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Willem Jagtman - 01/01/2020

Letting go of expectations or using them positively

We all have expectations. Of ourselves, of others, of situations and of life. But what if these thoughts start to get in our way, for example because we keep being disappointed? Then it’s time to discover how to let go of your expectations or adjust them. Take that step towards a freer and happier life!

The use of expectations

An expectation is a vision or assumption of how something will go. We can expect all kinds of things, for example of ourselves, or of others. Sometimes they’re realistic, sometimes they’re really not. Expectations based on previous experiences and common beliefs can be pretty useful, because we can act or prepare accordingly. For example, if you get in the car to go to work five minutes before rush hour, you know you’ll get stuck in traffic. If you want to be on time, you know you should leave earlier or take a different route. 

Expectations or desires?

Besides practical expectations, we also have expectations that are closely related to our dreams, wishes and desires. In that case you don’t just think something might happen, you hope it will. If this expectation is met or even exceeded, it gives you a happy feeling. If things don’t go quite as expected, you’re likely to feel disappointed. It’s good to be aware of which desires form the foundation of your expectations. These desires are all part of you, you’re responsible for them. That may sound very serious, but look at it this way: it also means you can influence them. You can’t influence the external factors that determine whether or not your expectation will be met. So make sure to focus on the things you really want to happen, and put your energy towards them. That way you can let go of or manage your expectations. 

How your expectations influence reality

Just like you can influence your expectations, your expectations can influence you. We think about the future a lot: what do we want to achieve? Which personal developments do we want to go through? Where do we want to be in five years? Even if you’re a very mindful person and well on your way to live in the here and now, it’s unlikely that you don’t have any ideas or plans for the future at all. 

Whether it’s on a conscious or subconscious level, your expectations influence your behavior and therefore your reality. If you don’t expect to catch the train, you will subconsciously walk more slowly and, as a result, probably miss it. Try to look at it from the other side: your expectations can also have a positive effect. If you have a positive expectation, you will try harder to make it a reality. These expectations start to resemble goals, and whether you reach your goals or not is mostly up to you. 

Can you live without expectations? 

If we can deal with expectations in a healthy way and maybe even use them to help us reach our goals, there’s nothing wrong with having them. But it is important to differentiate between possibilities, where everything is undetermined, and expectations, where you’re focused on a certain result. If you don’t get that result you’ll be pretty disappointed, whereas this disappointment can be avoided if you remain open to different outcomes. It’s therefore good to have fewer and lower expectations. Let’s illustrate with an example from day-to-day life: you’ve had a busy week at work, and you expect you and your partner to have a nice breakfast at the cafe around the corner on Saturday, followed by a walk. However, when Saturday morning comes around it turns out that your partner has other plans: sleeping in and hanging out at home. You’re disappointed and maybe even a little angry. What if you had gone into the weekend without expectations, and instead been open to all the possibilities of a day off? The situation may not have been better or even different, but because you didn’t have any expectations it might have been less of a slap in the face when it didn’t turn out as your ideal Saturday.

Your expectations of yourself work exactly the same way. If you have a massive to-do list and expect it to be completely done by the end of the day, you’ll be disappointed if it isn’t. If you don’t have this expectation, every item you tick off will be one less to do tomorrow! Note that we’re not saying that a life without expectations is automatically a life without goals and ambitions. You can have goals without immediately attaching high expectations to them. In fact, the opposite is true: letting go of expectations can contribute to your personal growth because you’re open to different possibilities, and you’re able to take on challenges without holding yourself back.

Letting go of expectations: 5 tips

We’ve established that it’s often a good thing to manage high expectations or even let go of them entirely. But how do you do that: let go of high expectations? It’s difficult, but nor impossible. Try these five tips for a start: 

1. Live in the here and now. When you’re paying attention to what you’re doing at this moment and are content with it, you can be happy without having to think about the future and creating expectations all the time. Do you struggle with mindfulness? Use Chapters to take the time for rest and self-reflection.

2. Accept that you’re not always in control. By having an idea of what’s going to happen, you can get a false sense of control over the situation. In reality, you don’t control things like other people’s behavior, the past or the weather. If you can let go of all these expectations, you’ll have more energy to focus on what really matters.

3. Don’t always strive for perfection. If you can be happy with less, you can have less high expectations.

4. Do the following small exercise to free yourself from expectations. Write them down, and once you’ve done that you cross out at least half. While you do so, you genuinely say goodbye to the expectations. If you notice that it’s made its way back into your head, just remember crossing it out.

5. Do it. Or at least try it. Life without expectations isn’t easy, but you can get better by practising. The more you do it, the easier letting go of expectations will get. 

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