Expectations: Finding Balance and Letting Go

The problem with subliminal expectations is not so much that they’re expectations as that they’re subliminal.

Subliminal expectations creep effortlessly into our relationships, our goals and our outlook on life. Because they’re subliminal we trust them without question—and when they don’t come true we feel disappointed—even ripped-off.

Suckers for convenient beliefs, we assume that relationships are supposed to be easy, or that negative emotions are simply a bad habit we should be able to shake off at will. By highlighting the things we most want to believe, expectations blind us to unpleasant realities, making us inflexible.

They strain relationships, block personal growth and promote a sense of of failure.

And then, when our expectations prove false, we draw false conclusions and punish all the wrong people—including ourselves.

But we’re not helpless. The problem with subliminal expectations is not so much that they’re expectations as that they’re subliminal. By bringing your conscious attention to the fore you notice them, you learn to see through them, you distrust them, and eventually you let them go.

However, all that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice:

  1. Remind yourself daily that ups and downs are inevitable and that expecting life to look after you guarantees disappointment.
  2. Cultivate self-compassion along with self-awareness: A mindful, caring lifestyle helps you detach from expectations and can see your mental patterns in real time. Stay focused as they arise. In time, you’ll see how they impact your feelings and your decisions.
  3. Question your expectations. Are they valid? Are they based on reality or do they reflect social pressures and self-limiting beliefs?
  4. Remember: you’re not alone. Everybody’s subject to unrealistic expectations, every day. Being conscious of them enables you to learn and grow from life’s setbacks.
  5. Be deliberate in all you do. The techniques and reflections we practice in Mindfulness Live will help you stay grounded.

Letting go of expectations creates space for acceptance, growth, and genuine connection. Nevertheless, it will feel unfamiliar, perhaps uncomfortable. That’s because you can’t discard expectations without embracing uncertainty. Recalling, “I don’t know,” is the key to a curious, open mind.


Author: Stephen Schettini

Stephen Schettini is a former Buddhist monk and teacher of mindfulness. He lives near Montreal with his wife, life coach Caroline Courey (see courey.com).

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