Expectations are like a fantasy.
They seem delightful, ideal and noble. But there is no realness in the expectations we have for ourselves and others. They are just a set of ideals that may or may not come true.
When you expect others to act in a specific way, to do things in a certain way, to react in this and that way, it’s easy to become disappointed, angry, and disillusioned.
You may have expectations of what entails the good life, the good relationship, the good spouse, the good driver, the good child, the good employer. But being enslaved by these rigid constraints of what reality should be is a major source of stress for most people.
There is a difference between expectations and possibilities. Expectations are future-based ideals that can keep you from appreciating the present moment. At the heart of expectations is the assumption that you can control every detail of your future. You do have control over some things, but most of ‘the future’ is indeed out of your control. Being open to possibilities means that your life, your happiness, your wellbeing is not dependent on a rigid future. Openness to possibilities is an act of faith—you live your life in a way that reflects how you prefer your future to turn out; but your mind is also open to the fact that the things you may want today could change tomorrow, that people change, events happen and life is constantly in flux. Being open to possibilities means being aware these influxes and embracing them.
Letting go of expectations is not about denying these expectations. In fact, denial is a pernicious form of expectation-setting. Rather, become aware of your thoughts. Every time you start fighting with reality, wishing things were different, demanding that your spouse, kids or friend acts in a certain way, catch those thoughts and let them go. See the reality for what it is without painting it with fantasies that may disappoint you. A major cause of distress is being unaware of your expectations and how they are putting a lot of pressure in your life. Just being aware of your thoughts will put you on a path of being able to let go of expectations every time they pop up.
Just like denial, judgment is a destructive and stressful form of setting expectations. Judgement is about fixing life in a black and white continuum, when life is a myriad of colours. It takes a lot of practice to let go of the filters of “good” and “bad.” But once you change your focus to neutrality, you will feel less burdened by the expectations that come with judging people, things and events. Horrible things such as losing a child, a home or a job may happen and happy things such as getting married, buying a brand new sports car may also happen in your life. But try not to attach your sense of wellbeing to the ‘bad’ or the ‘good’ things. Look at them as neutral events.
A big source of unhappiness is expecting something else outside of us to make us happy. People often have the fantasy of being married to a spouse who will make them happy all the time; having a kickass job that will finally bring them fulfilment; having awesome kids who will always listen and never be naughty. Holding on closely to these fantasies of someone else making you happy often leads to disappointment. Realize that only you can choose to be happy or unhappy. Your wellbeing does not need any of these fantastic expectations.
Life’s demands such as paying bills, taking care of a family, and moving forward in your career can be stressful. Yet often, the smallest things (which fly under the radar) such as being attached to expectations, are major causes of unhappiness and worry. Learning to be aware of these expectations will help you to continuously let them go.
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