the risk of feeling temporary disappointment over something I truly wanted.
In her latest piece Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown describes disappointment as unmet expectations; and the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment. When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our heads of how things are going to be and how they’re going to look. She goes on to say that we set expectations based not only on how we fit in that picture but on what those around us are doing in that picture. In other words, our expectations can often be set on outcomes totally beyond our control (i.e. what other people think, what they feel, how they’re going to react, etc.). So when the picture fails to come together in the real world, we feel disappointed.
And perhaps it’s because of this that some people would rather just not create a picture in their heads at all. However, this is simply going from one extreme to the other. While it’s not in our best interest to put forth unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others, it also doesn’t serve us to have literally no expectations either. To be honest, it’s fairly impossible not to expect anything. Every day we are both consciously and unconsciously setting expectations of ourselves and the people in our lives. Checking our disappointment starts with checking our expectations.
Brown states that expectations that are unconscious, unexamined, and unexpressed are the most dangerous and often turn into harsh disappointment. These are otherwise known as ‘stealth’ expectations. You don’t even realize they’re there until you see them fall apart. In the context of a relationship, stealth expectations can be the source of a lot of arguments and disagreements.
A common mistake is that we enforce certain expectations without reality-checking. We do this to our friends, our significant others, and especially to ourselves. We go in with nothing but enthusiasm and expect everything to work out exactly the way we want them to.
When my husband and I got married after being in a long-distance relationship for over a year, my expectation was that we would spend loads of quality time together. It’s kind of a given, right? Little did I know, my expectations weren’t exactly realistic. I pictured us going on dates every week, sight-seeing, finding new activities, etc. I just imagined we would take every chance we got to make up for lost time. So you can imagine my disappointment when he would come home from work and go straight to sleep. More often than not, he would be far too tired to do things.
But let me tell you why this expectation needed a reality check. My husband’s job at the time was very labor heavy: he worked as a mover aka move heavy things out of people’s homes and into new ones. He worked long hours and was constantly running back and forth, up and down stairs, and carrying heavy items. He would be getting upwards of 16,000 steps in a day just by doing his job. Needless to say, my stealth expectation of quality time just did not make sense, was focused on what only I wanted, and could have been communicated better in the first place.
The only reason I was disappointed is because: 1) I did not check the feasibility of my expectations and 2) did not communicate my expectations. We have to remember that expectations are not the enemy, but they do have to be checked and evaluated so that we aren’t constantly setting ourselves up for failure or disappointment.
We Need Hope and Expectation
I’ve grown to dislike the phrase “don’t get your hopes up”. As I grew older I started realizing that hope is the precursor to faith. Faith leads to belief. Belief leads to expectation. And expectation will lead to a result, whether it be positive or negative.
Living a life without hope and expectation is a life that’s only partially lived. I’ve witnessed so many people use their avoidant attitude towards disappointment as an excuse to not expect much out of anything or anybody. We paint this false idea that if we don’t expect something great, we won’t have to deal with the pain that comes with disappointment, and that’s just not true. People expect the worst out of others, so they don’t make new friends. They expect they have no chance of getting that dream job, so they don’t apply. They expect their significant other to cheat on them or treat them badly, so they shut down and don’t allow themselves to feel attached. They expect that they won’t meet their fitness goals, so they don’t bother going to the gym. When we don’t bother to expect good things, it’s no wonder that good things don’t happen.
As a for as he thinketh in his heart, so is heProvers 23:7, KJVAE
I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that when I commit to having hope and expectation, my days tend to be better. I tend to feel better. That’s regardless of if things went the way I wanted to or not.
Yes, usually by the end of December or the first of January, people already have certain goals or expectations in mind for themselves, their jobs, their relationships, etc. But no matter how great those expectations are, no one is immune to the plateau. We tend to experience the honeymoon phase of the work until around February when we reach a plateau. And sometimes that plateau will become a plummet. And then after the plummet we question why we had those expectations in the first place. If the beginning of the year is seen as a ‘fresh start’, I think the rest of the year should be for evaluation. We don’t need to demonize expectation and we certainly don’t need to feed into the idea that we “shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up”. Rather, we have to ask ourselves if what we set out to do (aka what we expected) is realistic, sustainable, and sets us up for success.
As I’ve already said before, disappointment happens. Frankly, it’s inevitable that we may disappoint someone, they may disappoint us, or we may disappoint ourselves. The idea isn’t to avoid disappointment, but to understand that disappointment doesn’t have to define us. it doesn’t have to determine whether the rest of the year will be a good one or not. There’s no reason why we can’t evaluate, regroup, and try again. I hope that we can all get our hopes up and keep them there.