April 26, 2021
Expectations. We’ve all had them at some point in our lives. I know for myself, letting go of expectations has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a “recovering perfectionist“. I use to catch myself often thinking of what will be in the future. Setting goals and high expectations to meet or exceed. And being left disappointed when the outcome wasn’t exactly as I predicted it would be. This type of thinking breeds negativity and cripples motivation.
Expectations cause us to drift out of the present moment. Yoga and meditation practices can teach us that expectations aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be (which I think might be another expectation!) It’s always wonderful when an outcome exceeds our expectations. But more often than not, we tend to focus on negativity when an expectation is not met. I used to get upset with myself when things didn’t turn out exactly the way I planned them…even if every step of the way was an amazing learning experience. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves when there are an infinite amount of factors that go into the unfolding of an experience. And most of them are not in our control.
When we focus on something that didn’t turn out exactly as we planned it, we feel let down. We place so much emphasis on the outcome we had wanted that we don’t realize that there are so many incredible gifts that have come from the process of learning and growing. It’s all about where we decide to focus our energy and efforts. Do we choose to focus on what didn’t happen? Or on everything that was gained along the way and even the unexpected things we received as we moved on our paths?
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t set goals and have dreams for ourselves. Dreams inspire us. Goals light the fire under our butts to get us going. They drive us to take the steps we need to continue to move forward. But when we EXPECT the goal to happen…when we EXPECT it to turn out perfectly…when we EXPECT ourselves to meet these goals and live out these dreams just as they are in our minds, we’re likely buying ourselves a one-way ticket to Disappointmentville.
Take for example the goal to learn how to handstand away from the wall for more than 5 seconds. Let’s say you set this goal and want to achieve it in 30 days. You work your butt off – you practice daily, you build strength and body awareness, you clean up your diet, you stay motivated and keep returning to the mat over and over again. And when that 30 days is over, you can hold a handstand for 5 seconds…and you’re still at the wall.
You may find yourself saying, “but I wanted to be away from the wall by now.” But if you could take a step back and let go of that initial expectation of holding a handstand for 5 whole seconds away from a wall, you will find that you have gained so much on the journey of practicing. You’re stronger, healthier, motivated, and guess what? You still learned how to relate to your body in new ways. So what, you didn’t do it in 30 days? That’s just an arbitrary number you set for yourself at the beginning of the journey. You are still a winner. There is so much positivity that came out of the effort you have put into working toward your goal. And that is so much more important than just getting to the final result.
Some people feel like they need to shift their thinking to have more realistic expectations instead. I believe that if we can start to let go of all expectations and teach ourselves to live in the present moment, we will be happier in the long run. Set your goals. And hey, if you don’t meet them right away keep coming back with a smile on your face and enjoy the process. An asana yoga practice, as well as other forms of physical fitness and mental wellness, can teach us to start letting go of expectations. Let go of what you think you will be doing in a class on a particular day. Let go of how you think you “should” be doing every posture or how every meditation sit “should” feel. And just enjoy the ride.
Come to your practice, whatever that may be, with an open mind and an open heart. Be fully present with the way you are feeling today, not expecting to do “better” than last time. Just do your best on this day, with the body you have, with everything that’s in your mind and emotions, in this moment. And be happy with all the amazing things you can do rather than focusing your attention on the things you can’t do yet. Because when we start living for the now, rather than placing emphasis on all the things we expect to make us happy in the future, we will find that happiness can only be experienced in this moment. Live for the happiness you can tap into Right. This. Second.
It’s the journey that matters, not the end result. The process to work toward every new goal is happening right now. Learn from the journey, enjoy the ride, and see if you can free yourself from worrying about the outcome. Life is for living, not planning and expecting. Trust that everything is unfolding as it should. And let yourself smile and have fun along the way.
Below are a few recommended practices to help practice releasing expectations: