Why we need to think of expectations differently

Photo Credit:  Sophia Ojha Ensslin

Photo Credit: Sophia Ojha Ensslin

I grew up around the notion of "expectation". Expectation followed me around no matter where I went and what I did. I was expected to do good in school. Cross that. I was expected to do great in school. I was expected to excel at work and career. I was expected to be a good, kind person. I was expected to be contributing member of society.

And these expectations ⏤ from family, from school, from society ⏤ all have played a role in who I am. Needless to say, I adopted many of these expectations as my own, to the extent that at one point in my life, I couldn't tell if the things I was working towards were coming from my own expectations or those I absorbed from society. In any case, I always had high expectations of myself and the people around me.

Expectations Are A Trap

This happens to a lot of us. Somewhere along the way, expectation becomes a way of being. We bring our expectations to how our lives should be, how the world should be, how the people around us should be. And too often, these expectations come back to bite us in the you know what! Oh, and I have been bit many, many, many a times! Not so much by society's expectations of me anymore, but my own expectations of the world.

I've come to realize that having expectations of life is a big, dangerous trap. Now, I don't expect you to believe me (pun intended). Reflecting on how I have hurt myself and hurt others because of my expectations, has made me realize that when we set expectations on things and on people, we only create an invisible tension between us and the people or the situation or ourselves.This tension comes from wanting things to be a certain way and then realizing they are not the way we expected them and then feeling angry, hurt or upset or a host of other emotions as a result. 

Waiting Vs. Breathing

Now, don't get me wrong. I do have aspirations. And there is a strong and clear difference between having aspirations and having expectations. Aspirations pull us upwards, they lift us from where we are and help us create for the better. We can aspire to earn a promotion at work and so we take initiatives, stretch ourselves to build our skills or reach out to colleagues to build bridges. We may aspire to a happy home life and so we build presence so we can listen to our loved ones, we invest time to maintain a healthy environment and we care for the wellbeing of our family. We may aspire to create a better world and so we donate our time and resources to worthy causes, we pick up litter in our pristine forests, we hold the door for a stranger. 

"Aspiration" according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1a a strong desire to achieve something high or great
1b an object of such desire
2a: drawing of something in, out, up, or through by or as if by suction: such as
  a:the act of breathing and especially of breathing in

Notice how the definition of aspiration starts with "a strong desire to achieve something high or great". It is positive and uplifting. Just like it's second definition, "the act of breathing"!
Aspiration is also another word of breathing, especially breathing in! 

Expectation on the other hand is "the act or state of expecting anticipation," according to the dictionary. So I looked up expecting and this is what Merriam-Webster Dictionary showed for it:

1. archaic wait, stay

2to look forward

You can notice the difference. Expectation has a more stagnant feel to it. It is the state of waiting and that's an uncomfortable state of being, at least in my view. Waiting vs. Breathing. Which is more dynamic? Which is more alive with life-force?

Aspiration Is Uplifing

Aspiration is a beautiful thing. But when it thwarts itself and warps into expectation, that's when the drudgery begins for you and those around you. Aspiration when coupled with expectation causes heartache, breaks up relationships and causes deep mental and emotional distress.

Whereas aspiration coupled with detachment, frees us. It helps us soar to new heights of creativity, of beauty, of kindness, of wisdom and of compassion. Detachment is an art, a way of looking at things which enables us to take action without being cemented to an end result.

I've written about and created videos on helping you dig deep into the art of detachment with these useful posts:

Deepak Chopra's Law of Detachment (video and blog)
Letting Go Of the Need to Know what happens tomorrow  (video and blog)
My own journey of Showing Up with detachment (video and blog) and
In learning how to Assess Your Efforts Not Results (video and blog)

In relationships with others
So when we aspire for a beautiful relationship with another, we make positive, constructive, meaningful effort to make that happen, but we also let go of how it turns out. What the other person does or how the other person receives our efforts are not under our influence. We can, however, observe and except how they respond to us. This is detachment that frees us because we are accepting of what is and how they are.

In relationship with ourselves
This way of being also applies to how we relate to ourselves. I know that many of us, myself included, have trained ourselves to have high expectations of us. I know many women and many moms who carry very heavy burdens of what they expect from themselves. But when we fall too deep into pasting layers and layers of expectations over us (best mom, best wife, best home care taker, best career woman/ professional/business woman, best community member, etc), then we have only buried ourselves under a ton of bricks ⏤ not freed ourselves to be all that we want to be. That's when expectation thwarts aspiration. 

In relationship with meditation
It's also a trap when it comes to our meditation. We sit down to meditate and have expectations. We all know the benefits of meditation so we sit down expecting to have a relaxed experience. But sometimes, the mind is so active, it is difficult to quickly relax. It may take time. Add to that the expectation and there goes any sense of calm and peace. But instead, if can allow the meditation experience to be as it is, then we have created a kind, benevolent space for our mind to relax. No expectations. Just accepting how things are.

This approach can be applied to anything in our lives. Whenever you find yourself dealing with the pain and distress of having expectations of yourself or of others, remind yourself of this trap of expectation. And then intentionally choose to be kind towards yourself and others. Allow your aspiration for how you want things to be to help direct your words, thoughts and actions but free yourself of attaching to how you expect things to be. 

This is a way to inner-peace. This is a way to relate with our world, our life, the people in our lives and with ourselves with kindness and compassion.

Don't be fooled by the insidious trap of expectations. Welcome aspiration with a detached, kind attitude. This will help you focus on positive thoughts, words and actions and better deal with the reality at hand. 

Don't be fooled by expectations.
Embrace aspiration instead.
Focus on your actions.
Thoughts, words AND actions.
This is a way to peace.
This is way to accept what is.

So, my friend, please share with me in the comments how you respond to this article. I'd really like to know your experience of accepting what is and letting go of expectations.

Much peace,