Lower Your Expectations

Driving in Chiang Mai (Thailand) the past few weeks since we moved has reinforced a lesson I learned years ago in how to manage my anger: things go better when I lower my expectations.

Not a popular sentiment, I know, but I’ve come to see the wisdom in this way of dealing with the people and situations around me.  For example, I’ve frequently noticed the following (let’s call them) “driving customs” on the roads of Chiang Mai:

  • Driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic in order to avoid having to do U-turns and come back to where you want to go 
  • Playing chicken with oncoming traffic after crossing the double-yellow line to pass two, three, four or more cars in your lane 
  • Driving in two lanes for extended periods even when there is no one to pass 
  • Coming to a dead stop in the center of a lane on the highway while you wait to make a U-turn 
  • Transforming regular lanes into turn lanes at an intersection 
  • Making U-turns simultaneously in two- and three-car tandems  
  • Overloading your motorbike with dozens of bags of goods or shopping items so that it warrants a “Wide Load” sign 
  • Carrying your entire five-member family on your motorbike 
  • Swarming an intersection with as many as thirty motorbikes that weave in and out of the four-wheeled vehicles in order to get to the front of the line 
  • Repairing your stalled vehicle in the middle of a busy traffic lane 
  • Precariously loading your pickup truck with goods and materials to heights in excess of twenty feet until your back tires are so flat that you’re almost riding on rims

And while I was learning all this, I’ve also discovered that the middle finger is, after all, an internationally-employed symbol.  Who knew?

So, I have two basic choices in how I deal with this.  I could become emotional (i.e., angry, frustrated, bitter, fearful), but that won’t change how anyone else drives.  Over time, it might lead me to make some bad choices or fly into road rage (my wife says it’s “road righteousness” if they deserved it).  Or, I could lower my expectations.

I’ve done the road rage thing.  It almost got me into a fight with a burly guy twice my size when our game of “get-in-front-of-the-other-guy-and-slam-on-your-brakes-to-show-him-who’s-right” ended in him trapping me on a highway cloverleaf and getting out of his car to come bang on my window.  That’s no fun.  I like the lower your expectations thing better.

The reason why crazy, inconsiderate driving and swarming motorbikes don’t bug me is because I set my expectations low.  I’ve avoided setting an expectation that the drivers of Chiang Mai would act according to my driving standards for three reasons: 

  1. I couldn’t communicate them.  It’s no good holding someone accountable for expectations they know nothing about, and it’s not particularly fair to them. 
  2. I couldn’t enforce them.  Unless I have some means for applying consequences when others behave “badly,” I’m creating a situation where my protests will fall on deaf ears.  Eventually, my complaints and/or threats will incur ridicule and contempt. 
  3. I’m not sure my standard is the standard.  Who says my way of doing things is the best way?  What if those around me have something to teach me?  Would I act so differently if I were in their situation?

So instead of getting upset, I’ve tried to approach driving here with the idea that I’m going to learn to be successful in their system.  It’s emotionally freeing, and it gives me the ability to recognize strengths and advantages of the system that I wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise.

Now think about the power of this principle when applied to your personal relationships.  Think about the people who irritate you, frustrate you, disappoint you.  Often, these are the people you are closest to (like friends and family) and the people with whom you work closely (like your team, your peers and your boss).  We often set high expectations for these people.  Maybe because of familiarity; maybe because we need deliverables from them; maybe simply because of an implied level of responsibility since we’ve allowed them into our circle of trust.

Whatever the reason… When you find yourself getting upset with them, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Are my expectations fair and appropriate?
  • Have I communicated them clearly, and am I sure the other person understood? 
  • Have I given him/her feedback about how he/she is not meeting my expectations? 
  • Is the other person capable of meeting my expectations? 
  • Do I have any way of enforcing my expectations if they are willfully not met?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, then your best response is to lower your expectations of the other person – at least until you can communicate those expectations clearly and make sure that they are understood.

Give it a try.  I can almost promise you that those relationships will improve.  You can also use this strategy for handling irritating situations – like dealing with bureaucratic government offices and waiting three weeks to get your internet installed in your new home and finding your way around an unfamiliar city with incomprehensible or non-existent street signs.  I’m getting plenty of practice.



Filed under Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, Relationships

4 responses to “Lower Your Expectations

  1. Well you could wear one of your professor outfits while driving & really let them wonder what’s going on.

    Mimi & Papaw

  2. Graham

    Hey buckle up over there!!! It sounds crazy!

    By the way; Your it!!! I tagged you today, so check out my blog and learn what you need to do to get untagged!

  3. To Mimi & Papaw – that dress-up thing is supposed to be just between us. Don’t want it gettin around.

    To Pastor P. – will the manipulative blog marketing techniques never end? I’m sorry you have blog-envy, but I can’t help it that my blog is preferred by nine out of ten people with nothing better to do.

  4. this would be why i didn’t pass anything on to you, mr. snarky!

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