Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The problem with expectations

I've noticed in my work with individuals that one of the most common triggers for suffering is that of unmet expectations. Rarely, however, does the person consider that perhaps having the expectation in the first place is what caused the trouble. Instead he or she will usually engage in defending those expectations - apparently thinking that if I just agree that the expectations were reasonable that the suffering will go away. It doesn't. What will alleviate the suffering is letting go of expectations - not justifying them.

I want to share with you a passage from an interesting essay by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat called, "Great Expectations: They cause us more harm than good". Here it is:
Expectations can be a big stumbling block for us, both personally and communally. There is an old story about a man who hunted rabbits. One day when he was out in the woods, a rabbit ran past him and collided with a tree stump, knocking itself unconscious. The man couldn't believe his good fortune as he put the rabbit in his game bag. Every day for the rest of his life, he came back and watched the stump, waiting for this to happen again.

When we participate in some activity, especially something we've done before, we often have big expectations about what will happen, how we will feel, and what the end result will be. When all does not go as expected, we are disappointed. Usually we then look around for someone or something to blame.

Fred calls himself a recovering expecter. He's had the most trouble with expectations in his friendships. Expecting to match the intimacy, equality, and intensity of a meaningful childhood friendship has gotten in the way of his adult friendships. He has had to learn to approach each friend with an open heart and not burden the relationship with his previous experience.
I learned to tame my expectations years ago when I found myself getting tense about a vacation I was about to take. I was full of expectations about how wonderful it was going to be and, interestingly, experiencing some anxiety that my expectations were not going to be fulfilled. In a real breathrough moment, I decided that my only goal for the vacation was to get to my destination and to get back. That was all. If that happened, I would pronounce the vacation a success. That way everything else was icing on the cake. I've had that attitude toward travel ever since. Such an approach allows us to enjoy events as they unfold rather than constantly comparing them to what we thought we wanted. Much suffering is thereby avoided!


  1. I read your post with interest. I have to say that I have experienced the complete opposite. Far from taming my expectations I extend and exapnded them. Almost without fail I have recieved what I truly expect - in very unexpected ways. To use your example of a vacation, being tense indicates some fear and the expectation that what's feared will come to pass. When I go on holiday I expect to have a great time, and I do. I always seem to have an even better time it seems.

    I belive we atrtract what we think about most if we fear something, no matter what we say on the surface we receive that which we truly belive. the law of attraction works whether we are aware of it or not. I have so many examples of imagining what I want and then expecting in (in a light hearted way, not clinging) that the literally fill a book. By that I mean I write them down so that I have a record. This has made me consider very carefully what I want - because what I want I know I will receive it - or something better. I meditate each day, starting a year ago. I also actively and deliberately use creative visualization very effectively.
    This was meant to be a comment - it's turned into a post - sorry!
    Look forward to reading more.

    (aka Britgirl (

  2. I certainly recognized myself in your comments, Ellie. Since the Wed. session on Visualization, I can integrate what nikkij said with your strategy of non-expectations. If I have no preconceived expectations on how things will go, but visualize the preferred outcomes, I can relax and enjoy the experience, be in the moment and let things unfold without forcing any particular course of events. I like the fragment imagery because it leaves room for surprise.


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