Exercise: Letting go of expectations

Exercise: Letting go of expectations
Much of the emotional chaos in life is created by unrecognized or unrealized expectations. Like most people, you are probably not aware that your head is full of expectations and that they largely determine what events in your life you pay attention to and how you interpret them. Most of the time you are completely oblivious to your expectations, and yet they control much of what you do and are a hindrance to living according to your intentions.

Great expectations equal great disillusionment

Expectations come in many forms – from what we expect of ourselves to what others expect of us and what we expect of them. Perhaps you have high, low, or even negative expectations of what is possible in your life. Just as an unrealistically high expectation can lead to unnecessary disappointment, a low one can make you underperform or fail to see the opportunity in a situation. For example, a negative expectation will lead to a poor assessment of the situation or a reluctance to try something new, while a different assessment would result in a different decision.

When you live parts of your life with negative expectations, you never give yourself a chance. You expect that your relationships will fail, that you will not be able to captivate anyone, or that you will never be able to take charge. You may believe that no one can be trusted and you are constantly looking for confirmation.

Exercise: Letting go of expectations

Seeing the difference between expectations and possibilities

A crucial step in gaining clarity about expectations is learning to distinguish between expectations and possibilities. Expectations are based on a certain result and are focused on the future. They actually limit your possibilities, get in the way of your imagination and blind you to possibilities. When you are controlled by your expectations, you live a conditional life and therefore you are not free in the here and now.

Contrary to expectations, possibilities are based on the present moment, on the here and now in which you are part of the mystery of life. Being open to exploring possibilities stimulates the mind, makes life exciting and provides you with the energy and motivation to experience life at the moment as fully as you can, in light of your intentions. You no longer assume that your desired future will come to pass because the future is unknown. By freeing yourself from expectations, you increase the chances of encountering different challenges in your path.

Not that you should refrain from making plans or setting goals for yourself: you are just not defined by those expectations and no longer attached to a certain outcome. You will probably continue to have expectations. But through the practice of being mindful of expectations and having compassion for yourself when you find yourself caught up in expectations again, you will develop the ability to let them go.

Assignment: Examine the tyranny of your expectations

Exercise: Letting go of expectations

1. Over the next few days, keep track of how often expectations arise, including hidden assumptions. Whenever you catch yourself expecting an expectation, ask, “Is this going to benefit me or not?”

2. Begin to notice how many times a day you feel the pressure of what others expect of you. How does it feel when you face those expectations? What does your mind do with it?

3. Expectations can be an indirect way of demanding something from someone without having to ask or exchange. are you doing this? An expectation can also be an unspoken agreement that you keep someone to. are you doing this? Ask yourself what it feels like when others use their expectations to get you to do something or to keep an unspoken agreement.

4. Decide whether to let go of expectations an active part of your mindfulness practice. If the answer is yes, then start letting go of the small expectations you harbor. Slowly but surely work your way up to the greater expectations that you are truly attached to.

5. Focus the spotlight of mindfulness on the expectations you have of yourself. Are you weighed down by those expectations? Do you feel hard on yourself if you fail to live up to the expectations you have of yourself? Do these inner expectations come from others, like your parents for example, or from your fear of not being good enough? Understanding the causes of your expectations can be very enlightening, but remember that in order to escape their nasty effects, you have to unmask and let them go.


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