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, and sadness most often arise because others didn’t respond to us in the way we imagined: I may have expected 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 focusing on ourselves, we’re always looking ahead and at others. And that’s what gets us into emotional trouble.
Here are five 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.
2. You separate your wants from shoulds. Shoulds are expectations imposed by others. When we fail to do them we feel guilty. When we do follow them we often expect a payoff for our efforts. When the expected payoff doesn't come, our disappointment and resentment are fueled.
A way out of this mental dance is focusing on wants. Values, core beliefs, the 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.
3. You avoid feeling… disappointed, angry, etc. Nuf said.
4. You avoid becoming a martyr. All this disappointment and resentment can 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., and 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.
5. You live in the present. The decisions/choices of life come one-by-one in the moment. Expectations forever push you to look ahead, mentally entrap you in the future. Like a chess player you’re always thinking eight 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…
Keep it simple. What do I want right now? See what happens next.
If you’re inclined to experiment with this type of thinking, start slow and go slow. Be proactive. Listen to yourself. Whatever decision you make, own it. 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.