“The best things in life are unexpected, because there were no expectations.” ~Eli Khamarov
The big picture.
I’m a big picture thinker so I like to think about things in the simplest terms possible. Therefore, I believe that everything in life can fall into 3 categories:
1. the things you can control
2. the things you can’t control but can have some degree of influence on the outcome
3. the things you can’t control
The only thing that falls into the first category is MYSELF, and literally everything else that is external to me are things that I have no control over. I don’t have full control over someone else’s actions nor do I have full control over any particular situation. I do, however, have full control over my thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions and reactions. And the things that I have full control over can influence things that I can’t control.
With every challenging situation in my life, I’ve found it really helps to think about each aspect of the challenge in terms of control and influence. Last year was full of challenging situations that tested my physical and emotional strength. This past New Years Eve, I set an intention to grow and embrace all of the changes coming my way this year and established that my yearly mantra would be to “LET GO”. I adopted this mantra because my dad had just died a few months before and I was experiencing an incredibly emotional grief process. While my dad was still alive and for several months after he died, I had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact I had no control over whether my dad lives or dies. There was nothing I (or anyone) could do for him. He was dying. After he died, I had a very difficult time letting go of him and accepting that he was actually gone.
The first few months of trying to let go were an absolute emotional shit-storm but once the storm passed I realized that my entire perspective on life was changing for the better. I’m still learning how to let go of the pain that I have in my heart over the thought of never seeing my dad again. I’m recognizing that I have the power to let go of people, thoughts and things that do not serve me in order to make space for the good stuff. And most recently, I’ve come to realize that my high expectations of other people were affecting my personal happiness and the quality of my relationships.
The power of letting go.
I’ve recently made the commitment to let go of ALL expectations of other people. Now that I can identify the things that I can control (i.e. me) I’m making a conscious effort to let go of trying to control the things that I have no control over (i.e. other people). I still have a long way to go but I’ve already seen dramatic improvements in my mood, happiness and quality of life.
Born as a Capricorn, I have high expectations of myself and up until now have had high expectations of others as well. When a friend didn’t follow through on a commitment, I’d be disappointed. If I expected my husband to do/act/think/speak a certain way and he didn’t do it, I’d get pissed. If a teammate didn’t put in 110% effort, I’d feel let down. Time after time, other people failed to meet my expectations of them. Clearly this mindset wasn’t working for me so I decided to make a change.
A change in perspective.
I decided to let go of all expectations of others just to see what would happen. I tried really hard to let go of all judgements, opinions or preconceived notions based on other people’s perceptions. I let go of low, medium and high expectations. Whether its someone I have just met or someone I have known for years, I choose to expect nothing from them. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
I stopped expecting strangers to hold doors for me. I stopped expecting people to follow through on their commitments, to listen to every word I said, or know what I was thinking. I stopped expecting my teammates to have the same goals that I had or for them to pick up the slack when I was having an off game. I stopped expecting to lose a game just because the other team was more experienced or better trained than I am.
And here’s what I’ve learned: We cannot control others, we can only control ourselves. Detaching myself from the desired or ideal outcome has improved my relationships, my ability to manage stressful situations, my athletic performance and my entire outlook on life.
Think about the last time someone did something that you didn’t expect to happen. Maybe it was a nice gesture or maybe they said something sweet, compassionate or inspiring. Those are the kind of things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside because it was unexpected. If someone complains all the time and is constantly putting people down, it’s not a matter of expecting them to continue this behavior. It’s about NOT expecting them to change their behavior. Instead of thinking “I expect this person to be late” flip that mindset around and think “I have no expectations of this person to be on time.” If they show up early or on time – then awesome! Be appreciative of that, yo. If they show up late, then all you have to worry about is how you are going to react to their tardiness. In other words, instead of expecting someone to repeat a particular behavioral pattern because that’s what they’ve always done, instead have no expectation that that person will change or deviate from their predictable pattern.
I’m going to repeat that one more time: HAVE NO EXPECTATIONS THAT PEOPLE WILL CHANGE and your life will improve dramatically.
When it’s okay to have expectations.
After all this talk about letting go of all expectations, there are certain situations where it’s okay to have them.
1. Expectations of ourselves.
Having expectations of others is just another way of seeking an external source of happiness. Happiness comes from within. Set realistic and meaningful expectations of yourself and work on meeting those.
Setting expectations is similar to setting goals so they should be attainable. These expectations should also be meaningful which means they should reflect your personal values. If your expectations align with your values, you’ll be more likely to meet those expectations because they are important to YOU. Setting standards that align with your core values is important but it’s the next step of following through to meet those expectations which results in true happiness and defines your character. If you value honesty, then expect yourself to be honest AND then actually be honest. If you value your alone time, then expect yourself to communicate to others when they should leave you alone, AND follow through with a compassionate conversation. It’s okay to have high expectations and push yourself but remember to be kind to yourself when expectations are not met.
2. Expectations of our children, students, and players.
For those of us that fill the role of a parent, teacher or coach, it’s okay to have some expectations of those you educate. If you are in this role, it’s perfectly fine to set standards and expect them to meet those. Just make sure that the expectations you’re looking for are realistic and not a projection of your own expectations of yourself. No body is perfect, not even you.
3. Expectations of people that we pay.
In the world of business the expectation game changes a bit. If you’re paying money for something it’s perfectly fine to have expectations of the quality of the service or product in order to suit your budget and needs. These expectations should coincide with the amount of money you’re paying so don’t expect a cheap product to be high-quality. If you pay extra for high-quality service, then you can expect to receive high-quality service.
Letting go is good for your health.
Beyond letting go of expectations of others, letting go of people and/or things reduces stress and frees up space for better opportunities, a heightened sense of mindfulness and gratitude, more love for yourself and for others, and true happiness. Here are a few well-written articles on how the process of eliminating people, thoughts, and/or things which can improve emotional and physical health.
- Let Go, Be Happy: Attempting to inappropriately control events brings unhappiness (W. Berry, LMHC, CAP, Psychology Today)
- Are Your Expectations Setting You Up for Disappointment? (A. Christian, Tiny Buddha)
- Battling Your Ego – Why letting go is healthy (The Alternative Daily)
- Declutter Your Life for Less Stress, Better Mental Health (Deane Alban, Be Brain Fit)
- Opportunities: Letting Go and Saying No (Kim Page Gluckie, Truth and Tonic)
This post was inspired by the following books:
- Turning Inspiration Into Action, Matt Gersper
- Dancing With Vampires, David Lloyd Strauss
- The Unshakeable Woman: 4 Steps to Rebuilding Your Body, Mind and Life After a Life Crisis, Debi Silber