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:
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/.