A Positive Outlook Without Expectations Helps Lower Anxiety
You can cultivate a positive outlook without also creating expectations that cause anxiety. Have you ever felt so worried about something that you couldn't focus on your family, friends, or work? For me, the answer is certainly yes -- especially when I'm thinking about something I really want to happen. I've found myself thinking a lot about expectations, specifically how my expectations increase my anxiety and make it harder for me to focus on the present. For graduate school, I have a lot of expectations for myself, involving grades, developing research, and cultivating relationships. And although in some ways it is beneficial to have expectations, ultimately, they engender a narrow perspective that ignores a host of positive outcomes.
Why a Positive Outlook Helps Lower Anxiety
Acknowledging more than one positive outcome is particularly difficult to challenge when anxious -- anxious thinking tends to be narrow, and usually identifies a single stressful situation or thought that is aversive. Anxious thinking essentially trains you to focus on the one thing that is producing anxiety and ignore everything else until that threat has been resolved ("How to Stop Thinking About Your Anxiety"). The problem with this intense focus is that most of life doesn't work in this binary manner. There is rarely just one positive solution or outcome. When the narrowness of anxious thinking extends to the rest of our lives, it can significantly reduce the number of positive outcomes we identify and consequently impair our ability to feel good about achievements that don't fit our initial expectations.
In order to combat this, I've started shifting from thinking about expectations to cultivating a positive outlook. Instead of focusing on specific outcomes I want, I've begun to simply trust that something good will come out of my work, even if I don't know exactly what that something is. This shift in perspective has helped me focus more on my work and has reduced my anxiety, empowering me to be more productive and happy. Here are two ways I have developed a positive outlook that does not involve expectations.
How to Cultivate a Positive Outlook
- Think of three alternative positive outcomes. When I get too focused on a single outcome I want to occur, I tend to feel more anxious about whether or not it will happen, and then lose focus on the present. This usually happens when I become overly fixated on the importance of that outcome and make it seem like the only possible positive event. To challenge this thinking, I think of three other similar outcomes that can produce value in my life. Generating these alternative outcomes reduces my anxiety about what will happen if my expected outcome doesn't occur and allows me to focus on my work.
- Acknowledge the value of those outcomes. Even after thinking of alternative outcomes that are positive, they don't always feel as valuable as the outcome I'd been focused on up to that point. This sort of bias can be hard to challenge, especially when you've been focused on that expectation for a long time. When I'm feeling this way, I go through the alternative outcomes I came up with and think through the ways they could produce value in my life. This step helps me notice just how many distinct ways there are to create similar kinds of value in life, and allows me to think flexibly and broadly about various ways I can achieve my goals.
Watch this video for more on focusing on goals and a positive outlook and not expectations.
These steps have helped me cultivate a positive outlook and reduce my fixation on expectations. What strategies have you used?
Abitante, G. (2018, August 26). A Positive Outlook Without Expectations Helps Lower Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/8/a-positive-outlook-without-expectations-helps-lower-anxiety
Author: George Abitante
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Yes! This is that golden 'eureka' moment: "I've started shifting from thinking about expectations to cultivating a positive outlook. Instead of focusing on specific outcomes I want, I've begun to simply trust that something good will come out of my work, even if I don't know exactly what that something is." It's truly amazing what a shift in perspective can achieve and this is such a fantastic example of that. So glad you've found how to master and work with this shift. It's such an empowering thing!
Hi Lizanne, thanks so much for your positive comment! I absolutely agree, achieving a shift in perspective like this makes such a difference, and in so many realms of life. It's so easy to get tied up in specific outcomes we want, and we often feel like this is necessary to be successful, but in my experience, it is more detrimental than beneficial!