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
I felt my heart and mind open up as I read this article. And this is the reason I’ve been following your blog consistently for over a year now, and gave your book to my sisters, brother and daughters as gifts. Now, it’s not that I haven’t heard or thought of some of these principles before, but I love the way you word it and I know as an inspired 65-year-old that it’s never too late to readjust your mindset and make something great of your life.
Although, I’ve slipped up on the points above many times, I’m looking forward to growing from my mistakes and letting go of fruitless expectations going forward.
Kevin B. says
Much of what I’ve been working on lately relates to this post.
A big one for me is stop trying to control or change things that are not in your power to control or change. Doing this makes me miserable. When I’ve be able to let go, life feels so much easier.
Another is to practice acceptance of all, as they are (no silly expectations). Along the lines of stop trying to change things that are not in your power to change. If I expect up be accepted, then I owe it to myself and others to accept everyone as they are, not as I’d like them to be.
Great post! Love the intro.
I make my life harder in exactly the way you describe – letting my expectations of how the world ‘should be’ ruin me.
I really appreciate your insights. I found your blog a few weeks ago and I’m continually amazed by each post. I can relate to everything in this one. I’m trying to change many things and this blog post has opened my eyes in many ways to the expectations that are holding me back. Also, I just bought your book and can’t wait to read it. Thank you.
I discovered this blog a few weeks ago and it has really helped me feel better every time I read it. Amazing points that many people can learn from. I’m having some difficulty in learning to let go of my expectations of someone close to me. Does anyone have have any more tips for me?
Thank you so much for your posts. The fact of continually revisiting the ‘same’ issues, but in different contexts allows me to improve constantly. Just when I think I have it sorted, it all rears its head again and I remember that its an on-going process and try not to be hard on myself for forgetting this. I have grown so much in the past ten years, need to remember this as I move to the next stage, which is actually the most exciting and a bit frightening! Thank you for the time you to take to help me, and it seems so many others, to do this.
Thank you. I LOVED THIS ARTICLE! You two are beautiful souls…
Tomorrow I’m going to do something I have put off for a very longtime… I’m going to comment again here tomorrow after I’ve done it and let you know how I went…
This is a huge area of difficulty for me! Not only do I make myself miserable but my family as well with all of my “should” expectations! I wish there was a way to fast forward through all of the practice and stop slipping up. My wife just said to me yesterday “Just when I thought you were past all of this you bring it all up again!” She’s referring to something that happened between her Dad and me several months ago that has caused major problems in our family, affected our kids, our marriage, everything. I haven’t spoken to him since it happened. And, as much as he was at fault for just being human and making mistakes, it was my “should” expectations that drove me to explode, him to react, and me to not be able to forgive. It’s the same expectations that, 8 months later, keep me hurting and depressed while the rest of the world moves on.
Thanks for the post. I needed the reminder.
Leta Souza says
Amazing blog post!
I believe it’s all about finding a balance. I expect to enjoy my life, I expect good things to happen, and whatever the universe allows to happen must work out for my good cos my life isn’t ruled by my expectations but by the fact that I’m expecting good and I see good in what eventually happens. Quite dicey, but quite simple too.
Yatin Khulbe says
Marc, your post has left behind a peaceful smile on my face. I am feeling relaxed after reading it. The way you have correlated the taste of apple with our personal life is phenomenal.
When we start forming preconceptions, we form a mental picture in our mind. If nothing goes right, we feel down. So, it’s better to remove all the anticipation clouds and focus on the work only. One day or other, our hard work will definitely pay off.
Everything does not come in an easy manner. We have to put some efforts to get a successful output.
Thanks a lot for this lovely post. Lots of love…
This is my favorite article of all that I have read on your site. And it is just in time for a challenge I will be facing this weekend. My in-laws are coming to town and it is always horribly stressful for me to cope with them, because of their focus and their toxic personalities. I can use the insight in this article to let go of my expectations of how they should behave, if they were perfect in-laws, and just go along with whatever happens, as an adventure unfolding before me. I will strive to keep this in mind all weekend! Thank you Marc.
Atul kumar says
The post really opens my mind to enjoy every single moment or events in life.
And the power of let go and move on tells everything and can act as success mantra.
Thanks for the inspiring, mind pulsing post.
Kory Svean says
I love you guys…always the best advice, right when I need it…thank you.
I read this right in the midst of feeling overwhelmed about a project that I felt inspired to work on, but, I started to feel overwhelmed because of fear of failure and encountering hardships along the way. After reading points #1 and #2, I truly felt like you were speaking to me about what I can do to help me get started. I have now talked myself into taking baby-steps and enjoying each step for what it is. I wrote down some points of my own, incorporated with yours, and I know I can do it!
Thank you again for your wonderful and very helpful articles.
No one other than myself controls me nor do I wish to control anyone else, but I am like Nate, when you hurt me and I cannot forgive or forget… wish I could but its very difficult to do. My husband use to say I was the toughest woman he had ever met, not tough with people but hard to forgive others mainly because I do not hurt people intentionally, I always try to be kind to others, but if they are not kind to me then hit the road Jack…
I truly love what you write and I reread it all the time, love the book, hope I learn to be more forgiving!
Expectations … a therapist once told a group I was in a world where “some people may not be capable of love and kindness” … I remember being appalled at the statement! WHAT?? How do I function in a world where we don’t all work from the same basic palette.
And so it goes. Who has the issue … the honest ( sometimes harsh ) person who can seemingly walk away unscathed time after time or the person who internalizes everything – and is chronically wounded by life.
I thank you so much for today’s message and all of your inspirations! Let’s always wake up with a fresh start and allow everyone their humanness. They’ve earned it! :o) R
This article was a wake-up call, another reality check. No expectations, no disappointments. Thanks for another insightful article!
Oh, i had to laugh on expectations, haha…
I received a parcel today and was so looking forward to my new little treasure… you have got to be kidding me, i ordered the wrong colour (the description was misleading). I was fuming, i lost it again, i know i need to behave much more grown up etc etc. But I have sorted it out now.
I try to keep standards high and lower expectations, easy to get them mixed up. Letting go has been the buzz word for me lately i might write a song and hum it all day to remind myself.
Also, I struggle with vindictive spiteful people who make my life a misery and i am trying to keep in mind, it says more about them, and as they say, if you keep stirring the bucket with poo in it, one day you might have to lick the spoon. I might put that into my little song too 😉
Found this article shared on Facebook and clicked on it expecting one of those standard self-help posts that I read for 3 seconds and then move out to another thing.
What I found is the most precise words talking exactly to me, specially in number one.
“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.”
That’s a powerful paragraph. I have always expected that in the moment I have everything under control I will find peace. And I know that’s an illusion. But I keep pursuing it, I keep telling myself that once every project is finished, every bill is paid, and every plan is done, I will be happy and stress free.
After reading those words in this moment I feel like my mind has opened and I have finally understood.
I would say that each of these are very insightful – and the first and third have applied to me directly – especially #1. Thanks so much for sharing and giving some food for thought.
I always enjoy your posts, but today’s is the absolute best I’ve read. Thank you.
This post really does show how we can be our own worst enemies. We must be in better control of how we react to situations… especially the situations that are way beyond our control. A lot of the damage/premature aging, health issues, ETC, that life has done to us. If you really look at it… We “Stupidly” did it to ourselves.
These are some really great points, and I’m especially happy to read something that actually has some ‘meat’ to it. It’s not easy to change habits which might cause this sort of behavior, but the payoff is well worth the process.
markfelix bushuru says
Truly, this article has changed my perspective on life.
When you let go of expectations often something wonderful comes along to replace them. In this case its discovering your blog a couple of weeks ago. The way you write and put these messages is inspiring and very helpful in the new path I am trying to follow in my life. A refreshing take on things we know but find difficult to actually put in practice to do…thank you for your time and insights and sharing them. The ripples of these mindful life tools will reach far if we can get to grips with them….your readers can be the pebbles thrown in the lake that cause positive ripples in the way we behave….because as humans on this beautiful planet we all need a shake up!
Impeccable timing as usual.
Such powerful analogy! And so true as well!
Thank you! I will keep these things in mind over the next week!
Rose Costas says
I am guilty of giving up when things aren’t going well, but have recently decided to see things through no matter how difficult they become. Thanks for the reminder to keep pushing my life forward.
I sat down at the island in our kitchen this morning…frustrated and discouraged as I turned over some troubling thoughts that lingered from an ongoing dialogue with my wife. She has highlighted something happening within me that manifests as simply going through the motions at home, especially with our five children. As I’ve been reflecting on this in my own mind and turning it over in prayer, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of anger just beneath the surface. When I look back over the 20 years of our marriage, I realize that it hasn’t always been there, but now…it stews constantly just waiting to boil over. That is not the story that I want to be telling and yet it is the story I’m telling. I meandered through Donald Miller’s website to this article after asking God about the source of my anger. This article helped me to lean my head around the corner and look at my life from a different angle. As a husband, school principal, community leader and dad, I have huge expectations for people and for life…(I wouldn’t have said that before reading this article)…as I read I realized that this is contributing to my disappointment which is going unresolved and developing into anger.
I remembered that for most of a decade, I would spend time laying aside my expectations each morning. This was a central part of my prayer life and helped me to let go of pressure I was putting on myself and perhaps more importantly, created space where others were free from my (sometimes crippling thought I didn’t know it) expectations. Somewhere in the last five years, I have stopped regularly doing that. As I read this morning, I was reminded of this simple but life-changing concept.
Thank you for sharing simple, honest guidelines. They landed deeply in me this morning and I believe have given me a tool to help change the atmosphere in my house this weekend.
Marc Chernoff says
@Ning: I think this article directly touches on the strategy you need to use to deal with expectations in relationships. If you’re looking for one-on-one (coaching) support so we can dive deeper into your individual/unique issue, we offer hands on training and coaching through our course: http://www.marcandangel.com/getting-back-to-happy/
@Matt: Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your story with us. I’m so glad this post impacted you in such a positive way. Please check-in with us in the near future and let us know how things are going. 🙂
@Everyone: I’m so happy this post resonated with so many of you. Letting go of expectations truly is a life-changing, life-long practice. It’s so easy to slip and let our expectations get the best of us. Just do the best you can, and take it one day at a time.
Thank you so much for this wonderful post. You guys NEVER dissappoint.
My relationships have changed drastically from reading your posts. I’ve learned to love without condition, to be considerate and caring and be to others what I would like them to be like towards me. After a while I witnessed change in my family and my partner. I no longer pick at why certain things are not done in a certain way. Instead I appreciate and acknowledge the effort they put in which has translated into greater interaction and sharing. The more I do things from the stand point of love and affection the more I am able to let go of certain prejudices I might have to a particular person or situation and I am able to live in the moment – with peace and contentment I never thought I could attain.
The funny part is that my partner is emulating this new found behaviour.
Thank you 🙂
Shabir Ahmad says
Really this is very good information for every one. Thank you.
I have been trying to do #3 for the last year or so and I find that by not letting how others act bother me so much because its not what I would do – truly makes interactions less stressful …though that is much easier with strangers than with those close to you!
#1 I struggle with so much! I set expectations with how certain conversations will go with my husband – based on past experiences – I’ll go over it in my head and put off discussions and they never go as I expect.
Thanks so much for this article-I have to echo the sentiments of many others that this post was right on time. I’m going through a breakup and it’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to do in some time. I’ve accomplished so much yet I can’t seem to deal with this breakup. I think it’s mostly because I’ve been so focused on how my expectations weren’t met. I should instead be grateful for what we had and be ready for what’s next. Scary to do that…wait to see what’s next but I’m going to keep reading your blog for more inspiration to find the courage and strength to do so. Thanks so much Marc!
Josalynn H says
How have you been making your life harder than it has to be? What expectations sometimes get in your way?
I have been making life harder by expecting everything “great” from everyone. I am definitely glad I came across this article because it made me realize a lot. Plus the expectations I have with myself are off the chars. I expected I would have a Bachelor’s degree by now and I don’t and I feel like a failure sometimes. When it comes to judging yourself it is kind of hard to let go of the expectations. With that said, I need to learn to breathe, and let it go.
Thanks for the great read 🙂
Troy Mason says
Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring post.
The idea of living in the ‘now’ and going into every experience in life is a concept that I am a huge fan of. I try to bring this into as much of my life as possible. Through things like meditation and other mindfulness I am even successful occasionally.
I particularly liked #3 though. As a father I often need to remind myself that the frustration that I have are a result of my own thoughts and expectations.
Dianne Nicole says
First of all, I love the look of the new site! Second of all I am amazed at the volume of thoughtful and totally relevant content you two are able to amass. I don’t think there has ever been a blog post from Marc and Angel that I’ve read that hasn’t helped me in some way. This one is no different. With each one you both reinforce for me that life is a wonderful journey to take not without fear but in spite of it and not with ease but in spite of unease or disease. You’re doing a tremendous service and it’s best because it always feels authentic. Cheers!
A lot of these seem rooted in biblical truths. Im curious, are the writers of this blog believers? Thanks!
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82
Another bloody good post. I am consistently impressed with what you write and how well you put things across.