Expectations are a funny thing. They can be the driving force that keeps us going, or they can be the heavy weight holding us down.
We have expectations for ourselves, our friends, family members and even strangers we meet on the street.
What’s so strange is that often times these expectations are never met and it becomes a vicious cycle of feeling disappointed and frustrated with the outcome.
So what do you do when your expectations go unmet? It turns out there is a solution to this problem: let go of them!
The idea of letting go of expectations seems daunting. It can feel like we’re giving up on our goals.
However, the opposite is true: letting go of expectations means you are taking full responsibility for your life and happiness. You stop expecting others to meet your needs and instead learn to take care of yourself.
In this article I’m going to look at what expectations we set for ourselves, why they may be unhelpful and the importance of letting go of expectations.
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What are expectations
Expectations are things we come up with in our heads that we think will happen. When they don’t, it can be disappointing.
These expectations can be anything: expecting someone to act a certain way, expecting something to come your way, or having certain expectations for yourself.
The problem is that the expectation never goes away; it just sits in the back of our minds and colors everything that happens in our lives.
Expectations can be good or bad, we all have them. But too often, expectations are confused with goals.
Expectations vs goals
It’s important to learn the difference between having expectations and having goals. Goals are much more achievable and focused on a defined result.
There are times when expectations can be helpful, because they give us a guideline to follow. It’s the difference between having expectations and having goals. Goals are actions while expectations lay out plans for what you expect to happen
Having a goal is much more achievable than expecting something to happen, since it gives you a process to follow. If your goal is to lose weight, you can decide what to do next – how much exercise to do and how many calories to cut out of your diet. You control the process because it’s in your hands, whereas your expectation might not happen whether you like it or not.
There’s a deeper reason behind thinking in terms of goals and expectations: when we expect things from people or from our environment, it leaves little room for us to be open to the possibilities around us.
In other words, by expecting something, we are closing ourselves off to other opportunities.
Once you have a goal, your mind is open to the different paths that might lead to achieving this goal. Instead of being fixated on just one plan, you’re open for all options. It’s not about limiting yourself or changing your plans every five seconds – it’s more about being flexible when something unexpected happens.
This doesn’t mean you should expect things to not go your way when you have a goal in mind – it just means that the goal is always the priority, and if it changes then that’s okay. You can still achieve what you want, even if it takes a different route than what you had in mind.
Examples of expectations we have
Let’s take a look at some examples of what people might have expectations about:
- You expect a specific event to go a certain way (e.g. a birthday or wedding)
- You expect an email to be sent back within the hour after you send it
- You expect your coworker to stay late with you in work
- You expect yourself to live up to a certain standard
- You expect support and commitment from your family
- You expect opportunity and respect from your co-workers and superiors
- You expect your friends to want to go out when you do
All of these examples have one thing in common: they’re based on an assumption that these things will happen a specific way.
The importance of letting go of expectations
When we expect things to happen a certain way, we often get frustrated when they don’t. This is just a natural part of being human.
We need to let go of expectations because they take us away from the present moment and leave little room for understanding or openness to what life throws at us. We also need to let go of any unmet expectations because they don’t do any good for us, even if there’s still a possibility we’ll get what we expect.
For instance, you might expect something and it might not happen – like an email not getting sent back within the hour. This isn’t necessarily a problem; your expectation didn’t get met, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get the results you want.
When we take expectations away from our life, it forces us to become more flexible in how we react to people, events, and other opportunities that might arise. We are no longer driven by what we expect will happen – we’re driven by what we actually want to happen.
5 Steps to letting go of expectations
Expectation feeds frustration. It’s an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control; but don’t– Dr steve maraboli
1. Identify your expectations
Figure out what your expectations are – for yourself, for others, for situations. Write them down on a list to get the full picture.
Scan through your list and ask yourself whether each expectation is something that you can control, or if it’s beyond your power to influence. If the former is true, then you might be able to change what you expect according to how reality unfolds.
2. Change your mindset
It’s easy to fall into a negative mindset when things don’t go our way, such as thinking that a bad day will turn in to a bad week. But this mindset does us no good when it comes to our expectations.
Every time you find yourself falling into a negative mindset, stop and think of what else could happen in this situation. Change your mindset into that of a positive one.
3. Define your goals and wants
Now that we’re letting go of expectations, it’s time to put in their place some goals and wants.
Your goals should be specific actions that will get you closer to where you want to be. Wants are reasonable desires – think of what would make a good day for you, but don’t expect it to go perfectly.
4. Plan ahead
We know that sometimes our expectations may not turn out the way we want them to. So why not come up with a plan B (and C) for what you might need to do in such a situation?
For instance, if you expect to get a promotion, and you don’t get it right away, plan ahead for how you’ll take the next steps in your career.
5. Control your actions
Expecting things to happen a certain way does not mean that you can control all outcomes or that this will be your reality – there are just some things in life that are out of your control.
When our expectations don’t turn out the way we planned them to, it’s likely you will feel disappointed and frustrated. And you may even act out. But remember, this is just a natural part of being human. Once you can control your actions, you’ll be better equipped to handle the situations that life throws at you
The only expectations you really need to have are those that will propel you forward.
Letting go of expectations does not mean giving up hope for a brighter tomorrow—instead it means being comfortable with where we are now so that we have enough energy left over to work towards our goals.
When we let go of the expectations and assumptions, we free ourselves from a lot of unnecessary disappointment and stress. This is true in all aspects of life – relationships, careers or even personal goals.
Be intentional about what your future should look like because it’s up to you!