Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Tag: happiness

The Welcome Surprise of Low Expectations

Having high expectations for something is an easy way to set yourself up for disappointment. Maybe you heard that a movie that just came out is “literally the best movie ever made”. You go into the movie expecting a visual masterpiece and a plotline to rival the works of Shakespeare.

When the movie is over, you agree that it was good, but probably not the best movie ever. What’s more, since you went into it with the expectation of watching the best movie ever and it didn’t live up to that, you probably like that movie a little less than you would have if you went into it with no expectations.

I was recently happily surprised by a situation in which I had no expectations for myself while I was practicing yoga. I started doing yoga about four months ago, and while I love watching people who are good at yoga maneuver their bodies into elegant poses, I know that I am a long way away from that.

Occasionally I get impatient with myself and wish that I could progress with yoga more quickly, but most days I am ok with where I am at, and I am ok with the fact that the journey to more strength and flexibility will take a long time. I also know that I am not very flexible, especially in my lower body.

That was why, when my heels touched the floor in downward facing dog, I was ecstatic.

In downward facing dog, your hands and feet are on the mat and your butt is up in the air, with your body in the shape of a V. I remember in one of the first yoga classes that I ever attended, the instructor said to think about your heels coming all the way down to the mat in downward facing dog. With my heels four inches away from the floor, I thought she was crazy.

If I had any expectation about my heels touching the mat, it was that it would happen after years of practice. Honestly, though, I didn’t think about it much. I just enjoyed stretching out the backs of my legs in downward facing dog.

Then, one day, I was practicing yoga at home following a video online. This was after about three months of practicing most days, but not every day. Toward the end of the video, I went into downward facing dog and it happened! Both heels touched the floor!

I was so excited that I couldn’t even go into Shavasana, the final resting pose that you are supposed to end your yoga practice with. Instead, I ran into the other room to show Husband, who was happy that I was happy but not quite sure what all the fuss was about. The dog, on the other hand, was super happy about all the running around and excitement.

Most of the reason why this was so exciting was that I hadn’t expected it to happen for a very long time. If I had expected my heels to touch the ground after one or two months of practicing yoga, just like expecting to watch the best movie ever, I would have just set myself up for disappointment.

Yoga practice has been a great way for me to embrace the moment and release any idea of how things should be. I have become better at tuning into my body and accepting where I am every day. Since that first time my heels touched the floor, I have had days where that has happened again, but I have also had many days where it hasn’t, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

I enjoy yoga much more when I think about it as a journey, instead of a time to push myself into perfect poses. You can think about life in much the same way. It is a journey that will be much more enjoyable if you take the time to enjoy where you’re at each day, instead of just rushing to get to a place where you think you’re supposed to be, such as having a certain job or relationship status.

The key to enjoying the journey is not holding onto expectations about what a yoga pose should look like, or what you should be doing at a certain point in your life. My heels touching the floor in downward facing dog was a lightbulb moment for me about how great it can be to have low expectations.

Of course, I don’t want to have low expectations about everything in my life. I still want to have goals and things to strive for, but I hope to hold onto my goals without turning them into expectations. It’s great to have something to work towards, but much less great with the unnecessary pressure of expectation.

So go on, enjoy the journey, and open yourself up to feeling surprise and joy over the little things.

3 Habits to Boost Happiness

One of the goals that I have during my extended stay on a Caribbean island is to learn how to live a happier, more meaningful, stress-free life. Though life on an island has its perks and lessons, sunny skies and sandy beaches are not a cure-all. They certainly help, but daily household tasks, financial worries, anxiety, and a history of living a busy, stressful life don’t just disappear.

With that in mind, I decided to look up some techniques that I can incorporate into my daily routine to increase happiness. Since my other goal is to share this journey with you, here are the results of my search!


1. Be More Mindful

The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…”. While mindfulness can be a type of meditation where you focus on the sensations around you and bring your mind back to those sensations whenever it starts to wander, I like to think about it more as a way to go through your day.

Instead of getting caught up in the thoughts in your head, try to take a little more notice of the world around you. Maybe being mindful is something you try to do throughout your day. Pull yourself out of your thoughts occasionally and really observe where you are and what is happening around you. Observe how you feel or what you are thinking, and accept those thoughts without trying to change them.

Or, maybe, you set aside a little time for being more mindful. My favorite way to do this is to go on a walk and really take in the color of the sky and the sights of the plants or people or terrain around you. Listen to the noises in the distance and feel how warm or cold the air is. Coexist there with your thoughts.

However you decide to incorporate mindfulness into your day, it can help you to feel happier, reduce stress, and live life more meaningfully outside of your own head.


2. Meditate

We’ve all heard of the many benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and better focus. People who regularly practice meditation have also reported physical improvements, such as lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system. Meditation has become so well-known in recent years for improving both physical and mental health that a number of highly successful companies have even incorporated it into the work days of their employees.

A lot of research is being done into the why’s and how’s of meditation and its effects. One scientific study showed that changes in the brains of study participants could be detected after practicing meditation for just 8 weeks. Another study has shown that meditation can decrease rumination, which is a common feature of both anxiety and depression.

Meditation can seem daunting, and it can be really hard to clear your thoughts and focus just on your breath or your surroundings. There are tons of resources out there to help get you started, though! Meditating can be as easy as getting an app on your phone or finding a guided meditation video.

Remember, meditating is a skill that will take practice, but the time you put into it will be well worth the rewards in both physical health and happiness.


3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Expressing gratitude is something we do every day, at least in small amounts. We thank the person who holds a door open for us. The person who rings up our purchase thanks us for shopping and tells us to have a nice day. With a little extra effort, you can let gratitude improve your life in a number of ways.

In one study, it was found that people who wrote about things that they were grateful for exhibited more positivity about their lives than people who wrote about either neutral or negative life events. Other studies have contributed to the long list of benefits that gratitude can provide, ranging from better mental and physical wellbeing to stronger relationships.

One easy way to experience more gratitude in your life is to start a gratitude journal. The idea is simple. Just write down the things you are grateful for, and make the commitment to write in your journal consistently, whether that is every day, once a week, or anywhere in between. You can also check out these tips, and find gratitude journal apps on android or apple!

If taking just a few minutes a day to write down five things that you are grateful for can increase your overall happiness in life, why not start today?


The biggest thing to remember is that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And most of the time, journeys are hard work. It takes commitment to develop a new habit and planning to fit it into your busy schedule. If that new habit can help you reduce stress and improve your quality of life, though, I think you’ll be glad you did it!

Which one (or two, or three) of these techniques do you want to try? Leave your answer in the comments below!

Learning to Live on Island Time

When we were preparing to come to Grenada, many people warned us about “island time”. They said that everything was going to take longer, from receiving a call back to getting food at your table in a restaurant. We prepared ourselves as much as we could for things to take more time than they did in the hustle-and-bustle of the US.

We even experienced island time before we got to Grenada when we were looking for apartments. Some rental companies seemed aware of the culture of instant customer service that most students coming to the island were used to and replied to our inquiries right away. Others, however, took days to hear back from, if we got a response at all.

It turned out that we were apartment hunting at the same time as a lot of other people, and places were filling up quickly. This, combined with slow response times from many of the people that we contacted, led to my anxiety-fueled fear that we would never find a decent apartment.

As is the case with many thoughts that are a product of anxiety, this fear of not finding a good apartment in time did not turn into reality. We did, in fact, find an apartment that we like very much. However, this first encounter with island time left me a little apprehensive about living with it once we got to Grenada.

Now that we have been here for a few months, we have had plenty of encounters with island time. One of the first things that another student told us was to multiply any amount of time that someone gives you by three. For example, if someone says that they will meet you in 15 minutes, expect them to be there in 45. I was skeptical of this at first, but it has proven accurate so far!

Another aspect of island time is that places might not be open when you want them to be. Coming from a college town in the US where you can get any type of food you want at 3am, I was surprised when people here boasted about the restaurant (yes, singular) that offers 24-hour takeout.

After I finished grieving the loss of easily accessible fast food and considered the relative size of the college town here compared to the one I was used to, it made sense that there were fewer places to get a quick bite to eat any hour of the day or night. At least places would be open during the day at their regularly scheduled hours, right?

Wrong.

One of the first restaurants that we went to was closed on a random week day with no indication as to why. There was a holiday earlier in the week, and my guess is that they decided to take a couple extra days off. Oh well, if you can’t go to a restaurant, at least you can always rely on the grocery store, right?

Wrong again.

The grocery store’s recent floor re-surfacing project, which already involved limited hours compared to their regular schedule, ended up being extended about an extra week. Their hours became more limited, and they even opened later than their already delayed start time on at least one occasion.

Any one of those things happening when I lived in the US would have driven me crazy. Now, though, I just have to laugh about it.

You see, the key to living with island time is living on island time. This might seem obvious, but as a person who always kept busy and had a rigid schedule, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make the transition. No doubt living the stay-at-home-wife life made it easier, but I don’t feel like I had to make an effort to live on island time. Island time found me, and it has been incredibly rewarding.

When I bought a vehicle from a local, what started out as his gracious offer to help me get car insurance turned into an all-day affair where I got to try authentic oil-down and see beautiful parts of the island that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That was only possible because I allowed myself to be on island time.

Not being able to get groceries when you set out to could easily make your day worse. But when you’re not rushing to get things done based on some pre-determined timeline, you have the opportunity to think about the things that are truly important – the things that really need to get done – and you are able to prioritize those. Maybe you can even prioritize something that you want to do.

I realize not everyone will have the opportunity to experience a slow, purposeful life lived on island time. It is hard to slow down when commuting and work and exercising and running errands and social engagements can take up so much of your time. I know that after two years on island time, I will return to that life, and it will be hard to hold onto the lessons that I’ve learned here while slowing down.

However, the three things that I have learned on island time and hope to keep with me throughout my life are: 1) Make it a priority to leave a little time for yourself each day. Do something that you want to do, not something that you have to do. 2) Don’t feel like time spent relaxing is time wasted. Those moments spent in slowness, either by yourself or with others, are likely to be the things you remember most – and most fondly – later on. 3) Live deliberately and with purpose, instead of just reacting to what life throws at you. This will make even the mundane moments more worthwhile and vibrant.

I can’t take island time with me, and while I’m inclined to be sad about that, that would go against the true meaning of living on island time. Island time is, at its essence, about being more mindful and present in the current moment.

And that’s something I can always take with me.

Long Distance Friendship

This might come as a surprise, but I tend to form expectations about how things will turn out in the future. Shocker, I know. I especially do this with things that I haven’t experienced before, and then I cling to those expectations for security. I don’t like things that are surprising or unfamiliar, so having a clear picture in my mind of how things will unfold can be very reassuring.

Coming to Grenada with Husband, I had an expectation about how the relationships that I had with friends and family back home would change. So far I have been proven absolutely wrong. And I am really glad about that for a change.

Don’t get me wrong, coming to an island where everyone I’ve ever known is hundreds of miles away across a vast body of water certainly did change my relationships. It was just not in the way that I predicted.

What I’ve learned so far is that when you live near people, it can be hard to make time to spend with them. You tell yourself that you are too busy, or too tired, or that you will see them next week. Definitely. Probably.

You take interactions for granted because you will see the person again at work tomorrow. Maybe you don’t make the time to talk to someone as often as you should because, somehow, living in relative proximity makes you feel more connected to them than you really are.

When you live far away from your friends and family, though, there is no proximity, no chance to visit them easily, no thinking that you will probably see them soon. While this can put strain on relationships, it doesn’t have to.

Luckily, we live in a time when it is possible to communicate with people all over the globe almost instantaneously. Thanks in large part to this, my relationships with friends and family haven’t stagnated as I feared they would. Instead, they’ve just changed, and not for the worse.

Now, when I communicate with friends and family back home, those interactions seem more deliberate and meaningful. The scarcity of their company makes those emails and messages all the more important to me, and I don’t take for granted the words that we are able to exchange like I did before.

When you are able to spend a lot of time with someone, oftentimes the conversations become diluted with filler just to pass the time. However, when you are no longer able to interact with someone frequently, the conversations become distilled and you find yourself talking about the things that are truly important.

Distance can even open up fun avenues of communication that you probably didn’t use when you lived close to friends and family, such as writing letters. Maybe it’s because gifts are one of my love languages, but when I take the time to write a letter and put it in the mail, it makes me feel much closer to that person. It is also nice to receive something in the mail besides bills!

I’m not going to lie, staying in touch can be difficult. Sitting down to write to your friends is not nearly as fun as spending a Friday night out together. For those of us that are bad at answering texts or messages under normal circumstances, there can be an added layer of complexity when that becomes your only form of communication.

The effort that it takes to stay in contact with people will cause some relationships that were tenuous before to falter, but the effort required to maintain relationships, especially over distance, is not always a bad thing. On the contrary, if you put the effort into maintaining a relationship when you live far away from someone, it will only make that relationship stronger.
Another thing that I’ve come to realize is that living farther away from someone can even increase the amount you communicate with them. The person that I have experienced this the most with is my brother.

Growing up, we were always close enough. As we entered the bustle of college and adult life, we would see each other at dinner nights with our parents and all the extended family functions, but we rarely contacted each other just to talk.

Now that we’re in different countries, I’ve talked to him more on the phone in the last few months than I have in the past year, and our conversations are much more in depth than they used to be. I think that we used to feel closer to each other than we really were because we lived near one another and would see each other fairly regularly. Distance gave us the perspective we needed to see where we wanted our relationship to go.

I don’t think that you need to move to an island away from all the people you know and love to experience this change in communication and relationships. All the change in location did for me was give me a different perspective, and you can change your perspective wherever you are.

All it really takes is a bit of reflection about the relationships that you value, and making a commitment to not take them for granted. Make a commitment to see people more often, even if you just had to work late. Make a commitment to call you grandmother more often. Make a commitment to put even a little more time and effort into the relationships that mean the most to you.

It won’t be easy, but I think it will be worth it. After all, what fun would life be without the people who give it meaning?

On Having Bad Days

I feel like I’ve been having more bad days than usual lately. They haven’t been terrible days. They have just been the kinds of days where you wake up late, continuously trip on invisible objects, miss the bus, and inevitable drop something all over the floor and make a huge mess.

If you are having a bad day, I feel like there are two ways that you can handle it:

  1. Decide that today is not your day and wait until tomorrow comes for things to go your way, or
  2. Change your perspective. Take the opportunity to get to know a different part of town if you take a wrong turn somewhere. Instead of getting mad at your roommate for drinking all the milk, be grateful that you have someone to share rent with who is actually pretty cool most of the time.

If number 1 jives with you – and let’s be honest, we’ve all been there – maybe go to bed early so that you feel refreshed when tomorrow finally arrives. If you want to make today a little better, maybe treat yourself to one of your favorite things or try some techniques for improving a bad day.

Maybe you don’t want to wait until tomorrow to feel happier so you give the second one a go. I also usually take this opportunity to blast Shake it Off and Let it Go. Even if you can’t control what is happening in your life at the moment, you can always control how you think about it, and that is sure to make you feel better!

Oh wait, there is also a third way to deal with having a bad day:

  1. Have a bad day, change your perspective and look at the positives of the situation, still feel upset/mad/frustrated, and then get frustrated with yourself for not being able to feel better.

This third option creates a wonderful downward spiral of feeling bad, trying to make yourself feel better without success, feeling worse, repeat.

For example, I bought a beautiful pot roast from the local butcher and was super excited to try out a delicious new recipe with it. I even went out and bought a Dutch oven to make this thing happen. As I’m letting the pot roast cook away in the oven, I joked to Husband about how I hoped that there would be liquid left in the Dutch oven when I took it out of the oven (Fun fact: Ovens in Grenada don’t have temperature gauges. My choices are 1 – 5!)

A minute later I smelled something burning. My guesstimate of the oven temperature had been way off and I had in fact cooked all of the liquid out of the Dutch oven and my greatly-anticipated pot roast. I was crushed, and Husband rushed to the store to get a few items to salvage dinner and my spirits. I tried to think of the positives of the situation: the pot roast was edible, I’m lucky to have a husband who was willing to drop what he was doing to make me feel better, and I had just learned how not to cook a pot roast. None of it helped though, and I felt ridiculous that one over-cooked piece of meat could make me feel so lousy. In my defense, I LOVE food. But still. Cue downward spiral.

The best way that I have found to break out of the downward spiral is to consciously acknowledge what you are feeling at the moment, and sit with it. Don’t try to change it. A friend recently told me that she would think to herself how she was feeling, and follow it up with, “and that’s ok.” For instance, you might think to yourself, “I’m angry right now, and that’s ok.” I have found this to be so helpful in breaking the cycle of trying to change how you feel and ultimately making yourself feel worse.

Don’t get me wrong, sitting with negative emotions is not the most pleasant experience. I feel like it is natural to try to do something to get frustration and anger and sadness to go away so that we can replace them with better emotions, but when trying to fix it makes you even more unhappy, someone has to step in and change the pattern. And that someone is probably you. It is ok to feel frustrated, mad, sad, or upset when things don’t go your way. It is natural to feel those things, and the only person saying that you can’t or shouldn’t feel those things is you. So give yourself a break, take a moment to feel how you’re feeling, then go about your day. Chances are, letting go of any thoughts about what emotions you should be feeling at any given moment will have you feeling better, or – at the very least – not feeling worse.

Then you can get back to jamming out to Taylor Swift.