I’m sure you’ve experienced the pain of having your hopes dashed because things didn’t turn out as you expected. How can you let go of expectations and accept changes in plans with more grace? That’s what we’re talking about today.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us it’s that plans are changeable. Even things that seemed pretty set in stone, like kids would go to school every day, you’d be able to see your loved ones who live a plane ride away at least once a year, and you had to be in an office to get your work done.
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Even during the most stable times, there’s something so appealing about having a plan
Our brains are master pattern recognition machines, and love nothing more than a completed loop–to know with certainty what is going to happen and when, as well as how we’re going to feel about it. It’s a subconscious way that we try to deal with the fundamental impermanence of life and to create a feeling of groundedness. If right about now you’re craving a sense of predictability more than ever before, well, who could blame you? We’ve been living through a spin cycle where it seems every day the definition of up has changed. But that also means that now is a perfect invitation to loosen your grip on the expectations you have for how things are going to go down in the future.
The last two years have shown us again and again that we never truly know how things are going to, and that lesson is one of the biggest gifts of the pandemic.
Things are very much up in the air, still, and while that’s uncomfortable, it is also liberating, because it forces you to stick with the present moment. To appreciate today for what it is. And then to appreciate tomorrow for what it is when it arrives. And we really do kind of need to be forced in to the present moment, because otherwise we’re really eager to run off in to the future in an attempt to complete some of those patterns. Even though it’s impossible to complete patterns in advance, like trying to ice a cake that hasn’t been baked yet.
My daughter’s 8th grade class recently went to Washington DC
One of the few fairly normal experiences in their middle school careers. And one kid couldn’t go because his dad caught COVID the day before they were due to leave. Ugh, it breaks your heart for that kid and that family whom I’m sure wanted so badly for their child to have this experience! It could have been any of us. But really it’s yet another example that nothing is guaranteed, and we have to stay loose enough to be able to roll with the changes… and in so doing we will be less likely to get hurt, like in a car crash if you don’t brace yourself the impact won’t be as harmful. And you may just roll into something better.
So does that mean you should just stop thinking about what you’d like to happen in the future, and then take steps toward making it happen?
The dangerous thing about an expectation is attachment to a specific outcome–like throwing a dart into the future and expecting it to land right on the bull’s eye. When really, you want to think about the general direction you want to throw your dart and then see where it lands.
A mantra that helps me not get too attached to a certain outcome when I’m making plans or thinking about things I’d like to happen is, “This or something greater.” It helps remember that there are all kinds of ways to get what you want and what you need.
As I made my third plane reservation for a reunion with my college roomates this fall, after two other trips had been canceled due to Covid, I thought, this or something greater. It just helps me remember that it’s not so much about THIS particular trip to this particular place on this particular date, but about the desire to feel connected. And there’s lots I can do in the meantime to feel connected to them.
When we were submitting applications for my daughter to high schools, I’d think, this or something greater. Same for when I submit proposals to clients. Or even make a plan with a friend for the weekend. It helps you not hang on all your hopes on one particular outcome.
Which protects you two ways – yes, it helps you avoid feeling disappointed when your expectation doesn’t come to pass, But it also helps protect you from feeling unfulfilled when they do come true, but they don’t make you feel like you expect to feel! It’s like that saying, Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is just to notice your expectations as they arise in the next day or two, so that you can remind yourself, “this or something greater,” which helps you remember that there are lots of other ways you could possibly satisfy the desire that is at the heart of that expectation.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun, from her book When Things Fall Apart:
“When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all….To stay with that shakiness… that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”
In other words, you never know exactly what’s going to happen, and that’s OK.
I hope you’ll come back tomorrow when I’m interviewing Nina Purewal, author of the bestselling book Let that Shit Go, on how to let go of anxiety and the need to feel productive all the time.