The expectation trap

"Expectation is the root of all heartache" - William Shakespeare

I'm going to write about a small change in mindset that could have a major impact on your life.

It's to do with letting go of expectations.

I fully appreciate this may seem like a strange idea.

We all have expectations. Expectations of how we want others to be. Expectations of who we think we should be. Expectations of what we want to achieve. Expectations of what we want for our children, family, friends. We expect things about our bodies, our jobs, our lives.

The ever-increasing demands of our jobs, our busy life styles, our multitasking and hyper-connected worlds, also means that the expectations which are placed upon us are now greater than ever - especially when it comes to delivering products and services faster than ever.

Expectation is anger in the making.

The difference between wanting something and expecting something, is that we've pretty much decided it's already 'ours'. And with our expectations, we can create frustration, irritation and anger and a tremendous amount of additional stress in our lives.

That's when having expectations becomes problematic.

When we experience a barrier or obstacle that prevents us from meeting our expectations, we feel as if we are being robbed of what's rightly ours. It's like someone taking something away from you when you think it's yours, and that's what triggers our anger. 

It can become increasingly intense and we often berate ourselves, for how long? 


That was the trap I fell into.

Before I trained in MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) not only was the concept of eliminating expectations totally foreign to me (especially in my job), but I also had a massive tendency to place exceptionally high expectations on myself.

And here's the catch, I rarely had any awareness I was actually doing it.

I wasn't aware that I was placing "increasingly difficult to achieve" expectations on myself almost everyday!

Sometimes expectations are so subtle, we hardly even recognize them. Like when we roll our eyes, or sigh in frustration, or get irritated but don't know exactly why we're irritated.

What I later discovered, is placing constant high expectations on myself, without knowing that I was doing so, was a recipe for stress and illness. When I didn't meet certain expectations, I would became more and more angry, stressed and less effective in my work and life.

The reality is, unless we're some kind of super hero, we can't possibly succeed at everything we do. In fact, we're more likely to fail than succeed - which can be a very empowering process, if we embrace failure as a learning tool. But I'm digressing.

"Act without expectation." - Lao Tzu

I remember the moment when I came to the huge realization that the only person who ever really put expectations on ME was ME.

It was a REALLY big moment. I honestly believed that the world was placing expectations on me, when in fact, it was JUST ME.

Over the years, meditating and training in mindfulness has helped me increase my awareness of this tendency, which is by no means unique to me. I hate to break it to you, but most of us are in the same boat.

By increasing my awareness, it means I know I am doing it, when I am doing it, not months or years after the fact, or never! 

Awareness is the key to accepting this reality and so many other 'less than optimal habits' we develop over a life time.

It's not so much trying 'not to have' expectations, or make them go away, it's much more about noticing them,  bringing equanimity to them, and increasing your ability to self regulate your emotions which in turn, helps you make more skillful decisions versus reactive ones.

I said at the start of this post, you might think it's a bizarre idea to eliminate expectations. And I can imagine you may be still wondering:

Why act without expectation?

From my experience, creating an intention to let go of expectations (by the way, this does NOT mean letting go of goals, which have dates and specific desired results) creates tremendous tangible FLOW in my life.

I get out of my own way and I become more open to everything that life brings to me. When I reduce my expectations to almost zero, I end up appreciating everything I have. 

I've had more (not less) good things happen and increased my success. 

And the best news, is that acting without expectation, leaves room for us to act with more kindness and compassion. 

"Act with love, not expectation." - Kate kerr

(Image Copyright: Kichigin/Shutterstock)