Almost all of it comes from your expectations, and, when things (inevitably) don’t turn out as we expect, from wishing things were different.
We build these expectations in our heads of what other people should do, what our lives should be like or look like, how other drivers should behave . . . and yet it’s all in our fantasy. It’s not real.
And when reality doesn’t meet our fantasy, we wish the world were different.
Here’s a simple solution:
Take your expectations and throw them in the ocean. Picture all the expectations you have for yourself, your life, your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your job, the world. Take them from inside of you and toss them in the ocean. A river or lake will also do.
What happens to them? They ﬂoat. They’re carried around by waves. The current takes them out, and they drift away. Let them be washed away by the cleansing waters, and let them go. Now live your life without them.
What’s a life without expectations like?
You accept reality as it is, and people as they are, without trying to force them into the containers that you have created for them. You see things as they are. You don’t need to be disappointed or frustrated or angry—or if
you are, you accept it, and then let it go.
That’s not to say that you never act—you can act in a way that’s in accordance with your values and you can inﬂuence the world, but never have any expectations of how the world will react to your actions.
Here’s an experiment for you: Live one day without any expectations at all.
- If you do something good, don’t expect praise or appreciation. Let those expectations of reward and praise ﬂoat away with the waves.
- If you drive to the office by car don’t expect the streets to be without any traffic jam. If you travel by plane don’t expect to be taking off on time.
- If you buy something in the supermarket don’t expect to get through the checkout quickly. If you eat in a fine restaurant don’t expect the waiter to be there immediately.
- If you return home don’t expect your spouse to be in a relaxed friendly mood.
Pay attention to your thoughts. Don’t victimize yourself if you have expectations. Just be aware of them. Then toss them in the ocean.
Notice when you start to wish things weren’t the way they are.The traffic jam. Your stressed spouse. The delayed plane. The long queue at the counter.
If you wish someone else didn’t do something, notice that. You have expectations, and you wish people or the world could meet them instead of doing what they actually do. Toss those wishes in the ocean, too. Now accept things and move on.
Get the following crystal-clear.
Your expectations are just your expectations. They are not the truth. They are your perspective, your perception of how something ought to be. Nothing more.
If you have expectations of others, you often believe they’re your right.
- You ask the shop assistant a friendly question and you expect a friendly response.
- You have completed a difficult job and expect a word of recognition from your boss.
- You drive an extra half hour on the busy highway and expect a jam-free ride.
- You start your PC and expect it to do it in a snap.
But your expectations are not a legal claim. Your expectations are simply your desires and ideas. Other people and reality may act accordingly, but they do not have to.
Try it out for a day. (If you are fearful, make it half a day). Have your expectations of others and yourself – and then let them go.
Discover that the world continues to turn. That nothing bad happens. Perhaps something different than what you imagined or wanted. But nothing more will happen. You accept what happens – and move on.
And what’s with the expectations others have of you?
The good news: the expectations others have of you also are just wishes. You do not have to meet them.
The bad news: most people don’t know that. They believe that their expectations are objective, lawful, normal and justified.
You now know better so you can act wisely. When you feel dependent, for example in your job, meet the expectations of others as they are compatible with your values.
When you do not feel dependent, try not to fulfill the expectations of others, if you do not want to. And watch what happens. You’ll learn a lot about how others define their relationship to you.
This experiment is not easy. Especially if you have a tendency o fbeing right, or you like to take control, because otherwise you feel helpless.
Observe your reactions – and stay calm. It is an experiment, just for a day. Tomorrow you can do everything the way you’re used to again.
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Images: © R. Kopp-Wichmann
This article is based on a chapter
from this book by Leo Babauta, I’ve added.
“Living mindfully” is a new series of posts
I will publish at irregular intervals.