Last week, I spent the better part of six days with a four-year-old boy. I don’t spend a whole lot of time around kids, so for me, this was a unique opportunity to experience the world through the eyes of a child.
We all know kids see the world differently – among other things, they haven’t yet learned to incorporate bias or prejudice into their worldview.
There’s no worry, doubt or insecurity. Their experiences are all so new that there’s no judgement of good or bad – their experience just is.
Watching this little boy encounter new and different things got me thinking.
What if I could see the world through his eyes? What would be different?
What would I learn about how I shape my reality – how do my experiences color my perceptions?
We are all the product of our own experience.
We use the information we’ve stored about how things have worked in the past to attempt to predict how they’ll work in the future. It makes sense as a survival mechanism, and since we’re still here, it’s worked out pretty well.
But how does this serve us in today’s modern world? How accurate are our predictions? Do they help us make better decisions? Do they make things more efficient? Less stressful?
I’d argue that more often than not, we’re let down by our forward-looking minds.
There are times, I think when we’d be better served by thinking like a four-year-old kid.
Kids have no expectations.
Expectations are what we get once we’ve done a bunch of mental gymnastics.
We try to assess personal risk by completing a hypothetical cost / benefit analysis based on our past experience.
Will this be fun? Will this be a waste of time / money / resources? What can I gain? Could I get hurt or die?
It takes us only a few seconds to take what we think we know about something, anything, and run it through our filters to determine how we’re going to feel about it – before its even happened! It’s an amazing (dis)ability.
The problem is, unless you can generate 1.21 gigawatts or have a crystal ball, you never know how it’s going to turn out.
So, creating expectations can be limiting and potentially, a total waste of time and energy. Setting expectations can even take something we would have otherwise enjoyed, and turn it into something to be loathed.
Setting expectations can literally change how we experience our lives.
Think of the last time you had expectations for something and they weren’t being met. Did this take away from your experience at all? Maybe you were lamenting your poor decision making instead of enjoying the humor of your situation. Maybe you missed a learning opportunity because you were busy feeling frustrated and let down. Or, you may have lost out on meeting someone new and important to you because you were too distracted thinking about all the better ways you could be using your time.
Now, think about how a young child approaches a new situation – they don’t bother with expectations at all.
Instead, they delight in the newness of their experience. They take what the moment presents and grow with it, non-judgmentally. They’re completely present and once they get their fill, it’s on to the next thing.
What an advantage to be able to cast aside expectations and just take what’s given, whatever it may be.
No judgement of good or bad against some imagined idea of what’s to happen. No want, desire or longing for something more, different, better. No regret, remorse or guilt for uncontrollable outcomes, unintended consequences or bad experiences.
I admit, I struggle with expectations. I’m a maximizer – if it’s not the best use of my time, I become exasperated and adopt some of the less righteous behaviors of a child.
I want every new experience to be remarkable in some way – for myself and those around me – as if that’s even possible.
That’s why it was so refreshing to be reminded of the absurdity of expectations – by a four-year-old.
How would your work be different if you let go of expectations? If you stopped expecting your colleagues to behave in a particular way…stopped expecting ideal results of your efforts…stopped expecting a certain type of (positive) feedback…stopped expecting your day to mirror your calendar?
What if instead, you focused on only what you could control, like your effort or your attitude?
How would your relationships be different if you let go of expectations? If you stopped expecting your spouse to act a certain way…stopped expecting your friends to do certain things for you…stopped expecting certain outcomes and reacting harshly when things don’t go as planned?
What if instead, you focused on only what you could control, like your availability to others, your listening and patience, your trust.
Of course, there’s more we can control, but only if we let go of the things that we can’t.
How do the expectations that you create influence how you experience your life, your work or your relationships? Are they helpful? If not, you might stand to learn something from a four-year-old.
Happy 4th Birthday Max!