I was having a grouchy morning at home. Things weren’t going my way. I was even having a bad hair day. I decided to get it cut.
I walked into the hair salon. The hair stylist asked me, “How are you today?”
I decided to be bluntly honest, “I’m not very good today.”
She replied, “Good!”
Sometimes we hear only what we expect to hear.
I was sure the stylist expected my response to be, “I’m good!” And even though I didn’t say that, it’s probably what she heard, thus prompting the standard reply we all give, “Good.”
Our expectations influence us more than we realize.
And in more areas than we realize.
I learned more about the value of expectations in David Robson’s new book, The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Change Your World.
In the book, Robson shows from research that what we expect to happen can influence what actually does happen in many ways.
Thus, it’s important to learn how to set better expectations.
Examples include medicine. Did you know that all things being equal, we respond better to larger tablets than smaller tablets, and to capsules the best? It has nothing to do with the ingredients in the pills. It has to do with our expectations. (We know it as the placebo effect.)
Likewise, there is a nocebo effect. When we read that horrible long list of side effects from a drug, we’re more apt to have a side effect than if we don’t read it.
Even a nurse saying, “This may hurt” before giving you an injection makes your pain more likely.
How can we counter this normal, human expectation effect?
For pain, Robson suggests this:
“You may try to remember a few reassuring phrases, such as ‘my pain is in my brain,’ and ‘the sensations are real, but temporary’ that can counteract more general anxieties and that emphasize the power of the brain’s capacity to bring its own relief.
More than half of people with chronic pain report at least a 30 percent reduction in their symptoms when using this technique, with many patients experiencing as much as 70 percent improvement.”
Other areas of life that are affected by our expectations include how we respond to stress. If we reframe a racing heartbeat before a public speech as a sign of energy for an important event, we’re more likely to do better than if we view the anxiety as debilitating and disadvantageous.
Robson is quick to point out, though, that this isn’t a matter of just “positive thinking.” He says he’s the last person to make that claim.
But what Robson does say is that specific beliefs (rather than general optimism) is what makes the difference.
Another example is food. Robson says,
“The way you describe your food will strongly influence the ways that you and your guests appreciate it. So be sure to season your dishes with some delicious words as you serve—that verbal garnish may be as important as the actual, physical ingredients.”
Aging is another excellent chapter. How we think about getting older can influence our health and mental attitude. Adjust your expectations like this:
“Rather than idealizing youthfulness, focus on all the things that you can gain from living a longer life—including experience, knowledge, and improved emotional regulation and decision-making. Remember that many of the things that we typically associate with aging—such as physical weakness—are within your control and can be improved with a healthier lifestyle. Avoid attributing sickness to your age, since this will reinforce the idea of an inevitable decline.”
Our brains are more malleable than we think. Reframing our mind as a work in progress can encourage us to change unhelpful thinking patterns to more accurate patterns when possible.
While setting better expectations cannot influence everything, it can influence some things. So why not?
My thanks to NetGalley NetGalley and Henry
Holt & Company for the review copy of this book.
Our expectations greatly affect our relationships, too. To treat each other in the ways that both honor God and demonstrate love, it’s helpful to be realistic in what we expect from our partners (and they from us).
Our featured post this week is from Theresa about this very thing. She reminds wives that knowing our husbands can help us better love our husbands.
Visit Theresa’s blog to see 9 Ways to Know Your Husband (you can apply these principles in any important relationship). Then add your own blog links below.
Have you been helped or hurt by your expectations?
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