Put aside my To Do list and enjoy sitting in the warm Summer Wisconsin sun.
The human form of a sun-soaking lizard.
I woke up at 3:45 this morning.
Not out of my own volition, but out of my daughter’s.
At four-months-old, she is still on a wake-up-every-four-hours schedule and, this morning, decided to take a particularly long time to go back to sleep.
When she was finally down at 4:45, I was wide awake and decided it was worth it to just get my day started.
Early morning hours are definitely my sparkle time.
As the rest of my family slept, I enjoyed a homemade latte (finally learning how to successfully use my milk foamer) and a beautiful sunrise.
One of my favorite things about living in the country are the endless vibrant skies we are blessed with.
They are a daily reminder of how endless the possibilities are when you trust in the universe around us.
On one of our dog walks, my husband asked me if motherhood was easier or harder than I expected it would be.
Without missing a beat, and while pushing a stroller uphill, I said “Easier”.
After thinking about it for a minute, I realized I might feel that way because I had zero expectations of what parenthood would be like outside of “like nothing else I’ve experienced before”.
During the nine months of my pregnancy, I grew tired of hearing how I should go to parenting classes, I should read books, I should make friends with other pregnant women, and I should prepare myself to not be able to do (or want to do) certain things I had always done once my daughter was born.
I didn’t want to “should all over” my time of pregnant bliss, so I chose not to do any of it and, instead, just do things my own way: enjoy each day for what it was, learn as I go, and have no expectations for what was to come next.
By not having expectations, I had no guilt over not doing things a certain way.
I was able to enjoy each of my wins because I want comparing my experience alongside someone else’s measuring stick.
I was able to celebrate progress instead of perfection.
And that last piece has proven to be the unintended mantra of my first twelve weeks of motherhood otherwise known as the dreaded #FourthTrimester.
So today, and most days with Dagny , I decided to focus on progress, not perfection, and I made no expectations for myself today except to simply BE PRESENT.
An MRI study from the University College of London indicates that the key to happiness is lowered expectations.
In the study, researchers found when measuring “moment to moment happiness” it didn’t matter how well things were going, but, rather, it mattered whether they were going better than expected: by having lowered expectations, it made the outcome more likely to viewed as positive.
Another study from the University of Southern Denmark set out to determine why Danes consistently score higher than any other Western country on measures of life satisfaction.
Their findings determined “if expectations are unrealistically high, they could be the basis of disappointment and low life satisfaction. While Danes are very satisfied their expectations [compared to other countries] are rather low.”
Before you say, “to hell with it” and stop holding yourself (and others) accountable to achieving some level of standard, let me explain further.
These researchers are not encouraging you to walk around expecting the worst out of people and then being pleasantly surprised when 97% of the population can exceed those expectations.
They aren’t suggesting that you should expect no good things to come to you, from you, from circumstances, or from others.
((Talk about an Eeyore way of living.))
They are, instead, encouraging you to look forward to events, like a New Year’s Eve party, without going into said event expecting it to be the greatest experience of your life and then, inevitably, being disappointed.
When it comes to goal-setting, they encourage you to set a realistic level of expectation without setting the expectation that you will accomplish your goal faster, better, and more successfully than anyone before you.
There is such a negative connotation around the idea of lowering our expectations.
I believe that is because we have all become such good Human Doers instead of Human Beings: we expect everyone to work as hard, be as smart, treat one another as thoughtfully, laugh and joke as gregariously, and achieve as much as we do.
Even worse, we expect the most out of ourselves - constantly raising a bar we already have a hard time reaching.
These researchers (and I) are not suggesting you dropping your expectations completely, but, rather, to become better at managing them.
Striving for big, impossible (Dopey or adventurous) goals is good. Up to a point.
So many of us will put off goals until we are sure we can achieve them.
We wait until we have prepared as much as we can prepare, have learned as much as we can learn, and have lined everything up so that we will not experience any adversity or difficulty along the way.
What happens when we do that, though, is either (1) we never begin or (2) we begin and are disappointed when it’s not as easy as all of our preparation wanted it to be.
To reiterate it one more time, setting expectations is vital for personal and professional growth.
If you don’t aim for progressively higher goals, you’re likely to just stay right where you are, but while we should strive for excellence, we shouldn’t allow perfection to be the enemy of good and we shouldn’t spend the entire day measuring reality against an imagined reality that lives within our head.
The truth is that we cannot control 90% of what happens in our lives, so by releasing our thoughts over how a situation should play out, we are also releasing the likelihood of becoming wrapped up in negative feelings when things don’t happen the way you want them to.
Try not to force an outcome, just be open to other people’s actions, build your happiness on positive thoughts, and stay in the moment.
So many things are outside of your control, but how you respond is completely within it (even when it feels like it’s not).
If we lower our expectations for ourselves and for others, we are able to be gentler and more compassionate.
We are able to listen to our intuition and our hearts instead of listening to what we *should* do.
We are able to eliminate unnecessary pain and frustration in our life.
We are able to celebrate every little success with delight and surprise.
We are able to set our egos aside and accept (or be surprised) by our limitations and be okay with them.
We are able to set ourselves free of the constructs that we create in our own head when we set sky high expectations.
So on a day when I felt like I was always three steps behind, I decided to drop all of the expectations I had put upon myself for the day and just be present and enjoy the sunshine.
Because when I think about the example I want to set for my daughter, do I want her to constantly worry about her To Do lists, piles of laundry, and whether or not she should finish writing that last email or do I want her put everything down and enjoy the moment?
Is it annoying me that my guest bedroom has turned into the black vortex for crap that needs to be put away? Yes.
Will I still put too much pressure on myself to do “all of the things” I was doing before I had a baby? Yes.
Do I scowl at the well-organized Post-It note that is mocking me from my desktop as I sooth a crying baby throughout the day? Yes.
But I have to remind myself that these moments with my daughter are fleeting and it just doesn’t matter that we are pulling clean clothes from the laundry basket rather than from our drawers or that the dog bed Dizzy destroyed is still sitting in shrapnels all over my basement floor.