As the Christmas holiday approaches, I enjoy ticking things off my list of the “essentials” and if I get these sorted, I might get on to the “desirables” list too. What makes up this list of “essentials” will vary every year but one consistent element since I became an AAR Conductor, is a review of my expectations.

This is because expectations and whether they are met or exceeded, are a fundamental part of enjoyment in life.

When participants in an AAR explain what they expected to have happen, we get straight to the behaviours that transpired during the “action” because expectations dictate what we do. Quite simply, expectations drive behaviour and shape our experience of life. For example, in an AAR about the failure to win a project bid, we learnt that because Jo expected that Azra in Finance would be able to provide the thorough costing for the proposal as promptly as she always does, Jo left it until the last minute to ask her.  However, Azra was on leave and as a result the proposal was submitted with partial costings. In another AAR we learnt some of the managers in the borough didn’t have any expectations about how the  inspection of their services would proceed because they had never done one before, so they waited for guidance, rather than securing and allocating resource to help run it immediately. Each of these expectations created a very different outcome to the actual “Action”.

The expectations question has led me to realise that if we take time to explore and understand our own expectations, then we can increase both our effectiveness at work and our happiness in life.  If my expectations are mismatched with what actually happens, then I am likely to experience stress and disappointment and if what actually happens exceeds my expectations then I am likely to experience pleasure.  So, part of my preparation for Christmas is to do a reality check on my expectations and thus reduce my stress levels and increase the potential for joy.

For example. If I expect everyone to be cheerful and good natured all day long on 25th December, I am likely to be stressed by the reality that some grumpiness and an argument or two is likely when so many people are gathered together in one house. If I instead expect there to be a bit of disagreement over the rules of the games we play and for my great aunt to have a bit of a go at least two of her relatives, then when it actually happens it doesn’t bother me. In fact, it can almost be reassuring because I had anticipated it.

Every year my stress levels rise a little when travelling to the various family events as I hate to be late but getting everyone into the car is especially challenging when there are extra people in the house. So, I’ve adjusted the expected journey times to include the last minute “hang on I haven’t got my camera/jumper/wallet” shouts from the back of the car and increased the potential for a little moment of triumph as I realise we are going to arrive on time.

Three steps to help you have a happy Christmas.

  1. Ask yourself what you are expecting in terms of behaviours and enjoyment this Christmas. (You might like to Invite your partner to share his or her expectations of what will make it a happy Christmas for them as well.) Naming these expectations is the first step to unpacking the assumptions that are underlying them.
  2. Next, do a reality check on your expectations. Are they reasonable? Given everything you have learnt from past Christmases, and about yourself this year, how likely is it that these expectations can be met?
  3. Lastly consider if these expectations are set at a level where they are likely to be met or exceeded. Happiness comes when expectations are surpassed so it’s best to adjust your expectations down and set yourself up for success rather than disappointment.

One expectation many of us have, is that the Christmas holiday will be just that, a holiday. The reality is often far from the ideal of a restful and relaxing break from work, as it can be hard work trying to fit in everything we have committed to. So, I have lowered my expectation of what I will attempt to fit in this year, to ensure that I can align with my expectation that I will start 2020 feeling rested and refreshed.

Hoping the Christmas holiday this year exceeds your expectations and brings much joy.