Great Expectations

Valentine’s Day has never really lived up to expectations for me. From my earliest primary school memories, not getting a Valentine from my Jonathan Taylor Thomas look-a- like crush (his bowl-cut made him so dreamy!); to high school, where I longed to be one of the girls who had a boyfriend and received flowers or chocolate or other original things like that; to university when I had my first relationship (Hallelujah! I was loveable!), and realized carnations and dinner on February 14th, while a lovely gesture, weren’t really any different from carnations and dinner on any other day. In fact, they were highly anticlimactic and actually kind of disappointing. I expected roses. Did he miss the memo? Roses and dinner are status quo on Valentine’s Day.

Ok, before you decide I’m just high maintenance and want nothing to do with me, or this article, know two things: first, I’ve come a long way since university when I had unrealistically high expectations for myself and everyone around me. Second, I have a point, which I’ll get to, that might open up some more space in your life for feeling, for fulfilment, and for enjoyment. Bear with me?

So you’ve heard the Valentine’s Day scenarios. Perhaps you can relate, or maybe you’ve had a similar experience on another holiday (New Year’s Eve, anyone?), or a vacation, or your birthday; upon which you had a pre-existing expectation for how it should be, how you should feel, what you should experience. Reality did not meet expectation, and feelings of frustration, disappointment, anger, resentment, you name it—filled the gap.

Now let’s look at another scenario. It’s a weeknight. Let’s go with Tuesday.

Your partner “wows” you with a potted orchid and dinner reservations at a romantic restaurant. (Now we’re talkin’!) Earlier in the day you were convinced the most special thing about your evening was going to be a generous splash of wine in your homemade spaghetti sauce, and now you’re staring across a white table cloth at your partner, feeling more in love than ever.

So what’s the difference? It’s the same setup as on Valentine’s Day, but this time reality wasn’t competing with a romantic Tuesday evening scenario you had planned in your head, and you can actually be in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. Think about the times in your life when you’ve been truly wowed, thrilled, or fulfilled. Likely they all share a common element in that you didn’t have expectations around the event, or you expected to be much less impressed, excited (insert-positive-emotion-here) than you actually were. The moment we create expectations (unless we create unrealistically low expectations, which is a topic for another article), we create potential for dissatisfaction.

So, what to do with this information? Well, it’s difficult to organize our day-to-day lives without expectations. We need to create them to manage our anxiety around the future. However, here are a couple strategies for letting go of expectations and increasing the chances that you’ll be satisfied:

  1. Beginner’s Mind: Zen Master, Shunryo Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Think about the last time you did something where you were a “beginner.” Maybe it was yoga, or rock-climbing, or making a piecrust. What was your attitude like?  Was it eager? Open? Curious? Tentative? You likely had few preconceptions around what you would experience, and you likely had few expectations around how you would perform or what you would get out of it. You were a beginner, and that gave you space to quieten performance anxiety and self-criticism and hope for something that you might not receive. You were able to actually experience the activity. You were able to actually be in it, rather than outside judging it. Maybe you even enjoyed yourself! Try to apply the beginner’s mind to your experience, even if you consider yourself an “expert” in whatever you’re doing. Let go of, judgments, and interpretations. Imagine you’re an alien from outer space and everything is new to you. Be curious. Be compassionate. What happens?
  2. Multiple outcomes: In some situations it is nearly impossible to completely dissolve expectations. After all, creating expectations is how we create the illusion of control in order to manage our anxiety around uncertainty. So, if you’re in a situation where the idea of letting go of expectations is making you uncomfortable, try creating multiple outcomes. Sure, you could have a romantic dinner with white tablecloths, but what other possibilities are there for your evening? Perhaps it’s tacos and comedy, perhaps it’s a cozy movie-night in, perhaps your partner forgot it was Valentine’s Day and has a hockey game (true story). Consider other possibilities so you’re not attached to one expectation.

Try to apply these strategies not just to big events, but also to the automatic expectations we create without much awareness—how your coffee will taste, what kind of “hair-day” it will be, how much you’ll enjoy your favourite artist’s latest album, how well your child will do on their spelling test, and so on. Where’s a great place to start? As always, your yoga practice. Chances are, you have a favourite style or teacher. Try something new next time. Choose a style or a teacher outside of your regular comfort zone, and consider it a practise in openness and letting go of expectations. Let go of what you might get out of the class; whether or not you’ll sweat, or if your hips will be open enough. Go in with the beginner’s mind, and be curious about your experience. Be mindful. Be in it as it comes. Then take it outside your practice and into your daily life. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll find you come in contact with less disappointment, less self-criticism, less frustration. And Valentine’s Day is a heck of a lot more enjoyable, even if my date for the evening is a Cab Sav-infused spaghetti sauce.

Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, former Yoga Advisor, and avid yoga practitioner. She draws upon her personal and professional experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living. See more posts by Megan at http://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.

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  • posted by: xxx

    Great article!