The courage to have great expectations

I started getting excited a couple days after Christmas. I’d applied for a $500 flash grant and felt a surge of buoyancy when the foundation’s director messaged me to see if I’d received her email. Why would she be anxious about getting in touch if I wasn’t the winner?! As I waited for her to try sending the email again, my confidence and anticipation intensified. When I finally uncovered the notification where it had gotten waylaid by junk mail filters, I was darn near giddy with glee. The subject line read “Marva, you are our December grant winner!”

Half a second later I went into shock as I read the first paragraph and began plummeting down an emotional avalanche. “Congratulations! You have won a micro-grant in the amount of $55.” What the hey?! Did they forget a zero? Is this a typo?

As I processed my disappointment, I went back to the website, which clearly referred to $500 grants. Then I tracked down the Call for Submissions and found a key statement: “The amount depends on the final balance in our account on December 22.” I remembered reading this sentence through my inner optimist’s rosy lenses and interpreting it as implying I might very well get MORE than $500!

As I digested the news, I zipped through a micro-version of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), as I think we all do when we are caught by surprise. Writing this post is my way of working through the last two stages.

What’s most amazing is not that I managed within an hour of receiving the news to write a gracious reply with a request for clarification of the award amount, but that I allowed myself to raise my expectations that high in the first place.

You see, many years ago—as a young child—I taught myself to lower my expectations as a technique for preventing disappointment. Can anyone out there relate to that?

Marva in 6th Grade

By 6th grade I was adept at lowering my expectations

I employed that tool for 30 years or more before waking up and noticing a persistent pattern: no matter how low I dropped my expectations, people and situations still disappointed me. I finally figured out the reason: what I expected most strongly was that I would be disappointed. And I was, again and again and again.

By bracing myself for the worst, I left little if any room in my world for lovely surprises and happy outcomes. And, in fact, when circumstances seemed to be going well, I invariably had the shadowy suspicion that at any moment someone would announce there had been a mistake! I vividly recall sitting on my couch in an extraordinary new living space about 15 years ago and having a panic seize my heart as I imagined a knock on my front door with this news: I’m sorry, but you don’t deserve this.

The hardest part

For decades I was trapped in the dark clutches of my lower brain’s natural bias toward noticing the negative, a throwback to hunter/gatherer ancestors who presumably had little time to stop and smell the wild roses because they needed to be alert for saber-toothed cats and other potentially-deadly dangers. All these millennia later we can still find ourselves stuck with choosing from the primitive brain’s limited menu of options: fight, flight, freeze.

The good news is that humans have the power to consciously overwrite this old program and move from the dingy, danger-filled basement of the lower brain to a roomier, lighter apartment upstairs in the front of the brain. Decision-making works differently in the penthouse, with time to pause and consider before responding. There is a really wise and creative Upstairs Committee always available for consultation, and I love learning how to tap their ingenuity.

Which leads me back to the disappointing news that I’d received a $55 grant instead of a $500 grant. With a panoramic view of options from the comfy couch in my sunny mental apartment I could actually watch the incoming information arrive in the basement and provoke a rapid anger-fear-despair routine. But because of the hard work I’ve done to install strong stairs and a speedy elevator, the data and emotions arrived fairly quickly up in the mental penthouse where I could take a deep breath and respond more constructively with the help of the Upstairs Committee.

Down in the Doom Room I heard the usual commotion: I never win anything. Why even bother? I might as well tell them to keep their money. People are so misleading; this is probably some kind of scam. You can’t trust the Internet. What was I thinking? Why did I even waste my time? I should have known this was too good to be true.

Up in my higher mind there was a much different set of options under discussion: Maybe it’s a typo; I could write to express my confusion and request clarification. I’ll be able to cover this month’s electric bill at Insight with that money. I am so glad I can consciously choose to be gracious and grateful instead of defaulting to anger and defeat. This could be a good illustration for a blog post!

For the skeptics—what good are great expectations? You only got $55—I have some important news: a day or two after I applied for the grant I received an unexpected check for $500. I’ll just leave you to ponder that along with the reminder that my initial expectation was that I might very well get MORE than $500!

WEIGHT A MINUTE: A confession at 250 miles

Fitbit badges

In late September I bought a Fitbit personal exercise tracker and started challenging myself to shake a leg more intentionally and frequently, as I shared in WEIGHT A MINUTE: A 30-pound love note from my soul.

I have a confession to make. I specified that this initiative was aimed at feeling better. I said, and I quote: I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. The first part of that idealistic statement ended up being untrue.

Here’s how the process unfolded. I felt proud of myself as I set up the Fitbit goals. I didn’t want this to be some crazy, unachievable or hard-driving effort I would soon drop in discouragement. Accordingly, I lowered the suggested daily goal from 10,000 steps to 8,000 and told myself that would be plenty good enough for starters. I found out by gentle experience that on the days when I did no intentional walking, my daily steps were as low as 3,000. Rationalizing from that baseline, my goal seemed a significant improvement over the sedentary sluggishness of the last few years—progress without being punitive.

As I was setting up the Fitbit software program, I came to the section in which I was asked to input my current weight and my goal. I put in the somewhat alarming (to me) figure from the last time I’d weighed myself, and then entered a goal to lose 33 pounds because I liked the number. All this seemed quite theoretical…just filling in the blanks to get started toward my overarching intention to get back into better condition and start feeling more fit and energetic.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started having lots of fun feedback right away. How beautiful that my body responded to such a modest investment! My resting heart rate lowered. My zest came zipping back. The step-tracking strategy did indeed motivate me to get out on the street even after dark so as to meet the day’s target. Wow!

And then…and then…well, I succumbed to the urge to get on the scale and see what kind of progress I’d made. Shit! I weighed more than the estimate I’d entered into the Fitbit program weeks earlier. Even though my body and mind felt much better, the scale screamed F-A-I-L in a loud and mocking voice.

Because I’d written a blog post about my lofty intentions to avoid weighing and measuring my body, I felt as if I was secretly letting all of you down. But that didn’t stop me from weighing myself compulsively a couple weeks later! The figure was exactly the same!!!!!

This seems nearly impossible and more like an object lesson from my higher self than anything, as if the scale conspired to send me back to the refuge of my original, beautiful intention: to not hate, reject, or punitively try to control any part of myself, but to instead be filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I choose again and again—as many times as necessary—to trust how I feel over what scales and measuring tapes might indicate. I feel SO much better physically! I feel stronger and more lithe, lighter on my feet and lighter of heart, both physically and emotionally.

Although I am over 250 miles down the road, in some ways I am back where I started, returning home to the goal of learning to love and accept myself with honesty and compassion. Confessing my frailty is part of that, so thanks for listening!

Feet