The Powerful Effect Of Preconceived Notions (And Letting Them Go)

Every day we go into life with expectations about how things will occur. These beliefs have an astounding impact on our perceptions of and reactions to the world around us, often times without us even being aware.

Think you’re immune? Just see if any of these scenarios strikes a chord with you.

You get a request to attend a meeting at work to discuss something, and even before you walk into the room you think to yourself “This person never has anything useful to say. This is a total waste of time.” In the meeting, you are quick to interrupt, dismissive, and don’t take the time to listen carefully and understand the other side of the conversation. As a result, things don’t get moved forward, and several people come away with a clear negative impression of you.

A friend whom you have not spoken to in quite a while calls you, and when you see the number you think “What does (she | he) want? We haven’t talked in ages, so why would they call now? They probably just need a favor.” You don’t answer and as a result, miss an invitation to a baby shower (for a baby you still don’t know about).

When trying to put one child down for a nap, the other comes into the room and starts to ask you a question. Without thinking you tell them they “can’t be in here because I’m trying to put your (brother | sister) to sleep. You can’t have my attention all the time!” The other child gets upset with you and storms out, shouting “I just wanted to help put my (brother | sister) to sleep! Why are you always so mean?!”

When we allow these expectations to override our senses (and with them, often our better judgement) we set ourselves up to miss out on an amazing number of opportunities for positive interactions in our lives. And while it’s not necessarily easy to overcome this habit (when are habits ever easy to change), the fundamental principles aren’t that difficult to understand.

First, be conscious of these tendencies and their role in your behavior. At every chance you can, ask yourself, “What do I expect to happen here? Why do I expect that? Could something else happen?” Cultivating awareness is probably the hardest task, as we are so used to simply reacting to things without thought. If you know ahead of time that a potentially difficult situation is coming up (think about the time before that meeting), it might be a good idea to scribble some things down on paper. The simple kinetic act of putting our thoughts on paper can be amazingly illustrative. What sounded perfectly logical in our minds looks absolutely ludicrous once we actually spell it out.

Second, work to change the underlying negative scripts that support the beliefs in the first place. When you find yourself saying “My kid always needs my attention. Why can’t they just leave me alone? Can’t they see I need to take care of the other kids?”, try changing it to “Boy, my kid sure does love to spend time with me. How can I let them be a part of what I’m doing while not neglecting the other kids?” Here again, I think writing these thoughts down (both the old and the new) can be a difference maker. Our thoughts hold incredible power over us, so we may as well learn to turn them to our advantage.

When we let go of our preconceived ideas about things, the change is results can be monumental.

Instead of an un-productive meeting, a wonderful discussion ensues with all sides contributing, and a project is put firmly back on track thanks to the cooperative attitudes of everyone. You learn several new things, and everyone is impressed with your open-mindedness and listening ability.

Instead of missing out on an important occasion in your friend’s life, you get to congratulate them on their news and end up talking with them for over an hour about each others’ lives. As a result you make plans to get together after work and a friendship is rekindled.

Instead of having one tired child (who is now more awake thanks to the shouting match) and one child who now sees you as uninterested in them, you experience an incredibly tender moment where your older child sings a lullaby to your younger one, kisses them, and tells them how much they love them.

Don’t go through life blindly listening to your own expectations. Examine them, question them, and drop them by the wayside if they aren’t helping you lead a happier, productive life.

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