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Let me know if you can relate to this:

For about the past ten days, it seems like very little has gone as planned.  From the simplest things like missing an ingredient I had intended to use in the kitchen, to bigger things like an entire electrical outlet that just stopped working, every day seems to have been one surprise after another, and mostly not the pleasant kind.

I showed up this morning for a medical appointment that was set and confirmed three weeks ago, only to find that the appointment hadn’t been set correctly and was showing as “canceled” – oh, not just “canceled,” but “canceled by patient.”  I assure you, I didn’t cancel this appointment.  Ultimately, they got me in, and it wasn’t a huge deal, more annoying than anything.  But the frustration I felt while we were straightening things out got me thinking about preconceptions and expectations.

We continually measure things against the way we think they “should” be.  But how do we decide what that looks like?  I didn’t have an easy answer, so I asked ChatGPT:

Deciding how things should be is a complex process influenced by various factors, including personal values, societal norms, ethical principles, cultural beliefs, and practical considerations. Here are some key ways in which people determine the way things should be:

  1. Personal Values: Individuals often base their decisions on their personal values, which are deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable in life. These values can encompass principles such as honesty, compassion, justice, freedom, equality, and responsibility.
  2. Ethical Principles: Many people use ethical frameworks to guide their decisions about what is right or wrong, just or unjust. Ethical theories such as utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, and moral relativism provide different perspectives on how to evaluate and prioritize ethical considerations.
  3. Societal Norms and Laws: Societal norms, cultural traditions, and legal systems play a significant role in shaping people's understanding of how things should be. . . .

You get the idea.  So this is a pretty normal phenomena if even a large language model predictive text generator understands it, right?  I mean, at least a few of you can relate to this feeling, right?

It’s pretty easy to see the bad side of this phenomenon: When our expectations are frustrated, we can get frustrated.  But, being the thorough sort, I asked ChatGPT how such expectations could be harmful:

Having preconceived ideas can be detrimental for several reasons:

  1. Biased Interpretation: Preconceived ideas can bias your interpretation of new information or experiences. Instead of objectively evaluating something based on its merits, you may filter it through your existing beliefs, leading to misunderstandings or misjudgments.
  2. Closed-Mindedness: Preconceived ideas can lead to closed-mindedness, where you're unwilling to consider alternative perspectives or new information. This can hinder personal growth, learning, and understanding of complex issues.
  3. Conflict and Division: Preconceived ideas can contribute to conflicts, especially in interpersonal relationships or societal contexts. When individuals cling rigidly to their preconceptions, it can lead to misunderstandings, arguments, and division.
  4. Missed Opportunities: Preconceived ideas may prevent you from exploring new opportunities or ideas that don't align with your existing beliefs. This can limit your potential for innovation, creativity, and personal development.
  5. Stagnation: Holding onto preconceived ideas can lead to intellectual stagnation. Without challenging your beliefs or seeking new information, you may remain stuck in outdated or flawed thinking patterns.
  6. Inaccurate Judgments: Preconceived ideas can cloud your judgment and lead to inaccurate assessments of people, situations, or concepts. This can have negative consequences in various areas of life, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and relationship-building.

Overall, while it's natural for individuals to have preconceived ideas based on their experiences and upbringing, it's essential to recognize their potential drawbacks and strive to maintain an open mind, be willing to reconsider beliefs in light of new evidence, and actively seek out diverse perspectives. This approach fosters growth, understanding, and better decision-making.

Simple, right?  Avoid all the bad effects of expectations by keeping an open mind.  So here’s an exercise for this sort of open-mindedness that I found in one of my favorite little books on mindfulness:

  • Notice the next time you use the word “should” (whether you think it or say it).
  • Question the source of the “should.”  Why do you believe something should be a certain way?  Why do you think you should or shouldn’t have done something or behaved in a certain way?  What can or can’t be done to change it?
  • Make a regular practice of observing when you use “should.”  Investigating why you use it will help you be more susceptible to learning, rather than being stuck in old ways of thinking.

I like this exercise.  Sometimes it shows me nothing more than I expect something to happen a certain way solely because I want it to happen that way, or because I just didn’t think that it could be different than I expect.  Whatever the reason, though, having preconceived ideas can prevent us from seeing things as they really are, and can certainly be a source of frustration.

Also, I am convinced that ChatGPT was the culprit who canceled my medical appointment this morning.