Anticipation and Happiness (and Anxiety)

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

Remember that first trip you took to Disneyland as a kid? You couldn’t stop thinking about meeting Mickey and playing around with Goofy. You dreamed about getting soaked on Splash Mountain and could taste the hamburgers and hot dogs. You were excited the night before, and you couldn’t sleep!

Down the hall, your parents were excited too, but their excitement was steeped in anxiety. What if the plane was delayed or canceled, and we missed the first days of our trip? Would our accommodations be adequate and roomy enough? How could we ensure we kept all the kids together and no one ran off to get a hug from Minney Mouse . “OMG, what if we lost a kid!” They were anxious the night before and they couldn’t sleep!

Amazing how the same event provokes similar emotions, yielding similar results, yet one has us eager and enthusiastic, and the other leaves us restless and apprehensive.

To understand this phenomenon better and apply it to our Disney holiday and our workplace, we want to understand more about anticipation.

Anticipation is about our ability to establish expectations that foretell a future event. It is excellent for planning and envisioning how we want the experience to occur. While we create the ideal situation, there is a shadow side to that experience, which can be an anticipatory failure. Interestingly, this mechanism often works in tandem, and the key is not to let one side or the other get the upper hand.  After all, we do need our sleep.

For moms and dads and bosses, here are a few ways to keep the light and dark of anticipation in tow:

  1. Practice how you want the experience to occur.
    1. If you are taking those kids to Disney, practice walking around the mall and ensuring everyone stays together. Create a call sign that is unique and special to your family.
    2. The leader wants an early organizing meeting to establish a charter of “how we will work together” and put those skills into play during the meeting, such as “let’s practice how we will listen to each other.”
  2. Honor the emotions:
    1. We don’t want to quell our kid’s excitement as that is what makes the trip exciting, but if you have a child who is also nervous about being in crowds, don’t minimize their feelings by saying, “oh, we are going to have so much fun.” Support them in stating their fears.
    2. The same skill is helpful for the manager who may have one team member who is gung-ho and another who is nervous about whether he can deliver the goods. Focus the discussion on each and find out what the excited staff member has worked for her. Then ask what is creating angst for the other. Both are in the same situation but are anticipating different outcomes. Find out why.
  3. Reject the Planning Fallacy: The planning fallacy leads us to believe that our good intentions and efforts will work out perfectly and on time. We are typically too optimistic about getting things done. One way to overcome this cognitive bias is to take “an outside view,” which means looking at the situation compared to how your past experiences usually played out.
    1. So, for your trip to Disney, think back to what past flights from your town’s airports are like; typically, on-time or run late. Do your kids usually run rampant in unstructured environments? If so, perhaps a day at the hotel pool is an excellent way to start day one.
    2. For the leader, if this team had a poor track record before you took them on, how do you think they’ll perform when you come on board? They will probably continue to have some performance problems. You are not that powerful! Taking the inside view limits the possibilities of what can happen and by looking at it more objectively, you increase the range of understanding of what can happen leading to more accurate potential outcomes
  4. Stay in the Moment: Carly Simon recommends that we completely blow off anticipation and just enjoy the moment we are having and not get too far ahead of ourselves. There will be plenty of moments at the Park or in the office that will be satisfying and challenging, creating the memories, not the excitement or anxiety that proceeds with it.

“Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin”

And in her lyrical wisdom, she shares,

“I’m no prophet, not I don’t know nature’s way
So I’ll try to see into your eyes right now
And stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.”

There are many good reasons for us to be on the “anticipatory cliff.” Notice when your excitement or concern bubble up in relationship to future events and take a moment try out some of the ideas above. I’ve been pulling people off the cliff for 25 years. Let’s connect and chat about how I can help you and your team create a new sense of ease and productivity.

The Leadership Café is Back!

Check out the first Leadership Café Podcast of Season 2 with Dr. Deborah Gilboa. Dr. G. is a media rock star who appears on national TV, TED Stages and in front of national professional associations. She is a practicing family doctor specializing in resilience, stress, the workplace, and families. Hear some great ideas on how we can adapt to change and how leaders can help their team members embrace change more powerfully.

© Richard Citrin 2022

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