As someone who suffers from anxiety, I often find myself meditating on how expectations affect our ability to enjoy life. Anxiety is kind of like an overwhelming flood of expectations. The trick to managing it is to use practices to help you avoid letting the expectations keep you from living your life.
A few years back, I started Acceptance Commitment Therapy, after connecting with my then-therapist, Don, through betterhelp. One of the most impactful tools from the therapy for me has been a daily practice that involves focusing on gratitude.
I’ve previously written on how gratitude is a key to living our best life. It is one of the Pillars of Joy discussed in “The Book of Joy,” a book centering around a series of discussions between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
My efforts to find a better life through gratitude have, as it turns out, brought into focus the constant need to release expectations.
As discussed in “The Book of Joy,” our expectations are what impairs our ability to accept the way things are and be at peace with our experience.
My own expectations in the range of relationships in my life has often impaired my ability to be open and receptive to other people’s experiences. My expectations about the potential difficulties associated with an outing has kept me from venturing forth.
My attachment to expectations has been like a tectonic force pulling me away from the life I want to live and creating a tension in my exasperation and despair about the life I have found myself living.
Around the start of this year, I had some difficult experiences due to changes in life that were troubling me. But at the same time, I happened to connect with a cyclist who was as into mindfulness as I was.
It provided me with an opportunity to renew my commitment to mindfulness practices, and I started meditating more. I also started journaling.
In the course of meditating and journaling, I contemplated quite a bit on expectations.
Expectations can often be arbitrary. Having anxiety, it is often difficult to accept uncertainty. There is a danger of placing oneself in a life that is not one’s best life out of a desire to resolve uncertainty.
One thing I meditated on when I was journaling was an experience I had a couple years ago apartment hunting, just before I ended up living out of my car.
At the time, I was subletting an apartment, and I knew I would have to move out in a matter of weeks. But I had no place to move to.
I found a listing for an apartment that ostensibly matched my criteria, as I needed a dog-friendly place.
When I got to the apartment, I wasn’t really pleased at the neighborhood it was in. There were a lot of car dealerships around, and in general it was kind of barren and uninspiring.
But I still went into the viewing with the mindset to try to make it work. I didn’t have a lot of options in my mind because I didn’t have much time.
I met with the primary tenant, a cook who lived in the apartment with his own dog. He was friendly, but he seemed uncomfortable with my dog.
He ended up saying he had another tenant lined up. I was upset that I wasn’t able to find a place.
Ultimately, I had to live out of my car for a month and a half. I was fortunate that my backup dogsitter had a coworker who had a room for rent. She connected me with Mandi, who owns the house where I live now.
As I reflect on my previous willingness to move into a drab apartment in an unappealing neighborhood, I feel so fortunate that things didn’t work out. Now I live right next to a splendid bike path which accesses the entire city of Denver.
My expectations weren’t really meaningful. They were a product of the desire to resolve uncertainty about how I would find living accommodations.
But much as I might reflect on how my past expectations have not been meaningful, I realize that I will always be forming expectations that I have to release in order to find presence and guidance for navigating to my best life.
In my meditating and journaling, I also found myself contemplating on how fundamental and inescapable expectations are to our experience as human beings. Expectations are, in fact, baked into our experience of life.
I recalled a lecture I’d watched on YouTube about the physics of perception in which the lecturer revealed that we receive fairly little visual information from our eyes.
Our actual field of view in which we perceive detail, for instance, is quite small. Our sense of a panoramic view is the product of perception. As is a huge amount of what we think of as our sensation of the world.
In reality, our brains are constantly creating expectations about what we sense in order create our perception of reality. This is why optical illusions have such an astounding effect.
So, on a fundamental level, we cannot live without expectations.
Understanding this helped me to find acceptance when I noticed that I was hanging onto expectations. I realized that I didn’t need to blame or castigate myself.
Knowing that expectations are unavoidable helps me to keep from spiraling deeper into the expectations out of denial and self-reproach.
I also realized after contemplating lessons I’ve learned from reading books on early humans, such as “Sapiens” and “Strategy,” that we need expectations to navigate our social environment.
Expectations based on a person’s past actions helps one evaluate their present behavior.
If a coworker is normally irresponsible but they volunteer to participate in a special project, we might be suspicious that they see it as an opportunity to waste time without being accountable.
If a lover normally doesn’t cook or do housework, and you come home to find they made a nice dinner and cleaned the house, you might wonder what they’re trying to make up for.
These cliché examples are just the tip of an iceberg of complex evaluations that we make, often subconsciously, in order to decide if our relationships with others are equitable.
Much as it would be nice if all of our relationships were fair and honest and without intrigue, the reality is often that we need to be wary of the deceptions, ploys, and dissembling of others.
Thus, being that we can’t entirely do without expectations, the need to meditate and let go of what expectations we can becomes all the greater. We can’t do without expectations, but we can strive to find balance so we can live in peace.
Knowing that forming expectations is natural can help us accept the expectations we find ourselves forming and let go so we can live in the moment.
The best way to manage expectations in the long run is with mindfulness practices such as meditation and focusing on gratitude.
How about you? What practices do you use to manage expectations? I invite you to contemplate how expectations impact your life, and how you can cope with them.