Don't Let Your Expectations Do You In

Nov 15, 2012 | Updated Jan 14, 2013

Whether your anger stems from road rage, your relationship, your job, or anything else in your life, the underlying cause might be the same. It's easy to blame the driver who cut you off, your partner, or your boss for "making you feel angry," but it's your expectations that are probably the real culprit. The truth is, expectations are premeditated disappointments. So whenever you're angry, look for the expectation you have that was not met. The good news is that to the extent that you can change your expectation, you can inoculate yourself against anger. And it's important to do this, because your anger only hurts you!

To stop your expectations from turning into anger and thus getting the best of you, first try to identify your angry triggers. What typically triggers an angry or hostile response in you? Jot down a list of these triggers. Once you've come up with your list, take an item that you've identified and ask yourself a few questions: Is this really going to be important down the road -- in an hour, next week, in a few months or next year? Is it at all possible that the person with whom I'm angry and I are both right, but have different points of view? What can I do to let go of this anger, since it's in my best interest to do so?

Next, notice what your typical response is to the trigger. Imagine the most recent time you felt angry. Was your response to the situation helpful or harmful? Was it worth the pain or the energy you used to become enraged? Did you choose your actions, or were you merely reacting too quickly?

If it's becoming clear to you that your angry responses are not serving your best interest, it might instead be time to try some of these proven techniques to manage angry feelings when they occur:

  • Close your eyes and imagine your anger as an object. What color is it? How big is it and how is it shaped? As you visualize your anger as an object, imagine it breaking up into small pieces and then evaporating into thin air.
  • You can also visualize the person at whom you are angry. Imagine what this person looks like, and visualize him or her getting smaller and smaller, and thus less significant.
  • When you're holding the anger in your body, scan your body from head to toe and notice where in your body you're holding it. Tense this part of your body as hard as you can until you can feel the pain of your tension at its extreme. Then release the tension. As you do, notice how your tension releases and your anger melts away. For example, if you notice your shoulders are tense when you're feeling angry, energetically lift your shoulders up to your ears, and release them and relax. You can do a version of this with almost any part of your body.
  • Customize your strategy. What is uniquely calming and tension-releasing to you? Listening to music? Vigorous exercise? Reading? Watching a movie? Taking a nice walk in nature? Doing yoga? Meditation? Make a list of your calmest activities and commit to doing them when they will be most helpful for interrupting a tense mood.

The next time your disappointment about someone not meeting an expectation elicits hostile feelings, try a new strategy to deal with your reaction. There's nobody I know of who doesn't have to put up with some situations or hassles that they are powerless to change. But where you do have power is in your reaction. In order to react differently, try some of these strategies and see how much better you feel on the long run. And make sure to work on the one constant factor behind almost all angry reactions -- your expectations! When less energy is given to anger, there's more room to enjoy the things in your life that return joy and fulfillment!

For more strategies to react to people and things more effectively, check out my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential or enjoy a complimentary download of my online program Overcoming Your Anger.

For more by Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.