How Anticipation is Ruining Your Good Times
For centuries, humans have talked about the fact that there is joy to be found in anticipation. Sometimes, the waiting for something to come is better than the thing itself. For so many of us, anticipation is hope for something good. It’s planning for and expecting joy, but even the most hopeful anticipation can leave us feeling let down by the reality. For others, anticipation seems to run towards anxiety. We find ourselves trapped in worst case scenario thinking. We worry about all the “what ifs” that could be, and this steals the joy out of our experiences before they ever begin. It seems anticipation is a really complicated thing. Is it better to have high hopes and be let down or expect the worst before anything happens? Maybe the answer is neither? In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at positive and negative anticipation, how expectation impacts our experiences, and how learning to manage anticipation is an essential part of leading a more satisfying life.
Great Expectations Don’t Always Lead to Great Times
One way that anticipation ruins our enjoyment is by making us expect too much of a situation. When we spend a lot of time building up an experience in our mind, it can be a letdown. There are two ways to address the way this anticipation negatively impacts us, and they can be summed up well by two quotes:
“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.” – Charles Dickens Nicholas Nickleby
“When I think something nice is going to happen, I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts…it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” – L.M. Montgomery Anne of Avonlea
So, how do we learn to curb the letdown of high hopes? We can, like Anne, learn to appreciate the joy present within our great expectations themselves, or as Dickens recommends, learn to curb our expectations and allow for greater joy.
Anticipatory Anxiety Ruins Good Times Before They Begin
The other way that anticipation can ruin a good time is maybe a little more straightforward. If you’re someone who struggles with anticipatory anxiety, you know how these preemptive worries and worst case scenario thinking can lead to avoiding moments of joy before they even begin. We don’t have any profound thoughts from deep thinkers for this one. Instead, let’s just talk a little about the way that anticipatory anxiety impacts people. You may find yourself experiencing things like social phobia, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, and other negative effects of anticipatory anxiety. These experiences make it difficult for you to participate in your life. Most people who struggle with anticipatory anxiety find choosing to stay home or forego a possibly good time is the better, safer option. So, they miss out on the joys of many experiences in order to avoid being hurt or disappointed. If you experience anticipatory anxiety, we recommend taking the following steps to reduce the impact of this anxiety on your life, so you can start finding greater satisfaction and engaging more often:
- Step 1 – What really is the worst case scenario? Let your imagination run wild. Will going to your friend’s birthday party (or other even this is just an example) jump start the apocalypse? Lean in. Really let yourself catastrophize.
- Step 2 – What really is the best case scenario? Now that you’ve opened a hellmouth under your favorite restaurant and let loose monsters from the underworld, let’s go the opposite direction. What is the best possible outcome of going to your friend’s birthday party? Is your birthday gift going to be your friend’s favorite? Are you going to find your soulmate in a rom-com meet cute? Are you going to run into an angel investor who overhears you talking up your great business idea and offers you full funding to jumpstart your career? Lean in. Let yourself soar in those clouds of high expectations Anne was talking about.
- Step 3 – What really is the most likely scenario? Okay, that was fun, but let’s come back down to earth and consider what is most likely to happen. Is your friend going to like your gift and be glad you came if not overly so? Are you going to possibly trip on an uneven floor and slosh some of your drink? Will you feel uncomfortable lulls in conversation, but generally, find the experience fun and enjoyable?
- Step 4 – Go anyway. Afterall, you need to know what’s going to happen. After spending all this time thinking about the situation, don’t you kind of want to know what’s really going to happen? It’s human nature to be curious. Let that curiosity drive you forward and go find out how the story ends.
- Step 5 – Forgive yourself if you can’t find the courage to engage. Change takes time. If your anticipatory anxiety has been in the driver’s seat for a while, it may take some effort to change. That’s okay. Keep trying.
Need a Little Help Managing Anticipation (Good or Bad)?
Struggling with the way that anticipation impacts our perspective on the world around us is totally normal, but that doesn’t make it any easier. If you need a little help reigning in the impact of your positive or negative anticipatory thinking, let’s talk about it. At Lansing Counseling, we can help you understand the effects of anticipation and manage the complex emotions wrapped up in your great expectations. When you’re ready to get started working with us, don’t hesitate to reach out over the phone, by email, or using the contact form below:
5030 Northwind Dr Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823