So, i thought i’d share some ideas i am experimenting with for letting go of expectations. They are strategies that might help us to let go without tautology. Feel free to share others in the comments!
As with just about everything, the first crucial step is to become aware of what’s going on. When we stop to figure out what we’re feeling when we caught ourselves thinking “I expected her to do xyz!” it is likely that we notice that we’re angry. Anger is a feedback loop: When we get angry, our needs are not getting met. Now, expectations often parade around as needs but as i discovered, there is a crucial difference: Expectations are tied to a demand of how someone or something should be. Needs are just there. Needs ground us to the present. Expectations take us to the future or into the past. Expectations also tie us to a specific strategy: If a specific person would just act differently, our expectation would be met. If a situation would just be different than it is, our expectation would be met. So, once we notice our anger, we can look at our unmet needs and the expectations that arise with them. Expectations can certainly reveal an underlying need. For example, when i expect a person to respond to a note i left, i have a need for connection. The difference is that a need for connection is independent of the strategy to get it met by that particular person. My need for connection can be met by someone else. My expectation cannot. We are locked into a strategy.
I just outlined several steps, so let me quickly summarize them again:
- Discover what you are feeling
- List the expectations that are underneath the feeling(s)
- Untangle the needs from these expectations
- Brainstorm strategies that could meet your unmet needs
I linked to inventories of feelings and needs since these lists can be helpful when we’re trying to figure out what it is we’re feeling (though, “angry” is a likely guess when it comes to unmet expectations…). And go ahead and list those expectations as they are arising – don’t censor your thoughts. What comes out might not be “pretty” but you don’t have to show the list to anybody… This is a mental purge, after all. You will notice that it alone often dissipates the anger. I’ve often ended up laughing because some of the things were hilarious: Once i wrote the thought down, it was obvious why i was unhappy!
Even though it might look like it, this is far from easy! Of course it is not. We’re trained to expect. Without expectations, we are told, nothing will happen: We won’t change, people won’t reach goals. But if expectations are needs plus a specific strategy, this isn’t true. We can let go of our expectations by focusing on what strategies are available to us for meeting our needs. This let’s us change (but not demand that others change the way we want them to) and we can reach our goals (though maybe not in a normative way). So, letting go of our expectations does not force us to let go of our goals, unless those goals are tied to unrealistic expectations. Once we discovered the underlying needs, though, we can form goals for meeting those needs. And this might actually have a higher chance of success!