Expectations - to have or not to have?
This is the question, the inquiry, the exploration for this chapter. What does it point to, to have expectations or to not have expectations. Do expectations serve us as human beings? Are they holding us back? Paradoxically perhaps both, maybe neither……..
What does it mean to you to hold Expectations?
So what are expectations? It's one thing to know the logical perceived meaning but what does expectation mean to you, what's your experience, what meaning do you attach to this word, what belief structures are you holding which influence your choice to have expectations?
Do emotions arise in you in relation to these when they are set/not met, what is your expectation around expectations?
Do you hold expectations of self, others, both, neither and if so what is the highest intention of this?
Expectation of Self
So when you hold expectations of self, do you actually only hold these in the face of others? For as human beings we cannot exist other than in the face of another. If you were on a deserted island would you still hold expectations of yourself? With no one else around to judge, would you still judge you?
For many of us, when we can really recognise this we find that expectations of ourselves are actually not ours. They are a deep-rooted belief structure which we have formed as a result of our conditioning, our super ego. That voice in our head is not actually ours, it's the voice of our parent/s which we have taken on and this has helped to form our personality, driving our behaviours and creating expectations.
As an example, do I expect my partner to cheat on me because I grew up hearing my mother tell me that all men cheat? Perhaps.
So then how much are your expectations of yourself creating your reality, allowing these thoughts/feelings/limiting beliefs to become habituated patterns that are driving your behaviour, determining how you live your life.
When I first realised how much opportunity for freedom there was in no longer having expectations I decided to try this for myself. In the making of this decision I immediately felt a shift and I could not wait to see how this would play out for me and in fact how possible this would be, knowing actually that it is all within my control.
I also realised the impact my emotional state had at those times when I was/was not holding expectations. Why could the same thing bother me one day and not the next and the further realisation of the distortions in the expectations I had held due them being conditional on my perceived state.
Expectation of Others?
So what happens when someone cancels a meeting, a lunch, attendance to your birthday party? How are you internalising this, are you ok with this, are you taking this personally? Maybe you feel indifferent or do feelings of frustration arise, a feeling of being let down, of not being enough to justify them seeing you, believing that the person can't value your relationship if they can't make the effort to turn up. Any expectations you hold around this will determine how you feel in this moment. Even deeper than this, how you feel indicates what belief structure is underlying this. To be able to look here and have an understanding is a great first step. How freeing might it then feel to not care and what is it in service of when we do care?
So in this case do we speak to the person about how we feel and voice our disappointment, perhaps. Is it actually up to anyone else to make us feel better or is it a choice that we have full control over. What is at the heart of how we are feeling and what needs to happen so that this no longer keeps showing up in situations, in life. To have awareness is key and an important first step but to really understand what sits deep in the unconscious and what is holding us back and bring this to the conscious awareness is where the freedom is.
I started to reflect on times in my life where I had held such strong expectations of myself and others. I also recognised the times where I didn't in fact have expectations. At times I had questioned why I didn't. Was I not capable of having an opinion if I didn't hold expectations, why were people around me so much more bothered, holding expectations in certain situations? Why did I hold them in some cases and not others, what differentiated one from the other? Then the realisation that I was holding expectation in those situations which were most important to me. Certain relationships, certain situations, so what I cared most about, what I prioritised was where I held these. Looking back now I can see that this was total self sabotage. Had I known then what I know now, in the letting go of these expectations I would have felt very differently. In holding these expectations I was trying to protect myself when in the fact the best protection would have been to have not expected at all.
Expectation of a partner, in relationship, can be challenging as often this is the person many of us as human beings place the biggest expectations on. Why is this? The reason; because of the feelings we have invested in these relationships, the more we invest, the more we expect. Expectations of them to be a certain way, to do things for us, to show love in a way we expect, to be someone they are not… and really what is this in service of? The way they show love may not be in the same way that you do but this doesn’t mean that they don’t care. Just because they don’t take the rubbish out when we expect them to, doesn’t mean they don’t care about us. We have a tendency to make things up based on our feelings in the moment and our own deletions, distortions and generalisations of situations. By doing this we create stories such as ‘they NEVER take the rubbish out’ when actually they do on occasion just not everytime we ask! By not being careful in the way we use language, these stories become facts in our own mind and we create issues for ourselves in the face of these relationships and our lives outside of this.
So imagine accepting that person for who they are, exactly as they are in the moment. Imagine how not wanting them to be anything other than what they are, and that person feeling the same towards you, would feel. Wanting someone to be different, living for the potential in them rather than who they are now is a problem. What is it in service of to expect them to be any different and what in fact might this be reflecting back to you when you expect them to change, are you actually seeing something in yourself you don’t like (See Chapter 2, The Shadow Self)?
How about accepting rather than expecting?
This is not to say that you cannot state your wants to them, communication is of course key in relationship but to be able to remain unattached to the outcome of this is important. It may be that you are letting them know something that they were unaware of and this can be worked through, they may even thank you for this! If not then the relationship is perhaps no longer what you want and it is time to move on instead of trying to change them.
To hear a person say to their partner ‘I have no expectations of you’ may at first seem like they don’t care but paradoxically to expect nothing of them and accept them as they are, is to truly care.
Shoulds Versus Wants, Head Versus Heart
So following on from this is to really look at what is it you want and to be clear here then the distinction between the wants and the shoulds.
Shoulds versus wants point to head versus heart choices.
Therefore shoulds are a problem, shoulds point to expectation. When we think we should be doing something there is far less chance we will find success/happiness here than when we do something from a place of want, a choice made from the heart. Far too many people don't achieve what they set out because they did something thinking they should do it. To be really clear on what your reasons are for doing something is important.
For example I should go to university because this is what my parents expect. What I want is to go to acting school.
This person runs the risk of not fulfilling their desire to act and may get stuck behind a desk because they did what they should over what they wanted.
So really who are we doing this for when we choose the shoulds? Ourselves? Others, for fear of being judged if we do what we want? To be able to really see why we do what we do and really acknowledge whose needs we are trying to satisfy in fulfilling these is key because if these are not our own then this creates a problem.. Over-responsibility for others feelings/judgements is really under-responsibility for ourselves.
How often do we think we should have a plan, how often is a plan full of shoulds rather than want for the next few months/years, how often are we left disappointed when our expectations are not met of what we had planned? Do I want this plan or do I have it because I think I should? If having a plan is what we want then great, but to expect all to go to plan as per the plan is the problem. Because a plan is a projection into the future and we have no guarantees of what the future will bring, we are projecting into the non-reality, future pacing.
So go ahead and make a plan if having this is what you want but drop the expectation and have no attachment to the outcome as it could all change at any moment. Be comfortable with the unexpected and trust in the unfolding. Otherwise what happens when expectation is not met, if the thing you've waited so long for, invested so much in, does not happen as expected, is the world crumbling around you because of the attachment you have had to this…
And in relationship….. love unconditionally in the face of however they show up. Unattachment in love means that you love them because of the person they are and not because you are expecting them to love you back.
So how can we stay unattached to an outcome? By living in the present moment and really understanding and embodying this as a knowing that any projections into the future are not real.
With all of the options we have available to us today we can set expectations higher than ever before. So to be able to take control of all that we have control of, ourselves, and choose to live a life without expectation there is a real opportunity for freedom.
To really know that the expectations we impose on others are in fact distortions of our own experience helps in the letting go.
To accept ourselves without the ‘expect’, in turn allows us to accept those around us more freely.
There is real magic in the non-attachment. Want but without attachment. Attachment equals disappointed if the want does not materialise.
And in the face of whatever expectations people may have of us, be ok with that which we can't control. To really know that any expectations people have on you are based on their own representational system and the only thing to pay attention to is if you are internalising their projections.
Without these expectations, that are actually taking us out of the present moment, we are able to really live in the now.