People often tell us to “let go of our expectations.” Or that expectations not meeting reality are the root of most of our frustrations in life.
I would agree with this. I believe that many people create problems for themselves because their idea of how they want things to be doesn’t match the reality that IS.
They resist the present moment because it doesn’t fit their expectations. Then, they make it worse by continuing to cling to those expectations even when reality is sending quite the opposite message.
I get it though, it’s very difficult to simply let go of our expectations. To do this often means being open to literally ANYTHING happening.
Not only is this frightening as shit, it exemplifies a lack of control. People like to feel like they are in control of life. Like they are behind the steering wheel.
Expectations help to create this feeling of comfort, stability, and predictability.
Letting go of expectations means being open to the vulnerability of life. That the wind can blow you in any direction. That you’re simply on a boat and the waves of life can pull you where it wants.
But what if we want an anchor of some kind? Something to steer us in the right direction without falling into the trap of setting expectations?
That’s where I prefer intention. You can have an intention to do something without creating expectations. You can have the intent to improve an area of your life, but let go of the expectations of what that improvement looks like.
For example, you can have an intent to get healthy and start exercising, but let go of your preconceived ideas of what that looks like.
For example, for much of my life I had a preconceived idea that being healthy and strong meant having big muscles and looking jacked. This was only further emphasized by the fact that both of my older brothers are in great shape and one was previously a bodybuilder.
So what did I do? With my expectations of what “getting jacked” looked like I spent years in the gym stuffing my face 6 times a day and drinking protein shakes…and it only lead to injury after injury and a rollercoaster of a personal fitness trajectory.
Then without ever really making a conscious choice, I knew I was done with gyms. I set the intention to simply be active and healthy.
This coincided with traveling to Brazil, where I was blessed to finally stumble upon a healthy lifestyle. I discovered the Slackline. I walked up and down the Favela hill every day instead of taking a moto-taxi. I went on hikes. I took swims and runs on the beach. I did yoga when I felt tight.
Throughout all of that time I never once felt like I was “exercising”, I was just having fun. I was enjoying myself, and as a byproduct of enjoyment I got in great shape.
I can confidently say I am now in the best shape of my life, and I feel myself opening up and improving every day.
By letting go of my expectations of what I thought getting in shape looked like, and instead focusing on the intention to simply be active, I was able to achieve my desired result without attachment to the manner in which it was accomplished.
The person with expectations tries to force himself or herself into a mold that they don’t fit into. The person with intention creates the mold around themselves.
This applies in relationships, work, you name it.
Oprah once said, “If love doesn’t show up wrapped in our personal fantasy we fail to recognize it.”
Life often delivers the EXACT gifts to us that we want, but we fail to recognize them because they don’t fit the mold we expected.
I like to use the analogy of Mr. Miyagi and “Wax on Wax off.” Daniel comes to Mr. Miyagi asking for Karate training but Mr. Miyagi has him wax his car instead. Daniel becomes frustrated because he wants to learn karate — WHAT THE HELL DOES WAXING A CAR HAVE TO DO WITH KARATE!!!??!? BUT lo and behold, the wax on wax off technique becomes the foundational pillar to defending oneself and is the core piece of Daniel’s training.
In life we often reject opportunities for learnings because they don’t fit the mold of our expectations.
Same thing happened when I did my first Vipassana meditation retreat. I started having an experience where it felt like a strobe light was going off in my head and white lights were flashing. When I asked the teacher about it, all he said to me was “ continue to focus on your breath.”
At the time I was frustrated. What the hell was I experiencing!?! Is this a sign of progress? Does this mean I’m reaching enlightenment?!?!
No. It’s a distraction. Go back to the breath. This is where the real truth lies. At the time I didn’t realize that.
I was a frustrated Daniel-son. I wanted to learn meditation and access altered states of consciousness and all he’s telling me to do is focus on my breath?!
I wanted a quick fix. A solution. A way to tap into my expectation of what a meditative state looks like.
The truth is, my idea of meditative states and the reality of experiencing it were two completely different things.
We often walk into experiences with an expectation of what we think it’s going to be like, and then become upset when that expectation doesn’t meet reality. Even worse, our expectations prevent us from enjoying an unfiltered version of the experience because we’re still clinging to what we want.
The intention can be to learn martial arts, or learn meditation, or try to get healthy — but leave your expectations of what that looks like at the door when you walk in. The vast majority of practices in life involve indirect teachings like these where it takes time for the student to understand the underlying message of what the teacher is trying to tell them. Let go and be open to what the world is trying to offer you.
Originally published at Troy Erstling.