Enlightened Living

Mindfulness practice in everyday life.

by Michael J. Formica

5 Ways to Release Your Expectations

Published on August 1, 2011 by Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM in Enlightened Living

Our ideas about the way the world works are based, in part, upon our expectations. Those expectations color our experience – for good or ill – and can influence our reactions and responses to just about everything and everyone that we encounter. We can release ourselves from this self-created trap of expectation by following a few simple steps.

Virtually every social transaction we encounter offers us some sort of instruction, and those instructions, in turn, inform our belief systems. These belief systems are the very thing upon which our expectations are based.

Expectations help us form a world view, but they can also skew that world view in unexpected -and sometimes unwanted — ways.  Releasing our expectations and entering into the world with fresh perspective in every moment, we can enrich and enhance both our lives and our experience.

Empty your cup

In the Zen tradition there is a concept called shoshin, or "beginner's mind". It suggests that we should come to every situation with an empty cup, ready to receive. If our cup is full, then we have no place to put what is coming to us. Emptying our cup, we release our expectation and our sense of "knowing" allowing us to see what it is directly in front of us.  This sensibility helps us remove our tendency to interject our ego into a situation, and also deflects our tendency to interject control.

Seeing with a child's eyes

In seeing with a child's eyes, every situation will always appear new to us.  If every situation is new, then, by definition, we can hold no expectation. We don't "know" what's going to happen; we can only wait and see. If we enter into a situation "knowing", as it were, then we lose the opportunity to experience the nuances and differences that make that experience unique, even if that experience is seemingly identical to one that we've had before.

Be present

We hear this all the time, but, in this context if we harbor an expectation, then we are not connected to what's happening around us. Walking in with a full cup and a sensibility of "knowing", we are not present in the moment, we are only present in our past.  Being present connects us to our experience in such a way that we don't end up interfering with ourselves or getting in our own way. We are open to the newness of the experience, so it becomes fresh and novel.

Check your premise

Checking your premise means taking a hard look at whether or not what you believe actually matches with reality.  Neurosis is often touted as doing something over and over again expecting it to change.  The belief system version of that is a sort of frozen world view – "That's just how it is" or "That's just the way I am".  Taking a step back from a consistently disappointing experience and looking at whether or not we're starting from a realistic place will help us adjust our perspective in such a way so as to more accurately match reality and get a potentially different outcome.

Discard your fixed fantasies

Many times, the people whom we encounter in our lives tell us stories and we fervently cling to them. These are often cultural notions like, "If I go to an Ivy League college I'm going to get a really good job and be wealthy" or "If I marry the right kind of wo/man, I am going to be a success". Other ideas we hold dear are simply woven into the fabric of culture and society like, "A woman's place is in the home" or "Men are the breadwinners".  Discarding these sorts of societal fixed fantasies is something that is very important for us in terms of learning to be flexible within the context of a changing culture.  If, say, we bring to the table of the mores with which our parents raised us and try to apply them to a teenager in the 21st century, it's simply not going to work because those mores – and the expectations that spawned them — are trapped in the time they were applicable.

This simple collection of perspectives can help us to gain freedom from the trap of expectation that we set upon ourselves. Being open to experience, seeing things with fresh eyes, staying connected, being realistic and letting go of old beliefs lead us to a place where, rather than finding ourselves like a gnarled, old oak standing forth against a gathering storm, we can bend like a reed in the wind.

© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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