5 Reasons Why the Anticipation Is Often Worse Than the Reality
The yoga classes I take are usually of the hot variety. The room is heated to around 96° with humidity that threatens to fog the glass by the end of class. I’ve been practicing hot yoga long enough that the temperature doesn’t usually phase me after the initial shock of entering the studio.
This morning was a little different. It was warm enough, as Atlanta tends to be in the summer, that my AC was running at a steady clip as I drove to the studio. Even before 10:00 am, the heat radiating off the blacktop caused beads of sweat to form along my hairline as I walked across the parking lot.
When I walked in, the entire studio was already balmy from the combination of the earlier class and the scorching temperatures outside. I started to slip my shoe off to tuck it under the bench when I paused.
My mind started traversing through the expected sensations of the class. I was already hot and I began to dread the idea of willingly allowing myself to become even hotter. As I anticipated the discomfort caused by the intense heat, I contemplated slipping my shoe back on and heading to the sanity of the air conditioned gym.
My anticipation told me to focus on the discomfort rather than the outcome.
Anticipation is a mixture of prudent foresight and alarmist anxiety. It tempts us by promising that preparation is key. And then it traps us in a potentially endless cycle of “what ifs” and worry.
1 – Anticipation Is Often Pessimistic
Anticipation has a devious habit of focusing only on the worst possible outcomes. The delayed arrival home is attributed to a bad accident. The upcoming public speaking engagement will surely be met with ridicule. The readout on the scale must be a sure sign that the latest attempt at healthy eating isn’t working.
The problem with anticipation is that one known fact is then followed by a series of thoughts like the rungs on the ladder, a linear progression of if…thens… leading to false conclusions. The reality is more like a web of millions of possible paths and outcomes following any given fact.
2 – Anticipation Focuses on the Hardship Rather Than the Overcoming Of It
As the small plane slowly climbed to 14,000 feet, I glanced back at the small carabiner that was technically the only thing keeping me from being sucked out of the open doorway. With each foot of increased altitude, my anticipation of jumping out of the plane climbed as well. I was mentally rehearsing the walk to the door and standing in the open and roaring maw without the perceived security of holding onto the frame. My anticipation was so focused on getting out of the plane, that I was completely caught off guard by the sensations after I left its metal body.
And that’s how anticipation is. It builds and builds like a roller coaster clicking up the first, large hill. It only sees the initial gut-wrenching drop, the first step, the beginning onslaught. Anticipation rarely addresses how we might overcome the hardship or how we might feel once our feet are back on the ground.
3 – Anticipation Causes You to Live Life’s Hardest Moments Multiple Times Over
By the time my ex husband left the marriage, I had already lost him dozens of times over in my imagination. It had been my greatest fear. And even though those nightmares only occurred in my own mind, they felt real. I experienced that gut-hollowing feeling several times due to my anticipation and apprehension of living without him.
Once that worst case scenario really did occur, I only had to experience it once more. Even as I struggled to breathe through the pain, I found comfort in the knowledge that once I moved through each stage, I would never again have to revisit it. Even in my dreams.
4 – Anticipation Robs You of the Benefit of Action
Anticipation is like playing chess only without the ability to ever move your pieces even as your opponent zeroes in on your queen. The purely mental exercise of anticipation can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and futility.
When the anticipated becomes reality, it is often accompanied by a driving need to do something. Action provides a sense of progress. Of control. Of purpose. As long as we’re moving, we’re happier.
5 – Anticipation Causes a Break in the Mind-Body Connection
When something challenging actually occurs, the body immediately steps up to assist. Adrenaline production is increased, causing the focus to narrow to only the most important and increasing the heart rate to encourage action. Cortisol joins the efforts and helps to increase the glucose supply to the muscles, prioritizing immediate energy over longer-term storage.
After enduring horrific traumas or extended periods of extreme difficulty, many people will state they have no idea how they made it through. And part of that amnesia and associated sense of disconnection from that period is due to the body’s chemistry working as both a motivator and a funnel, directing the mind towards choices that favor survival. Perhaps most importantly, the action required bleeds the stress hormones from the body, eventually allowing the return of a normal physical state.
When we’re anticipating, our minds are engaged in the full horror of the event. Our bodies, unaware that the terror is purely imaginary, dutifully step up the production of stress hormones. Only this time, without the accompanying action to deplete the hormone stores, their elevated levels soon become the norm, leading to life lived at threat level red.
I completed my yoga class today. The actual discomfort from the elevated heat was far, far less than what I had anticipated. And taking the class on such a hot day had an unexpected benefit – the August air felt cool as it kissed my shimmering skin on the way back to the car.
A beautiful reminder of the quote by Mark Twain, “I have experienced many troubles in my life, most of which never happened.”