Expectations; or what I like to call seeds of unhappiness, I believe are the root cause of an overwhelming amount of dissatisfaction within our society. These seeds can be found in friendships, relationships, work or even just small day-to-day experiences. By surrounding ourselves with expectations, we remove the opportunity to be completely and totally happy with the present moment and what we’ve been given.
A fact that I find incredibly interesting is the pure frequency of how often the word ‘expectation’ can be found in English writing over the last 200 years. Since 1920, the appearance of the word ‘expectation’ has increased by more than 6 times and is trending upwards. What does that say about our development as a society?
With each expectation, we create a measuring stick for our potential for happiness. Instead of embracing an experience for exactly what it is, our capacity for happiness is based on how the results measure up against our preset expectations. It becomes a linear scale for each and every experience we have. By opening up our minds to accepting whatever may come, we allow ourselves to accept new things into our lives that we may otherwise not have even dreamed of.
So how do we learn to remove expectations and embrace the present moment and be grateful for things as they are? I believe a large part of it begins with self awareness regarding how we react to situations. From there, it’s a matter of making a conscience decision on a daily basis to keep an open mind with every encounter we have.
Here are a few ways that I’ve discovered to help rein in expectations:
- Self-awareness. We can’t create positive change in our lives without being aware of why we feel the way we do. Personally, I’ve discovered that I have a very physical reaction when my mind becomes resistant to an experience. I’ve become aware of the signs of this resistance, so now when I feel it, I take a step back and analyze the situation. In many cases, it stems back to a seed of internally set expectations.
- Presence. The ability to just exist, as opposed to thinking about the future or dwelling on the past, gives you the power to appreciate each detail for exactly how it is. The ‘now’ is such a powerful moment that many people are quick to speed through so they can move onto the next big thing. Our assumption that we will have more time than this exact moment is an expectation entirely unto itself, because we never really know.
- Detachment. While this might have a negative connotation to it, the idea of having a relative amount of detachment allows you to look at a situation objectively. It allows you to be open minded to new or different options that may deviate from what otherwise would have been a set ‘expectation’ regarding a certain experience or desired end result.
- Communication. Sometimes, especially in relationships, it’s takes discussing an expectation in order to realize the harm that it’s doing. The ability to talk openly, and honestly, about any preconceived expectations will allow you and your friend, partner or colleague to better understand where it stems from and find a way to resolve it.
- Patience. Through practicing patience, we allow ourselves to be more open to things as they happen. Instead of living through preconceived expectations and quickly drawing conclusions, we’re able to be objective and open minded. I recently read in the book, Patience, by Allan Lokos, that most problems or moments of unhappiness people experience would otherwise not have happened if they would have just practiced more patience.
- Gratitude. Practicing conscience gratitude removes expectations and replaces them with a positive outlook on any given experience. By embracing each moment as it happens, a conflict turns into a learning lesson, a break up into a new beginning and many other similar transitions, all through a change in mindset.
- Breathe. When you feel an encroaching expectation rearing it’s ugly head, I find it most beneficial to quite literally remove myself from any given situation and just breathe. Through my yoga practice, one technique I find especially helpful is focusing on my breath and counting the seconds breathing in and breathing out, removing the focus from a given stressor and allowing yourself to recenter and reevaluate a situation.
- Self-reflection. While this includes the self-awareness component, I believe that intentional and thorough self-reflection is an important part of personal growth. For me, writing is my outlet of self-reflection. I’ve had a journal for as long as I can remember, and many times just jotting down a few ideas or emotions allows me to realize where there are stressors or areas I need to address.
Unfortunately, the practice of letting go of expectations is not something that comes naturally for most people. Even with continued practice, I don’t know if it ever really becomes first-nature, but it can become easier. While practice may not make perfect in this case, it is an important part of the journey towards increased overall happiness.
“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” – Michael J. Fox