Saturday, June 30, 2018

Not-So-Great Expectations

One of my new addictions that I’m using to help me get over my old addictions is listening to podcasts about addiction (and feminism, which isn’t super-relevant to this blog but I just wanted to say that listening to smart funny women talk about how to smash the patriarchy is empowering and just plain fucking awesome. Listen here if that floats your boat.) 

Right, so, addiction. The other day I was listening to a really great podcast, The One You Feed, and the episode was an interview with the author of ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’, Catherine Gray. She started talking about resentments, about how dealing with resentments was a really important part of getting and staying sober, and that one way to help with this was to develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’. 

The reason this struck me so much was that this was something I have been trying to do myself, but with the constantly changing routine we have at the moment, and a few weeks of early starts on a new farm, my morning routine had fallen by the wayside, and I realised that morning, just before putting on the podcast, that I hadn’t done a gratitude list for a while. 

This was an idea I first heard in a yoga podcast (yes, more podcasts, they’re a bit of an obsession!), and then in a book I would highly recommend, 'WE' by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel (I know, self-help from Scully, doesn’t get much more awesomer!). I was feeling pretty down, and struggling to change the negative stream of thoughts going through my brain. It turns out, we’re programmed by evolution to expect the worst, to have a slightly negative frame of mind, because out on the savannah this keeps you alive - it’s better to assume the rustling in the bushes is a lion, not a mouse, just in case. 

But we ain’t on the savannah no more, and that natural tendency towards pessimism now means we are always thinking the worst, expecting bad things to happen and seeing everything through a lens of negativity. We can change this mindset though, by training our minds to focus on the positive, and this is where the gratitude lists come in. It’s all about thinking about what you are grateful for, and writing down 5 or 10 things every day that make you thankful. 

It’s a powerful tool, not just for changing your mindset over a long period of time, but changing it in the here-and-now. This is a list I wrote on a particularly tough afternoon in Berlin. We were hanging out in the park in the evening sun, surrounded by people smoking joints and having a great time. I was so overcome with wanting to smoke and feeling like I was missing out that I actually welled up with tears and had to go back to the van, the whole time wondering out loud why the hell I had quit in the first place. As soon as I got home I wrote this list - 10 reasons why I’m grateful for having quit. By the time I was finished, I was over the worst of the emotions, and was re-motivated by everything I had come up with. 

I’ll admit, I’ve found it harder than I thought I would - after all, I have plenty to be grateful for. But sometimes it can be so hard to wrench your mind out of its negative groove; I often find myself disagreeing with something in my head as I’m halfway through thinking it. That voice is hard to shut up. 

But, as with everything, the more I do it, the easier it gets and the more I’m beginning to feel grateful throughout my day - for peaceful moments or the little things. I try and always think of something I’m grateful for about my body - what it can do and how well it functions - and there’s always at least one mention of food!  

Once you start working on changing your mindset to focus on the positive, it will become much harder to hold onto the resentments that require a negative state of mind to harbour. But it’s also important to work on not creating new resentments. In the interview, Catherine Gray said something that has really stuck with me: ‘expectations are resentments under construction’. 

Yesterday I got a brilliant lesson in this. I wanted to make a vegan chocolate brownie for the community we’re currently staying at, using a bunch of fresh cherries they’d just picked. I found a recipe in a book, and was full of high expectations, mostly fuelled by the beautiful picture in the cookbook and the fact that I have successfully made many vegan brownies in the past. 

What happened instead was a disaster of such magnitude that it went through ‘disaster’ and came out the other side into ‘ridiculously hilarious’…but not before I gave into extreme frustration, anger and a temper tantrum which involved shouting at Ryan, even though he had nothing to do with it, I just expected him to be able to fix it, because ‘you’re a bloody chef, you should know how to fix it, try and fix it, why can’t you fucking fix it?!’ 

We ate it anyway, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what chocolate, cherries, sugar and fat look like, they still taste damn delicious! But my expectations - of cookbooks being reliable, my ability to make a recipe for the first time come out exactly like the picture, of Ryan being able to fix the un-fixable - all meant that I was setting myself up for some serious resentment. 

It’s not just baking or boyfriends I have expectations of. Once I started thinking about it, I realised I have expectations of almost everyone around me, and of course of myself. And inevitably I have resentments that have built up over the years as people (and me) fail to meet them. Resentment is like poison in your brain, giving you endless excuses to do things that makes you feel better. But you won’t feel better, not in the long run, because harbouring resentment keeps dragging you down. So we just keep expecting, keep resenting, and keep using, on and on, until we do something that breaks the cycle. Until maybe we start trying to focus on the good in our lives instead of the bad. Until we accept that nothing and no-one is perfect and we can let go of expectations. 

If we don’t expect things of people or situations, it becomes easier to just accept them as they are. We don’t feel let down or disappointed, and we don’t resent if it’s not how we thought it would be. Meditation helps a great deal with this - learning to accept every moment for how it is without judgement. 

A little more gratitude. A little less expectation. Simple ideas in theory but a conscious effort is needed every day to put them into practice. I’m very grateful for how nice everyone was about the baking fiasco. Next time I’ll try not to expect to be perfect. I’m sure there’ll be many more disasters along the way, but I’ll always be grateful for fresh cherries.


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