"If you don’t expect too much you can’t be disappointed," my dad said one rainy Sunday afternoon. I don’t recall now what we were talking about, but this was one of many times he would recite his favorite mantra throughout my life.
The truth is, there wasn’t much expected of me. I grew up in a small town where career prospects were slim and it felt like feminism had happened somewhere else. It was as though everyone was just waiting for me to get married and have babies. The trouble was, I expected much from my life. The question of what I should do with it kept me awake at night.
My expectations were both the secret to my success and my greatest downfall.
I tore into life, battled hard, and thought I’d won. I worked hard to tick boxes, achieve and climb higher. It was fun for a while, and then I realized just how hard it felt and that the joy of accomplishment never lasted for long. I was always on the chase. Always peering over my shoulder. Always looking for what’s next. It meant I was never present.
Expectation is the root of all heartache. ~ Shakespeare
When I found yoga, my dad’s mantra took on a new meaning. I was taught that expectation is the cause of so much suffering, so I spent a while trying to decondition the habit and drop my desire.
I learned to let go, surrender, accept, and go with the flow. It was an interesting time in my life; wilder and more vibrant than I could have planned for, and yet something felt like it was missing. Then I read an article on The Tragedy of Small Expectations (and the Trap of False Dreams), by Seth Godin.
Suddenly everything made perfect sense during my "drifting" years. I felt like a ship without an anchor, rudderless with no drive and no steer.
When people are pushed to exchange their passion and their effort for the false solace of giving up and lowering their expectations, we all lose. ~ Seth Godin
Although I no longer suffered the same misery of hopes going unfulfilled, not thinking about what I really wanted or where I was going left me feeling like I was drifting. So I started to think again and concluded that cultivating dreams and making plans made me feel alive. So I reconsidered my stance. I learned to set intentions instead of hone empty expectations and not be so attached to the results of my actions.
Here are my top tips on how to embrace expectations:
Plan, but not too much
Rarely do dreams land in our lap; they are the result of hard work and careful consideration. The trick is to plan, but not too much. Put thought into what you want and prioritize those things that are most important to you. That will have the biggest impact on your health and happiness.
Break it down into baby steps
Break things down and focus on what you need to do next rather than always thinking about the end game.
Don’t always go long
Consider your medium and short term intentions, too. When you take action, recognize which of these you are working towards.
Make time to stop and review
Check in with yourself from time to time to ensure your desire isn’t taking you out of the present. If your days are filled with thoughts of "I’ll be happy when…" stop and come back to what will make you happy today.
Drop the attachment
Keep the expectation, sure, but avoid becoming attached to a particular outcome. Keep your eyes open and allow a little space for things to unfold, too.
Image credit / Yogini: Kat Smith