Eric Barker has written a few different posts about expectations, and the takeaway exercise or game I really like is called "find the should." As Barker says, we don't get upset about events; we get upset about our beliefs.
Our lives don't change at the moment when someone passes away, but we may fall apart when someone tells us the news a few days later as if it just happened. Or we may find someone offensive and rude until we hear that their child is battling cancer, and then we become more forgiving, more patient.
Barker uses traffic as an example. We find it frustrating because the highways should be clear, or traffic should be elsewhere—but reality isn't always so agreeable. If we learn to expect traffic as part of a normal commuting experience, for example, we can accept it rather than let it ruin our day. Instead of spending an hour grumbling and stressed about being late, we can listen to an audiobook and leave earlier so as not to feel so rushed.
I know. It's all easy in theory; I'd also do yoga and work out every day in this hypothetical world. But in this case, I've found even working on this a little has yielded huge benefits, and with practice, it does make our lives more pleasant.
Long story short: We can avoid frustration regardless of what is happening. Nothing needs to change except our perception of a situation. We can choose our reality as we experience it, and that's powerful.
So, if you're feeling irritated, see if you can find the "should" that hasn't been fulfilled. He should know I'm allergic to cats/love brownies/hate zoos. She should remember I always order tuna but can't eat shellfish, and I'm going to the dentist at 2pm. S/he should take out the trash/cook dinner/clean the kitchen.
You get the idea. So, what's your "should"? Examine it. Is that expectation realistic? What if we get rid of the "should"?
This has become a good exercise my partner and I play whenever we get frustrated, and it usually dispels the irritation quickly. (It's also entertaining to make fun of each other's "shoulds" when we examine them in bright daylight. Like: My 3-year-old should know how to behave in a restaurant. Riiiiiight. Good one.)
The other burden people (especially parents) feel is guilt. Guilt for not spending enough quality time with the kids. Or guilt for not putting in enough time at work. Or both.
In Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, they discuss guilt as a poison that only creates hatred, and that's also pretty potent stuff. Their argument is that making children (or adults, for that matter) feel guilty makes them feel badly about themselves and eventually hate you for it. Yowsers. That'll make us think twice about making someone feel guilty, no?
And self-imposed guilt is just as toxic. I didn't blog at all during the month of November because I was frantically working on NaNoWriMo. I "won" and reached the 50,000-word milestone, but it means other things fell by the wayside. And that's a great analogy for life. We are the choices we make, and you don't need to feel guilty if you can't do every little thing perfectly.
We can only do the best we can from where we are with what we have, and that's as good as it'll get.
So, this got a little heavier than I planned, but it should be worth it. To recap:
find the should + ditch the guilt = freedom.
Now, that's a good gift we can give ourselves.