Today I want to draw your attention to a concept known as Expectation Bias which says that we are biased towards judging those things which we expect to happen – because that’s how things “should” be, or are “supposed to be” – as “right” or “good.”
I put all the ” ” around those words because ultimately, it’s all arbitrary. Ultimately, we all live our lives on our little self-isolated, this-is-how-it’s-supposed-to-be islands. Even before COVID-19, we did so.
We all live our lives with a picture in our heads of how life is supposed to be. Expectations of how life will unfold. Society and family dynamics all support a certain vision, within parameters, of what life is supposed to look like.
The fact is that our perception defines our version of reality. And everybody’s perception is defined by our different life experiences, cultures, environments, people we’re surrounded by, the news that we read, the country we live in, etc. etc. Nobody’s vantage point is exactly the same as anyone else’s.
“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.”
Apparently, this is a quote from Socrates however I’m having a hard time picturing a man born circa 470 BC as saying “what screws us up” so who really knows. Did they really talk like that then?
Nevertheless, it’s true isn’t it?
This is true whether we have positive or negative expectations and for the most part we get what we expect. We create our lives based on what we expect to get because what we focus on is usually what we get more of.
But occasionally, like now, we’re thrown something so far out of our control and way outside of our expectations. The melt downs we’re experiencing are because that vision and those expectations are not being met. We’re thinking, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
Actually, that’s a bit too mild of a statement. The melt downs we’re experiencing are the result of us thinking, “What the actual f…!!! A global pandemic??!?! This wasn’t supposed to happen!!!!” Cue horrified emoji.
So, if what screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of what it’s supposed to be, but we all have our own picture anyway, then what are we “supposed to” do about it?
If you’re a Tibetan Monk then I suppose you would skilfully and artfully let go of any expectation of supposed-to-be through meditation and chanting. Me, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
What I have found useful is to accept that I’m going to be screwed up from time to time. I know that I will inevitably choose, when it does happen, to deal with it by having a good cry, releasing pent up emotion and expressing some curse words to myself, and then readjusting my expectations and supposed-to-bes and heading off on my merry way again.
Life rarely turns out how I think it’s supposed to. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I’m really good at dealing with it and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes how well I deal with it changes from day to day or even hour to hour. Sometimes it’s a process.
What I seem to eventually get to is a refusal to accept anything less than ideal and a fierce determination to create something better. Which becomes a new picture in my head of how it’s supposed to be.
Which, I also accept, could end up screwing me over at some point.
But it is what it is.
There’s a piece by Werner Erhard called “What’s So” that I’ve been finding helpful to read of late. It starts with, “What’s so is always just what’s so. What’s so doesn’t care what you think, feel, intend or wish; it will not bend. You can be freaked out or driven over what’s so, and it won’t change what’s so.”
There is a global pandemic happening. That is what’s so. Getting upset about it won’t change that fact.
But we do have control over our attitude and our response to it. Focusing not on what we can’t do but instead on accepting what is and on what we can do means that we choose to make the most of whatever life throws at us and ultimately this leads to a happier and more fulfilled life.
Choice. Acceptance. Resilience.
PS: I made up that up term by the way, Expectation Bias. It’s not a real thing. Or maybe it is now, because I said it.
PPS: You can read the whole What’s So piece here.