Spring clean your mind

First rule: Shed yourself of expectations!

By Barbara Pierce

Spring is my favorite time of year. The trees begin to blossom, the bird are chirping, and the sun feels wonderful on my face. Doesn’t that instantly put you in a better mood?

Spring is a time of renewal and awakening. There’s a sense of hopefulness in the air, more lighthearted energy.

Spring is the perfect time not just for cleaning out closets, but to de-clutter our mental space. It’s a time to get rid of the dirt and clutter that may be dragging us down, throw out the garbage we’re lugging, and re-energize ourselves with a fresh point of view.

Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

— Don’t have expectations. I believe that one of the biggest ways we make ourselves miserable is by having expectations of others

— because others rarely behave the way we expect them to.

My sister-in-law Gayle is carrying a load of garbage because she expects her young adult son to care more about her. She raised him as a single parent, protected him like a mother hen, and fought his battles for him. And now he rarely calls or drops by to see her, only when he needs money.

“I gave him everything all his life,” she wails. “And now I don’t even get a phone call, not even on my birthday!” She’s so bitter because her expectations are not being met.

I remember the pain I suffered when a boyfriend refused to live with me. We seemed so perfect together. I expected we would move in together and live happily ever after. He wisely recognized that this would never work as his need for perfection was not a good match for me, mucking along at the bottom end of the perfectionist scale.

We might have lived happily together for a day or two or even a week or two, but then it would have become ugly, really ugly. But it took me months to get over the loss of my expectation of being with him forever.

If you’re saying “should” (as in “he should be there for me,” or “people should do this”) you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Ease up on yourself!

And expectations of ourselves are equally bad — if we don’t live up to our own expectations for ourselves, we beat ourselves up mentally, feel guilty and feel badly.

Get out of the habit of expecting things of others or yourself. If you don’t have expectations of yourself, or of others, you’ll free yourself of much suffering.

A good habit to get into when you’re faced with a challenge or going through a difficult time is this quote from Eckhart Tolle: “There are three solutions to every problem: Accept it, change it, or leave it. If you can’t accept it, change it. If you can’t change it, leave it.”

When I’m in a situation that’s tough, I try to remember to say to myself: “What can I do about this? How can I change this to make it better for me?” If there is absolutely nothing I can do, I just have to say, “That’s the way it is. I better just chill and be OK with it.”

When the problem is another person, we can’t change them. Our options are limited to accepting them as they are or leaving them. When a relationship is toxic and brings us turmoil, the only thing we can do is change the way we are relating to the situation, and walk away.

Sometimes we stress out about something that’s not even our concern or our business. Stressing out about others or about situations that are out of our control is self-defeating.

Another thing that is freeing is to let go of the need to be right. Is it more important to you to be right about something than to preserve your relationships with others? Decide if you’d rather be right or be close to people.

Sometimes you just have to say to yourself: “I know that I’m right, but I’m just going to drop it.”

Making assumptions is something I tend to do. I interpret things negatively based on my assumptions rather than reality. Then I act, based on my assumptions instead of what really is. And I’m the one who loses.

I did this not long ago. There was a woman I liked and wanted to know better. But I said something stupid to her and I thought what I said upset her. I assumed that she was mad at me. So I avoided her. I assumed she was avoiding me. I finally figured out the only way I’ll know if she’s mad and avoiding me is to approach her and see what happens. She wasn’t mad at me at all.

We’ve become good friends and I’m glad I decided to check out my assumptions, which I shouldn’t make.

• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at barbarapierce06@yahoo.com.