The greatest step toward a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.
Imagine you had a ripe, juicy apple sitting on an otherwise empty table in front of you. You pick it up eagerly, take a nibble, and begin to taste it.
You already know how an apple should taste, and so when this one is a bit more tart than you expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment and swallow it, dissatisfied.
Or perhaps the apple tastes EXACTLY as you expected – nothing special at all. So you swallow without even pausing to enjoy its flavor, and you move on with your day.
In the first scenario, the apple was disappointing because it didn’t meet your expectations. In the second, it was too plain and unexciting because it met your expectations to a T.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s either not good, or not good enough.
Now imagine you try this: eliminate your expectations of how the apple ‘should’ taste. You don’t know, and you don’t pretend to know, because you haven’t tried it yet. Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial and open to a variety of flavors.
You taste it, and you truly pay attention. You notice the juiciness, the grainy texture of the skin, the simultaneously sweet, tangy and tart flavors swirling around your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew. You didn’t know how it would taste, but now you realize it’s brilliant! It’s brand new, because you’ve never tasted THIS apple before.
Mindfulness practitioners often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really it’s just the outcome of a mindset free of needless expectations.
The apple, of course, can be substituted for anything in your life: any event, any task, any social interaction, any person, any meal, any thought at all that enters your mind, anytime and anyplace. If you approach any of these with expectations of “how it should be,” they will surely disappoint you in some way… or be too plain and unexciting to remember. And you’ll just move on to the next disappointment or unexciting experience, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth, until you’ve lived your entire life stuck in an endless cycle of things you barely like or barely even notice.
But if you approach each event, task, social interaction, etc. without expectations – and just see that event, task, social interaction, etc. at face value – then you will truly see it. You will truly appreciate it for what it is. And you will truly experience it like you’ve never experienced anything before, because you haven’t.
This is The Art of Making Life Easier!
So now that we’ve cleared the air a little, let’s take a closer look at three of the most common ways people use expectations to make life harder than it has to be:
1. You procrastinate to avoid your expectation of problems.
Let’s say you’ve been putting off a big project at work because you’re dreading doing it. Maybe it’s difficult and you feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot of hard work, and you are expecting to have to do lots of things you’re perhaps not good at, expecting mistakes, failure and lots of headaches. But in reality you’re the one giving yourself a headache. Realize this and let go of your expectations. This means you don’t know how this project will go… you go into it with an open mind. You give it a try and see how it goes. And you learn from the experience no matter how it goes.
Honestly, you cannot find peace by avoiding life. Life spins and requires us to spin with it; so instead of avoiding what must be done, take every task and experience as a challenge for growth. Either it will give you what you want or it will teach you what the next step is.
And remember, finding peace in life does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no challenges, and no hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things while remaining calm in your heart and mind. (Read Tolle’s A New Earth.)
2. You give up too soon when you realize things aren’t as easy as you expected.
This is the flip side of the previous point. But again, expectations are getting in the way…
The best things in life don’t always come easy. Some level of difficulty is necessary. Avoiding this truth just makes the hard things harder. Deep down you know this is true, and yet you’ve entered a new endeavor with the expectation that it will be amazing and you’ll do it with ease. And when it’s inevitably harder than you thought it would be, and you’re less successful at it than you expected, you’re disappointed and discouraged. So you lose motivation and give up.
Now imagine you let go of the fantasy of how this endeavor will go, and you’re simply open to what emerges… You can just do it, without worrying about the outcome. You can simply be in the moment with it. Then, no matter how it turns out on the first try, you’ll learn what you need to know.
Bottom line: There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Reality always rears its head in the end. And the truth about how ordinary people achieve immense happiness and incredible feats of success is that they step out of their comfort zones and do the hard things that their more educated, affluent and qualified counterparts don’t have the courage, drive or determination to do.
So for your own sake, stop expecting everything to be easy and start doing the (necessary) hard things today with an open mind. I guarantee you will be blown away at just how remarkable you really are and just how fast you can grow.
3. People hurt you because they don’t behave the way you expected.
This woman at work is driving you crazy because “she’s not doing her work the way she should,” or maybe she’s being inconsiderate somehow. Your irritation stems from an expectation of how this woman ‘should’ act. She isn’t acting according to this ideal in your mind, and so you suffer because of it.
It’s time to put aside this expectation that people will live up to your ideals… and just be open to them. They will behave imperfectly, just as you will. Of course, accepting people as they are doesn’t mean you do nothing… you can let go of the irritation, and see how they’re having difficulty, and use it as a teaching opportunity, or an opportunity to help them, or to take the next logical step… with no expectation that they’ll love your lesson or follow it, but just with the intention of helping someone and being proactive.
And when your children behave badly, it’s the same problem – they aren’t behaving according to your ideal. Of course they’re not! No child behaves ideally, just as no adult does. Do you behave ideally? I don’t. I’m cranky and impolite when I’m tired. I’m not proud of this, but I struggle to be cheerful and considerate sometimes. Everybody does. Your children are struggling, and you can be compassionate and help them. That is, if you can let go of your expectations that they’ll behave ideally, and accept them as imperfectly beautiful beings who just want to be happy, like you.
Yes, it may be hard to admit, but most of the problems we have with others don’t really have much to do with them at all. Many of the problems we think we have with them we subconsciously created in our own mind. Maybe they did something that touched on one of our fears or insecurities. Or maybe they didn’t do something that we expected them to do. In any case, problems like these are not about the other person – they’re about us.
And that’s OK. It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve. We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions. We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with stressful expectations, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.
All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently – letting go of ‘what should be,’ and instead focusing our energy on loving ‘what is.’ (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Happiness” and “Simplicity” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Honestly, life is too short to spend at war with yourself. The biggest disappointments in our lives are often the result of misplaced expectations. Letting go of needless expectations is your first step to happiness. Come from a mindset of peace and acceptance, and you can deal with almost anything and grow beyond it.
Mastering the Art of Making Life Easier is not as easy as you’d expect or fantasize. It takes practice. It means learning to be mindful of when you have these expectations, ideals and harmful fantasies. It means learning to see the irritations, anger, sadness, anxieties and mood swings as signals of the expectations you have and didn’t notice. And it means letting them GO!
Again, that takes a lot of practice. But that’s the joy of it. You drop the expectation that you’ll be perfect at this practice, and you just try it. You learn from the trying. You grow and improve gradually. Step by step. And each moment along the way is a miracle to be noticed, appreciated and enjoyed.
The floor is yours…
How have you been making your life harder than it has to be? What expectations sometimes get in your way? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Danielle Itin