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What is Expectation?

The relationship we humans have with our expectations is a complex one.  Expectation can be beneficial, but only when there is BALANCE and flexibility.  When held too tightly, our expectations can lead us to a myriad of unpleasant states: disappointment, resentment, fear, worry, perfectionism, low self-esteem and conflict with others.

Expectation comes in many forms – the expectations we have about a certain outcome for the future, the expectations we have placed on others in our lives, the expectations we have for ourselves and our own success as well as those we imagine others have for us.
When we are in expectation, our focus is on the future.  Planning for or at the very least considering the future is a necessity in today’s world,  but too much time dwelling in the future pulls us out of the present and can create stress and anxiety.

However, a little bit of expectation is a good thing, it keeps us moving forward and motivated for what’s to come. When we remain aware of our expectations and stay mindful, we can use expectation to our benefit — balanced, clear, positive expectation allows for possibility, inspiration and growth.  But like most things, expectation is only helpful in moderation. Clinging too tightly to rigid expectations or constantly living within the boundaries of expectations set by yourself or others limits your potential.


If you find that you feel you are constantly being disappointed or things aren’t living up to your expectations, this is a sign that it may be time to release and renew your expectations.

Check out the tips below on how to let go and find balance with expectation:

1 – Be Present:  When we’re all wrapped up in our expectations for the future or measuring our current circumstances against ideas from the past, we abandon the present moment. We feel discomfort when our expectations don’t match what’s going on around us.  Instead of embracing what’s happening now we find ourselves dwelling in either the past or future, stuck in our thoughts and ideas about what “should” be. 

Shift back to the present for a moment. Take a minute or two (or ten or twenty!) to let go of any thoughts that are outside of this moment. See your thoughts as drifting clouds or balloons in the sky, notice them and allow them to roll by. If you find yourself getting entangled in a thought, snip the string to the balloon and allow it to drift away until the next thought arises and let then let that one pass too, and then the next and the next.

When you are truly focused on only the present moment: what is actually happening now (your breath, the sounds around you, the sensations in your body, the passing thoughts) versus entertaining thoughts about what should be happening or has already happened in the past, it is not possible to have expectations.  By being present we momentarily release our expectations and open to possibility.


2 – Be Open: Reconnect with what’s happening now and allow it to shape your feelings without interference from thoughts about the past or future (your expectations).  Be open to having a new opinion about things.  You may find that you feel differently than you had expected.  Often, we create judgement about a moment or situation based on our expectations about it and not on the actual moment or circumstance itself.  When we let go of that judgement and can see the moment for what it is on its own, often we are surprised to find that it’s the expectation or judgement that is causing us distress, not the actual situation. The more we can practice being open, the less we cling to our expectations and the more flexible we can be with the expectations that we do set.

“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.” –Mandy Hale

3 – Be Curious: When we are curious, we embrace the unexpected! We find the joy in not knowing, in discovery, in openness, and in turn we let die any judgments or expectations. Invite some curiosity into your life and experience its benefits. Try something new that you haven’t done before, take up learning a new skill or simply wonder about the infinite possibilities there are in uncharted waters! Curiosity helps to create space and balance in your expectations.


4 – Be Compassionate: When we hold strict expectations for others and are upset when those expectations are not met (whether these expectations are known to them or not), our reaction is often as if we have being harmed by this person in some way. We may feel hurt as if the offender did not meet our expectations on purpose, as some form of attack. When we break down these feelings of disappointment in this way, it may sound extreme and like over-reacting, but when we don’t take a step back to look at the situation for what it really is, often we find our feelings are just so. If we can get out of our own heads and dislodge ourselves from our expectations for a moment in order to see the whole picture, we may see a totally different story. This is where compassion comes in.

Compassion is considering others and giving them the benefit of our understanding. Rather than focusing on your expectations and whether or not they have been met, try considering not only your feelings and ideas, but those of the other person involved. What might they be going through? What kind of person are they?  Might they be doing the best that they can? Are you expecting something that is not possible for them? Could they have simply made a mistake?  Holding on to our expectations about others confuses us into taking it personally when someone doesn’t live up to those expectations. We become blind to the truth and see only our expectations met or not met. Instead, consciously shift your focus to the other person in the situation and seek to see what is really happening. Do so with compassion for them as well as yourself. This shift in perspective will help you see and react to what is, instead of being blinded by your expectations.


5 – Be Positive: Sometimes it isn’t our unrealized expectations that hurt us but rather our expectations for imminent disaster. These expectations bring with them the feelings of worry, anxiety and fear. A lot of the times we have built expectations about the future based on problems we’ve had in the past. Whether it’s with a specific individual or a similar situation, we assign expectations to a scenario because we think it will be the same as what we may have experienced before. Or we allow our fears and worries about the unknown to make us think of everything that could go wrong. Often when this happens we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we go into a situation expecting the worst or convinced that it will be bad, the likelihood of that happening is very high! Especially when we are so committed to being right about our expectations, which let’s face it – most of us are whether we want to be or not!

BUT if we can shift our expectations into POSITIVE expectation, especially when the impulse is to close the door, we are allowing the possibility for something new to happen, something better. We are creating hope.  Going into a situation with positive expectations rather than negative ones changes everything. It changes YOU. It changes the way you think, feel and act and will influence your experience much more than anything external. Positive expectation doesn’t mean that you expect things to be wonderful and if they are not you will be crushed or that you are blind to the actual circumstances of a situation. Positive expectation is allowing the space for POSSIBILITY, possibility that you hadn’t considered, something even better than you expected. It may happen, it may not, but either way, you’re open to the possibility and most importantly you BELIEVE it could happen. Maybe, just maybe, it could.

“We must rediscover the distinction between hope & expectation.” – Ivan Illich

6 – Be Mindful: Most of the time our expectations get the best of us without us even realizing it. We get caught up in them and create stress and anxiety that probably isn’t even necessary. Mindfulness is an extremely important tool for creating balance with our expectations and being able to release those that are not serving us. Pay attention to your thoughts and actions.  How are you? Are you agitated, frustrated? Why? Are you expecting something that isn’t coming to fruition? Why are you doing that? How important is it to you, really?  If it’s not that important, can you let it go? If it is important is there something you can do to make things better? Without taking a look at ourselves and assessing where we are, how can we be sure of anything? Recognize where you are and decide if it’s where you want to be. You have the power to change your thinking, to shift your expectations and to take action. But if you aren’t paying attention to what you are doing, how can you even know what you might need to change? Be mindful, pay attention, check in. What do you expect and why?  Is it serving you? If not, change it.


7 – Be Worthy:  Often the stress we put on ourselves is completely self-generated. We may set expectations for ourselves that are impossible to live up to, always feeling the need to do “better”. Setting personal goals isn’t bad, in fact, it can be a healthy motivator and a way to check in with ourselves and our progress. However, when achieving goals becomes a measure of our self-worth that can be a big problem – resulting not only in stress but in lack of self-confidence and other deep seated issues. Measuring your own worth based on how much you do or how “well” you do things and constantly pushing to meet expectations, puts us out of touch with what really matters. It’s not how much you do that matters, but how you do it. Not what you’ve accomplished, but who you are inside. You don’t need to prove yourself. You’re welcome to have goals and reach for them, but achieving those goals isn’t going to make you more or less worthy of being happy. Know that you are enough, just as you are. You are infinitely worthy this life and all that it has to offer without having to do anything extra.


8 – Be Grateful:  Oh gratitude! The cure to so many ills! Stop whatever you’re doing and just be grateful. Think of all of the things that make your life wonderful!  Think of the things that you love, what makes you smile, what brings you joy!  The little things, the big things. Be so grateful for their existence. Be so grateful for YOUR existence. Your existence is everything. Maybe things aren’t so great right now and you’re having trouble finding gratitude, if so, just be grateful for you, for your life, for this chance. With your life brings many possibilities, many chances, each and every moment moving forward, bringing with it another chance, another opportunity for more to be grateful for, for more to come. There might not be much now but there is a starting point and without it there would be nothing at all. Be grateful for that, the simplest foundation for all that is. When we focus on that which we are grateful for and dwell in the positive, the appreciation for what we DO have, for what we may normally take for granted: our breath, our body, our planet, the air we breathe – there is absolutely no room for expectations. There only is what is and the joy that it brings us.

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