Buddhists talk about the “wanting mind” and the power of expectations to create suffering, and that’s certainly true when it comes to our relationships. Our disappointment, irritation, anger, sadness most often arise because others didn’t respond to us in the way we imagined they would: That my boss would compliment me on my monthly sales figures, that my wife would appreciate how well I cleaned up the kitchen. Rather than looking down and focused on ourselves, we’re always looking ahead and at others. And that’s what gets us into emotional trouble.
Here are 5 interrelated benefits of deciding and acting without expectations:
1. You take sole responsibility for your decisions. I push myself to make my sales figures because it is part of my being a good worker or because I like the challenge. I clean the kitchen because I want it neater or because I don’t want my wife to have to worry about it. This sidesteps any of those thoughts that someone else is “making me” or expecting me to do something. This is about me running my life, doing what I consider important. It’s Nietzsche’s Ubermensch who creates his own values, who doesn’t succumb to herd mentality, who avoids going on auto-pilot.
2. You separate your wants from shoulds. The herd mentality and auto-pilot are usually tied to the shoulds. These come from our heads, our superego, the parent voice in our heads. Shoulds are by definition expectations imposed by others. When we fail to do them we feel guilty. When we do follow them we often feel driven...and expect a payoff for our efforts: Since I am doing what I really don’t want to do, I do expect others to appreciate, notice, give me a reward, pat me on the head, do what I expect. When the expected payoff doesn't come, our disappointment and resentment are fueled.
The way out of this mental dance is focusing on wants – heart, gut-based rather than head based. Values, core beliefs, foundation of our integrity. Expectations are a red flag that shoulds are the probable drivers. Skip the expectations and you’re falling back on wants. There’s you…and you.
3. You avoid feeling… disappointed, angry, etc…. Nuf said.
4. You avoid becoming a martyr. All this disappointment and resentment can overtime congeal into martyrdom, that lethal combination of domineering shoulds and unfulfilled expectations that drag on: I do everything I should. I expect people to …appreciate, reward, etc….it doesn’t happen. I trudge on and on and on.
Eventually martyrs either collapse from exhaustion, or get fed up by the unfairness of it all – get massively resentful, get massively depressed, massively act out – shopping, raging, drinking, etc. – understandably thinking in their minds that they absolutely deserve to do whatever they just did.
People generally hate martyrs. They’re hard to be around.
5. You live in the present. The decisions / choices of life come one-by-one in the moment. Expectations forever push you look ahead, mentally entrap you in the future. Like a chess player you’re always thinking 8 moves out – what should I do, how will others react, how will respond, how can I get them to react in the way I expect, what if they question my decision….etc.
Keep it simple. What do I want right now. Done. Act. See what happens next.
So if you’re inclined to experiment with this type of thinking, start slow and go slow. It’s about rewiring your brain, it takes concentration. Be proactive. Listen to yourself. Whatever decision you make, action you take, own it, no auto-pilot. Push aside the shoulds, the mental rush towards the outcome, the response of others, the future. Stay in the moment, see your decision right now as your decision, as the best decision you can make in the moment. What happens next – how it turns out, how others respond – doesn’t matter right now.
No expectations. Give it a try.