Expectations. Should should should–it should have happened. Why didn’t it? If only ______ had happened, it would have worked out…

The first time someone told me that it wasn’t helpful to have expectations, I missed the point completely. Someone hadn’t done something they had said they would do, and it had happened a few times, and I was Mega Pissed, which means that I was using expletives.

“It sounds like you have expectations,” Andy said.

“Of course I have expectations,” I said. “When someone says they’re going to do something, they should do it.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s having expectations. You’re attached to the result.”

We went a few rounds on this one. What in the world was wrong with being attached to a result? Someone said they would do something. They hadn’t done it. I was pissed. This was normal, right? Human? Understandable?

“It’s understandable that you feel that way,” he said to all of those questions. “But it doesn’t sound like it’s working for you.”

Still missing the point, I said something like, “Yeah, it’s not working for me. They made me mad.”

To which he repeated himself, and then we went in circles. My line of thinking was: I’m mad because this person did this thing. Having expectations is not the problem. The problem is that this person did this thing.

I had a series of micro-movements around this (which is to say that I understood in small steps and bits) before I finally understood what he (and the fifteen other people who had said something along those lines during my lifetime) were getting at:

When I have expectations–when I am attached to a result–I’m setting myself up to suffer.

Having expectations/attachment to a result sets me up to suffer because:

  • It takes me out of the present moment–I’m poised to future-trip over what “should” happen and put my focus on looking to see if it’s all going to happen in that way, or I’m poised rehash what “should have” happened.
  • When I’m in a space of rehashing what “should have” happened, I’m in Victim Mode.
  • Attachments to outcome are totally grounded in Stories about the way “it should be.” Getting attached to the way it “should have been” closes me off from seeing how “it could now be.
  • Perhaps most importantly: When I hold expectations, the responsibility for my happiness is externalized–if someone does what they say they’re going to do, I’m happy, but if they don’t, I’m not.

To release expectations or to not get attached to an outcome is not the same thing as denying any feeling of disappointment or telling myself that I will feel no emotion if someone is not in integrity. Those emotions come up, sometimes.

However, when I’m not attached, not only am I less likely to get really upset and far more likely to take it in stride from moment one, but it gets better: it takes far (far!) less time for me to get over it and move on to whatever needs to happen next.

Releasing attachment to outcome, or noticing expectations and letting go of them, puts us in a position to just be with what is. It helps loosen the energy of control and constriction and trying to fit “what is” into a box.

The truth is, with the Flake-a-holics in our lives, or whatever your particular attachment to outcome might be, we have no control. None, whatsoever. The attachments are illusory, so why hold onto them?

This was the big a-ha!: Having the attachment to an outcome does not make the outcome more likely.

People are going to do what they’re going to do. Life is going to be what it is. I’ve yet to meet an adult who changes their behavior just because I was pissed about it–once we’re out of our parents’ homes, we avoid people who try to do that to us.

You can try feeling this out in your body. Try standing in a mirror and looking in your own eyes and saying words like “Expectations. Attachment to outcome. Should.” You can see the closed fist around your heart.

Then try on these for size: “Release. Acceptance. Flow. Possibility. New Avenues.”

You know which one feels better.

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