Do you often find yourself saying “When this happens, then I’ll do this?”
When X happens, then Y?
X is usually something like “when I am in a relationship” or “when I get past this deadline” or “when I have more money” or “when I have more time.”
Y is usually that you will finally “be happy” or “start exercising” or “lose the weight” or “get to bed earlier.”
I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately. Subsequently, this idea has been finding its way to me a lot lately. It seems like everything I read or listen to touches on some flavor of this concept.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears, become our measure of life, and when circumstances don’t fit our ideas, they become our difficulties.”
A recent post on best-selling author Seth Godin’s blog contained the following: “Expectation is the killer of joy, the shortest route to disappointment. When we expect that something will happen, we can't help but be let down.”
Expectations are, indeed, a problem.
I faced this in a major way a couple of years ago when I made a huge life decision, invested mucho (i.e., everything), and was seriously disappointed. I kept trying to figure out how it could have been avoided. Among other factors, I realized that I had imposed expectations on the whole thing, all of which were based on my hopes and best educated guesses. However, I didn’t realize until I was right in the middle of it all that my happiness was contingent upon my expectations panning out. Reading that in black and white seems like, duh. I shouldn’t have done that.
But don’t we all?
EXpectations are tied to EXternal contingencies, and we make many decisions based on these.
“If I do this, this will happen.”
“If such-and-such happens, this is how I will feel.”
“If I don’t do this, this is how that person will react.”
“If I say this, then they will think this.” **WARNING. This one is a doozie. It gets us tied up in our perceptions of other people’s perceptions. We make decisions based on this over and over again. In the meantime, we lose ourselves and what matters most to us.**
It’s amazing the extent to which we expect, often without even realizing we are. Additionally, we attempt to control outcomes, foretell the future, and manipulate situations (in this case, I’m referring to the non-malicious sort of manipulation) in order to reach the outcome that is [actually] arbitrary.
When it comes to health, getting away from outcome expectations is paramount. When we focus on an expectation (e.g., this is the number I should see on the scale) and we put a value on that expectation (e.g., this number = good, this number = bad) we give away our power to an external source for reasons that are not based on fact.
Another example is something I see time and again with people who are undertaking new health behaviors. They undertake behaviors with the expectation that they will see immediate results and that the process will be linear.
Let’s take Kim (not a real person), for example. Kim decides she wants to lose weight, and she expects it to happen in a certain amount of time. She expects to lose a certain amount of weight and to not gain weight before she loses any. She is consumed daily (hourly!) by wanting to reach this goal and goes to great lengths to meet it. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight. The problem lies in Kim’s expectation that she will be happier (or in some way “better”) when she gets to the outcome. This type of approach leads to disappointment. It’s as if the effort and intent do not count unless she reaches the goal she expected within the time she expected to do it.
So we wait on complete happiness until we get some “thing,” but it rarely turns out the way we expect it will. Which means we aren’t happy in the future either. On a recent podcast, Lama Surya Das said it well: “If you’re not here now, you won’t be there then.”
All we have is this moment. When we are solely focused on our behaviors as a means to an end, we live in a perpetual state of wanting and not having.
We may reach our goals by berating and depriving ourselves, but to sustain them requires being happy in the moment, happy with the process, and content with who we are right now.
For those of you who have reached an objective outcome with your health, was it enough? Did you feel satisfied long-term? Did you maintain whatever outcome you met? What about the time you spent getting to that outcome…were you happy & content during the process?
I hope you’ll share your thoughts on the blog or social media.
I encourage you to break up with expectations. Leave them in the land of exes, along with the other people and situations that no longer serve your higher self. Perhaps you've clung to them like an old college boyfriend but, alas, the ideal is always shinier than the reality. Lucky for us, reality is where the good stuff grows.
Much love y’all,