I’m one of those people who create scenarios in my head, and when real life fails to live up to those scenarios I get confused, stumped, and don’t know what to say or do or how to handle the situation. You’re going on vacation and you have all these fantasies about how amazing and magical it’s going to be, but in reality, you end up with the flu, have a huge fight with your travel partner, and it turns out to be a national holiday and everything is closed. And then you just shut down because you were just not prepared for it. You didn’t expect it or plan for it. The version in your head didn’t come true and your anxiety hits you like a giant punch in your gut.
I’m a planner and for the reasons above, it’s actually a bit of an issue. So, for the last six months, I’ve been trying to not plan events and to let go of control in order to not set myself up to get disappointed and confused by an unpredicted situation. My therapist says I might have traits from a condition called OCPD, so that doesn’t help things.
Last Mother’s Day I invited my mom to go with us to the aquarium, as she’d been wanting to go for ages. This is going to be a personal story and a bit difficult to share, but part of why I’m writing this blog is to learn to be open about my feelings and the things I find difficult in life in hopes that it will help others feel less alone with their own struggles. Anyway, Daryl and I met up with her and went to the aquarium, and already on the way there, did things not live up to my expectations. My mom smokes, I don’t, and I wanted to get there early to beat the lines so we wouldn’t have to wait for ages to get in(control), but she kept stopping to smoke and it irked me. As it turned out, there were no lines. My stress was unfounded.
Then when we got in I pulled her to the touch pool as I’d imagined her excitement at getting to touch a sea star and a crab. But when we got there she didn’t want to. Instead, she was fiddling with her camera that wouldn’t work, and getting quite stressed and irritated. This, in turn, made me irritated (the moment was not living up to my expectations).
As it turned out, my expectation of a mother/daughter day out was not going to happen, and my mom’s expectation of a day spent behind her camera wasn’t going well either as her battery died. We each had completely different ideas about how we wanted the day to be, and I ended up very sad and felt rejected. My mom hardly spoke to me as she’s the kind of person who can get so caught up with her interests and what’s in her own head, that the people she’s with will fade into the background. I tried to make the most of the day and had a really good time with Daryl. And my mom did join in now and then when she wasn’t fiddling with her camera.
Daryl pulled me outside at one point where they had a little dock where you could try out a fishing rod. I’d never done it before and trying it now was totally off-script and not part of my original plan for the day. Trying something new always scares me a bit. But once Daryl helped me and showed me what to do, I started to have fun, and it was actually the best moment of the whole day: that unexpected, unplanned, spontaneous moment. I laughed and giggled and at that moment my mom’s lack of participation didn’t matter because I chose a different path and a different mindset.
Looking back, there were definitely things I could have done differently. I would be hurt regardless, but it would have been less painful if I hadn’t had an idealized fantasy about the day from the getgo. If I hadn’t tried to control it or expect anything from it. Changing my attitude at the end of it made it better, I relaxed more and gave into the situation and focused the positive things. We saw some cute otters being fed, we had fish ‘n’ chips (however morbid that is to eat in an aquarium), we took silly photos and I coerced a butterfly onto my nose by putting sugar there. All in all, a good day.
Family can be a difficult and painful subject, but that’s not the point of this story. This is all about letting go and realizing that there’s a difference between expectations and reality and that by letting go of your expectations and your control, the situation can actually be allowed to surprise you and you can truly be in the moment and enjoy it without ruining it for yourself.
So if you’re struggling with perfectionism, high expectations or excessive planning where you can be strongly disappointed, try these things:
- Do the things you really want to do, but only sketch out the outline of what you want to happen and then let them happen uncontrolled, unplanned. Stop yourself every time you try to micromanage.
- Try to stop yourself from building up idealized fantasies in your head about things, but take them as they come. Push the thoughts away and distract yourself when you notice that you’re starting to build up expectations and ideas.
- Practice letting go of control by letting someone else plan things without your involvement. Daryl took me to Ireland on my birthday last year. I had no idea and it was the most relaxing trip ever, as I hadn’t had any chance to over plan and control.
- Set your expectations at a realistic level. Don’t expect love, family, friendships, success, etc. to be like it is in movies, on social media, and in fairytales. Remember that life isn’t like that and that those things are illusions.
- Leave room for others to have their own ideas and expectations. Find compromises and be open to change and newness.
- Make the best of a disappointing situation by looking for whatever positives you can find. Turn it around, make it yours and radically accept that things are out of your control. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.
- Don’t try to predict the outcome of every situation. It’s okay to somewhat prepare, but be aware that you can’t prepare for everything. Things will happen that aren’t planned or ideal, and no matter how much you prepare, this will always be the case.
Also published on Medium.