Ever since I was a kid I was surrounded by expectations of my parents, siblings, teachers, friends and society. Yes, I grew up in a very controlled environment of performance pressure. As a result, once I grew up and took charge of my life – I found great value in freedom and having the choice of living life on one’s own terms. However, in the bargain, I also developed a deep-rooted belief in expecting a lot from myself as well as others around me. I believed the more I expected from myself the more I will succeed. However, my journey of living life mindfully altered this belief.
What Causes Expectations?
I learnt that I suffered a lot of pain when my expectations were unmet. I wish back then, I knew what are the causes of expectations and what happens to us psychologically when they are not met. The first step to stop expecting too much is by identifying why do we have expectations or opinions. The second step is to understand how do we respond when our expectations are not met.
After discussing the first two steps I will talk about: How to let go of Expectations from others and from yourself in relationships, work and other areas of life.
Why do we have expectations or opinions?
The dictionary meaning of “expectation” is: “A person’s expectations are strong beliefs which they have, about the proper way someone should behave or something should happen.” So now you know! An expectation is merely a belief. It is an idea or imagination. It is beyond reality. Therefore, it is based on our fears, hopes, preferences, wants, desires or in other words ‘expected value.’
What is important to note here is – Expectations are “strong beliefs.” Here we will discuss what are the three big beliefs that cause high expectations.
1. We want others to be like us
If we are mindful of why we have expectations – we shall become aware that we want others to think in the same manner as we do. It is one of the biggest mistakes when we expect others to replicate us. We believe doing something in a particular manner is the only way to do it. We expect the others to do things exactly the way we do it. Especially in relationships – you often wonder – why doesn’t football excite her, in the same manner, it excites me? Or, why doesn’t window shopping appeal to him?
We will only be able to let go of expectations when we recognise the fact that each one of us thinks and reacts differently. Thus, you can build this quality by stopping and reflecting on this aspect of human behaviour.
2. We already Imagine the Outcome
As we interact with others we play out a pre-written script in our minds. We create images of how an incident, person or circumstance should unfold. Therefore, we are stuck with the image of the outcome. As a result, we raise our expectations – become judgemental and start having opinions. The downside is – us wanting to control the outcome.
3. Deep-rooted Fear of Change or Failure
Start becoming aware of the incidents where you strongly react when something doesn’t go your way. You become rigid and do not want to look at another perspective. You start looking for validation. Thus, you seek approval from others and look for feedback.
You have a fear of Failure or of Change. Your ego triggers fear related to change. Therefore, you think others are crazy because they are doing something you are afraid of doing. And, you start believing they also should not be doing it.
Beliefs attached to High Expectations:
1. I am always right – don’t you agree
2. How will I face others if I don’t succeed
3. Life is supposed to be fair
4. When it happens then I will be happy
5. I have the ability to change them
6. Others understand what I say
7. Everyone likes me
How do we Respond when our Expectations are not met?
Expectations have the power to colour the way we see the world. It has a direct influence on our response and reactions. The experience of the pain due to unmet expectations is unbearable for people. They end up thinking they have a tough life just because things did not happen their way. This is because they grow up with psychological conditioning that everything should happen the way they want or expect.
Often they could be trapped under the pressure of what will others think. They are inclined towards achieving approval to please others. Thus, it becomes tough to say ‘No’ to others and assert your will in order to take care of yourself. You acquire the habit of trying to please others. As you grow up it becomes more and more difficult if you succumb to a life spent only fulfilling others expectations.
I am sure all of you must have felt disappointment in some form or the other in your lives! The first reaction to the failure of meeting expectations is feeling let down either by yourselves/others or external circumstance. When expectation doesn’t meet reality you tend to feel disappointed.
Moreover, disappointment may also make you feel sad when wishes are not fulfilled. It happens when we expect a certain outcome and are denied its experience. You may have been pining for something good to happen. But, when it turns out to be opposite to your expectations you feel defeated and sometimes even de-motivated.
Resentment due to failed expectations is because of an emotional response of feeling cheated, unfair or insulted. The sheer reaction of unmet expectations makes you angry or frustrated.
It is a reaction of your strong belief that you deserve a relationship or an outcome to a circumstance. It leads to arguments, abuse or even suicide or murders. As per the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) Office of Suicide Prevention: “Suicide can be precipitated by the loss of a relationship” especially in Youth.
Depression could be due to failure of expectations from self – be it related to studies, play, work or relationships. It is a major outcome of unmet expectations.
For example, during Holidays there are special-demands on your emotions, time and energy. As per psychologist Anita Sanz, “Depression tends to increase during the holidays due to an increase in demands (perceived as stressful), family issues, and being unable to manage expectations.”
The best way to deal with managing expectations is to set realistic expectations – both for yourself and others and then to communicate what those mean to you and for others.
How to Let Go of Expectations?
Do you know – without expectations – there would be no heartbreaks or pain. Thus, the way to true happiness is to stop expecting too much by using Mindfulness. Stephen Hawking said, “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have”.
I. Understand the difference between Expectation and Aspiration
As you start your journey to stop expecting – first and foremost, try and differentiate between “expectation” and “aspiration”. When you set goals – first understand how you will respond if the goals are not achieved if expectations are unmet.
Aspiration – is a want or desire to do something or to go somewhere. It is about whether you do it or not, whether you achieve your goals or not. You mould, you learn, you improve and you continue moving ahead.
Expectation – is like setting the coordinates of the destination and seeing the destination without looking at anything that happens along the way. A lot of people are fearful of letting go of their expected destination. Because they don’t understand the concept of freedom from getting bound down by expectations – they hold onto the expectations very tightly.
The idea is to have aspirations, hopes and passion to move forward. If things don’t happen as per expectations – have the ability to change or mould in order to keep moving. Flexibility is the key to letting go of expectations. Thus, it is living life realistically – learning and becoming wiser each day as you go along.
Yes, expectations are important – however, how you deal with life, others and yourself, when they are not fulfilled, is what matters more.
II. Letting go of Expectations in Relationships
There is a very delicate line of expectations in relationships. You must have observed expectations alone have the power to ruin relationships. But, you will say – “Relationships are often built on expectations”. In relationships, you soon start expecting the other person to start behaving in a certain manner. Thus, starts the decay of relationships.
We often forget – our aim to get into the relationship is not to change the others. However, we got into the relationship because we enjoy each other the way we are. I have seen a lot of the people going through pain and suffering because partners, spouses, parents, siblings are forever trying to change each other. The moment you want others to behave differently – you are trying to kill his or her identity. The key is to respect the other exactly as they are. Thus, follow the motto of – “Live and Let Live”.
Accepting the other person the way they are is paramount here. Be like the river, flowing and never stagnant. It doesn’t ask the rock on its way to change or move away. Rather, it changes its course around the rock flowing continuously. Once you start letting go of expectations your life will start flowing smoothly like water.
III. Instead of Judging Start Giving unconditionally
I have often heard people say “They don’t care.” or “She doesn’t love me the way I want” or simply “She/he doesn’t love me.” It is very painful in a relationship to expect the other to reciprocate.
Why do you expect the other person to express their feelings in the same manner as you do? Every individual is made differently and they speak their own language. You do not put people in boxes of preconceived notions of behaviour patterns when you let go of your expectations from them. You will judge less and start giving more freely.
Another complaint people have in relationships – is expressed when they say that their partner is not the same any more. How can you be the same person over a period of 10-20 years? Isn’t it expecting a little too much from the other? Be realistic, everyone grows and changes. Don’t’ bring pain to a relationship by clouding it with judgement.
IV. Move on from Fixed Dreams and Beliefs
We are greatly influenced by the ideas we gather as we meet people along the course of our lives. You hear to someone’s success story -be it in their love life, in their work environment or parent-child relationship. Then, you start to weave a fabricated story in your head “If I get married to a girl of this kind – my life will be forever happy.” “If i get this degree I will get the best job and will always be wealthy after that.” “I am the breadwinner of the family, thus everyone should live on my terms.”
These kinds of ideas or dreams normally come from the social fabric of life around us or what we read or are exposed to. To let go of these fixated thoughts is a huge challenge imperative to be at par with the ever-changing culture all around us.
What works for one person may not work for another. Society and its value system shifts as cultures mould. We cannot expect our kids to behave the way we did when we were 30-40 years younger. Times change and so should we. Thus, shed the trappings of fixed dreams and expectations. Look at people and things with a new perspective, open up to experiences and become realistic by letting go of expectations.
V. Let go of the Fear to Change
Change is the most permanent thing in life. The biggest fear people face is expecting things will remain the same always. Change of any sort puts them in a fear zone and they start feeling hurt. Yes, it could be you or others – change is unavoidable. You bring upon yourself, guilt, agony or fear when you start fearing changes like dark circles under your eyes, weight gain, loss of a loved one, failing at achieving your goals, or missing a flight or an opportunity.
You will have to make a little effort in the beginning when you replace the feeling of fear with the feeling of love and belief. Accept the fact that nothing is permanent and we cannot predict the future. Live with the knowledge and acceptance that everything changes – be it good, bad or very significant.
The day we start accepting that life is what is now and we never know what will happen tomorrow. You start living life with more appreciation and acceptance of what is present. It helps you let go of expectations much more easily. It is never certain that our future will be the same as what and where we are today.
VI. Have a Child-like Freshness in everything you See or Do
If you observe – a child is happy and excited every time he sees you come back from work. Start observing how a child looks at every situation as new- without any pre-conceived notion. Look at things with a sense of wonder and excitement – rather than going into a relationship or circumstance – with an I know it all – attitude. Experience the newness and happiness – because you went without any expectation – your cup was empty before you went. Experience the uniqueness of the situation or relation.
Enjoy the joy of receiving from others unexpected. See how your life will change – when you tell yourself – I will not judge my child because he hasn’t studied all week. You decide to bring joy to both of you when your time to play with him comes. Do not cloud your playtime by judging your child – and telling him that you will not play because he did not study.
Do not judge the employee who came in late to work in spite of several reminders. Yes, he needs to learn time-management. Do not reprimand him or think he is a bad performer – just because he came late to work. Look at him from a child’s eye knowing that each employee is different from the other and bring their own unique strength to the organisation. Thus, letting go of expectations makes it easier for you to live in a non-judgemental environment.
One should live life fully by turning your focus on surprises. The more you have a sense of wonder and amazement – the more you will be happier at the unexpected turn of events. The great management scholar Henry Mintzberg (the great management scholar) said: “managers should only pay attention to the unexpected.” See how much time will be saved in a days work.
Remember, unexpected is not always bad. People will say the opposite is true – because their habit of clinging to the stability and certainty is huge. Rather than feeling threatened by surprises coming our way – take away time to analyse them calmly. Either they are a blessing in disguise or have come to teach us something new. Thus, not having expectations met – end up making us wiser.
It is a good idea to assess the number of times you are surprised by the unexpected. If you are too comfortable – maybe you need to pull yourself up or your team may be working on modest goals. Don’t fool yourself by starting to believe everything is well. How we deal with the unexpected and how we react to it is what determines where we go in life. Thus, let go of the expectations and live a life of aspirations that can be moulded as and when required.