How to avoid disappointment

I came across a helpful anecdote while reading the Daily Stoic. It’s about a Zen master who owns a beautiful glass cup.

The master would repeat to himself, ‘The glass is already broken.’ He enjoyed the cup. He used it. He showed it off to visitors. But in his mind, it was already broken. And so one day, when it actually did break, he simply said, ‘Of course.’ — The Daily Stoic

We’re programmed by society to always look at things positively, which often leads to disappointment. When you think about it, our rose-colored glasses set us up for woe:

  • The meeting will be helpful and short.
  • My colleague will listen to reason and understand.
  • The new curriculum will be better than the last.
  • The students will pay attention.
  • Nothing will go wrong.

Let’s switch this up. What would the Zen master say?

  • The meeting will most likely not help and run long.
  • My colleague probably won’t listen to reason, and I’ll have to work hard to make him understand.
  • Most likely the new curriculum will have components that aren’t better than the last.
  • I’m going to need to bring my A game regarding classroom management today.
  • Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

By tweaking your thinking, you sidestep disappointment and find yourself in a position to work hard and solve problems. This is where productive positivity comes into play, because now you can constructively deal with the issues you weren’t expecting. Complaining, anger, and resentment disappear.


Assume red lights

At work, it seems the happiest and most productive people are the ones who expect the unexpected. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s undeniably true. (I could have also said, “Assume the worst.”) There are too many factors at the workplace to believe things will go a certain way. Most of our frustration derives from thinking x should have gone this way, but instead, x went that way. Why not walk through the front door realizing the grand plan has not been bestowed upon us and never will be?

Of course, this applies to all areas of life. Understand that people are not understandable, and then they’re way easier to love. It’s when we create a paradigm that others should act within that we encounter unfairness issues in our heads.

It could be my Seneca-saturated mind, but instead of assuming the best case scenario, try assuming the worst. “But that’s so pessimistic!” No, I don’t think so. Imagine this: In lieu of assuming you’ll make all the green lights on the way to the grocery store, assume you’ll catch all the red ones. You’ll be pleasantly surprise when the lights are green, instead of brooding over the unfairness of life.

At work, assume that coworker will act the way he always acts, or that client will always suck up too much of your time, or that computer will freeze if you use it, or the manager will edit your copy–even if it doesn’t need to be edited.

This is proactive positivity. You’re meeting these challenges head on. And if the dice happens to roll in your favor, then you’ve been given jet fuel to propel you through the uncertainty that will surely come up ahead, just around the bend.