It’s wild how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life keeps leading us down paths we would never travel if it were up to us.
Don’t be afraid.
Trust the journey.
Don’t let your expectations of how life “should be” blind you to the beauty of the life you’re living.
And of course, if you’re struggling with trusting the journey and taming your expectations right now, know that you are not alone. Many of us are here with you, working hard to let go, find more presence and acceptance, and get our thinking back on track. Let me share a quick metaphor with you that I often share with our course students and live event attendees (2022 tickets available now)…
Imagine you had a ripe, juicy tangerine sitting on the table in front of you. You pick it up eagerly, take a bite and begin to taste it.
You already know how a ripe, juicy tangerine should taste, and so when this one is a bit tarter than expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment and swallow it, feeling cheated out of the experience you expected.
Or perhaps the tangerine tastes completely normal—nothing special at all. So, you swallow it without even pausing to appreciate its flavor, as you move on to the next unworthy bite, and the next.
In the first scenario, the tangerine let you down because it didn’t meet your expectations. In the second, it was too plain because it met your expectations to a T.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s either not good, or not good enough.
This is how many of us live our lives… unhappily.
It’s why so many of us feel let down, disappointed, and unexcited about almost everything.
Because nothing really meets our expectations.
Now, imagine you try this instead: remove your expectations of how the tangerine “should” taste. You don’t know, and you don’t expect to know, because you haven’t even tried it yet. Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial and open to a variety of possible flavors.
You taste it, and you truly pay attention. You notice the juiciness, the texture of the pulp, the simultaneously tangy, tart and sweet flavors swirling around on your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew. You didn’t know how this tangerine would taste, but now you realize it’s different than the rest, and it’s remarkable in its own way. It’s a totally new experience—a worthwhile experience—because you’ve never tasted THIS tangerine before.
Mindfulness experts often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really, it’s just the result of a mindset free of needless, stifling expectations.
The tangerine, of course, can be substituted for almost anything in your life: any event, any situation, any relationship, any person, any thought at all that enters your mind. If you approach any of these with expectations of “how it should be” or “how it has to be” in order to be good enough for you, they will almost always disappoint you in some way… or be too plain and unexciting to even remember. And you’ll just move on to the next disappointment or unworthy life experience, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth…
Until you’ve lived the vast majority of your life stuck in an endless cycle of experiences you barely like or barely even notice.
A Mentally Stronger Way to Think & Live
When you add up over a decade worth of one-on-one coaching sessions with students, private coaching clients, and the annual live events we host, Marc and I have lots of experience when it comes to assisting people through the pain points that have been holding them back. And one of the most prevalent pain points we’ve seen unfold over the years is what I just described above—expectations gone wrong. In fact, most of what we describe as our “biggest problems” are the direct consequence of how we react to life on an average day.
Yes, sometimes there are major tragedies to cope with, but most of the time the only real tragedy is our weak thinking and resulting behavior in the present moment.
Exercising your mental strength—your inner resilience—is key! And you don’t have to be born mentally strong either. You can develop this vital character trait with daily practice.
Is it easy? Not exactly.
Is it worth it? Absolutely!
And it all starts with facing the present moment fully, with genuine presence and acceptance.
Even when times are relatively good, one of the hardest challenges we face in life is to simply live in our own skin—to just be right here, right now, regardless of where we are. Too often we aimlessly distract ourselves with anything and everything: food, booze, shopping, television, gossip news, social networks, video games, smart phones, iPads, etc.—basically anything to keep us from being fully present.
We use compulsive work, compulsive exercise, compulsive love affairs, and the like, to escape from ourselves and the realities of living with full presence. In fact, many of us will go to great lengths to avoid the feeling of being alone with ourselves in an undistracted environment. So, we succumb to hanging out with just about anybody to avoid the feeling of solitude. For being alone means dealing with our true feelings: fears, anxieties, anticipation, uncertainty, frustrations, envy, disappointment, and so on and so forth. And when harder times hit, things spiral even further out of control.
On the flip side, mentally strong people gradually grow to understand that finding peace and happiness 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 focused in your mind and calm in your heart. It’s about letting go of the pictures in your head about how things were “supposed to be,” and facing the present moment’s challenges with presence and poise.
So, begin today by just noticing with curiosity, and without judgment, all of the ways in which you avoid being in your own skin, with your own issues, right here, right now, in this present moment we call life. Then focus, carefully, on what you’re truly feeling. Don’t numb yourself with any more distractions, but instead bring how you feel further into your awareness.
Turn to it, and welcome it. Smile, and give what you feel your full, thoughtful attention.
- Notice the feeling in your body. Where is the feeling situated, and what unique qualities does it have?
- Notice the tension in your body, and also in your mind, that arises from this feeling.
Try relaxing the tense parts of your body. Then relax the tense parts of your mind. Do so by focusing on your breath: Close your eyes, breathe in and feel it, breathe out and feel it, again and again, until you feel more relaxed.
In this more relaxed state, find some quiet space within yourself. And in this space…
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness within you, that’s present in every moment.
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.
Take time to just sit with the inner peace these simple rediscoveries bring.
This is the practice of letting go of stress, and simply accepting this moment as it is, and yourself as you are.
You can do this anytime, wherever you are. You can practice focusing on the goodness in others as well. Seeing the goodness in your challenges and relationships and work, even when things don’t go exactly as planned.
You can build a healthy daily ritual of stopping unnecessary stress in your life, and rediscovering the peace and joy and love that are always just a few thoughts away.
(Note: Marc and I build healthy, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course and in our NYT bestselling book.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Don’t wish away any more time waiting for better times ahead. Just appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
And if you’re up to it, we’d love know:
- Despite your challenges, what’s something good you could appreciate right now, if you really wanted to?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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I’ve been reading your book and also working through your getting back to happy course over the past month. My mindset is gradually shifting and for that I am thankful. At 49 years of age, my expectations about where I should be in life are way off from where I am now.
Although I’m still struggling, I’ve stopped drowning myself in worrying about what I can’t control, and I’ve been able to refocus some of my energy on the little areas in my life where I actually can make some progress. And seeing that progress, and appreciating it…boy it feels good!
Nicole Gomez says
I also purchased two of your books from Barnes & Noble last month, finished them, and now I’m re-reading several highlighted sections and been working through the chapter exercises and daily rituals. It’s such useful and inspiring reading. I truly appreciate you writing and sharing.
And of course, this post is a great reminder, too.
I could appreciate the fact that I decided to check my email this morning, and that I saw the link to this article. I could appreciate the newfound respect I have for myself and my life ever since I attended “Think Better, Live Better Conference” a couple years ago (and I’m looking forward to your 2022 conference in May). I could appreciate the fact that I’ve finally established a couple healthy daily habits in to my life over the past six months that are making a legitimate difference…
I could go on. Thank you.
David W. says
I am grateful for my family, my parents are still together after 50 years, and love each other to this day.
They also love me far more than could ever be put into words. No matter what challenges arise from life, they are and have been with me every step of the way.
I’m grateful for my puppy Smokey, who just turned 6 months. He just had a surgery, and I am grateful he is okay. Even though it was routine, I was worried about him.
He teaches me how to care for another living being, and how to love unconditionally. I am grateful for the opportunity to watch him grow and provide nourishment.
I am also grateful to have a home. I was homeless for two years and now share a condo with my best friend.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn to fly airplanes and train as a pilot.
Thank you for writing this article, completely changed my mindset this morning and I am grateful to be more in tune of what and who I am thankful for.
Shirley DeRuchie says
What a wonderful comment on your parents, very unusual as most youn people never think their parents are in love to the end!
I am 90 in 4 mo., seen a lot in my time. Who ever you are keep your gratefulness , in this time of much turmoil you sound very grounded.
what a nice thing to say to someone in response to their openness and vulnerability. we need more people like both of you in the world!
I took a ride with my little boy we had fun shopping together at an outdoor market. We packed his backpack and organized it together. I am blessed to have him in my life. Thank you for sharing the article and reminding me.
Thank you so much for today’s message. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and have chemo treatment in a few hours.
Your message really hit home. Before all of this I was working on mindfulness and meditation to let go of my anxiety and stress that was stifling me! Wow! Little did I know I would have something to really worry about! Stress is our enemy and as a divorced Mom ( of an alcoholic who died from his disease) and who raised two children on my own I had way too many stressful days.
The trapped energy is not good for us and our immune system is weakened by it.
However, I am resilient and am facing this journey with a positive attitude and an appreciate for every single day I am here. There have been low moments but then I will receive a text or card or phone call to remind me I am loved and being thought about,. I am hopeful to have many more day to literally smell the roses.
So, let go on the needless worries, enjoy today, turn off facebook ( I haven’t been on hardly at all since my diagnosis) and get rid of people who do not fill you up. And embrace all of those who do. Reach out to someone facing a battle or struggle. I have been embraced by amazing love and support in ways I never imagined.
Life is good. The gifts are all around. Let go of expectations and you will be free:)!
Thank you for reading:)!
Nancy in Kansas
Anne Odendhal says
ChrisBeatCancer.com is worth looking into:)
I like to think that I am full of gratitude generally, and I practice it daily in my journal. My life is good, but the ambitious side of me always wants to achieve certain goals, and to improve, and to want more, but overall it doesn’t bring me down much to accept I’m not currently where I want to be, because I am currently where I once wanted to be in many aspects, and it’s pretty much a never ending cycle until the ugly ending.
This was a good read, thanks, I’m going to buy your 1,000 Things Book as I always have your 1,000 Habits book and it’s helping with my relationships.
I just appreciate the fact that I’m still holding on to myself despite the many times I felt I have failed of becoming the person I wanted to be. Likewise, I also appreciate a few people whom I can share anything with, and of course my family (well, I hope I could have more quality time with them).
Thanks for a good read! 🙂
Thank you for posting your reply. You gave me a different perspective when I could not find anything to appreciate in this cold world and hard life. Late 40s, still single, very alone and without supportive people, unemployed, using last of my money for bankruptcy, its been a life of painful experiences, failures, lost dreams, mean people, with every struggle leaving me more depleted, weaker and more sensitive to the last. It never occurred to me to see hanging on in this light. Most days, things life life being halfway over, air, sunlight and access to drinking water are the only things on my gratitude list.
Anne Odendhal says
I am sorry for your disappointment, losses and sadness. I pray God will open new doors of great hope for you. Don’t give up.
Lucille D. says
I got up this am and read this article. It was perfect timing!! It inspired me to keep going on with hope and anticipation. I find that if I pause quietly and breath, I focus on the here and now. I am a work in progress! Thank you both very much for your inspirations.
Thank so much for helping here. And your books and podcast are teaching me a lot too. Good lessons and reminders on how to live life more peacefully.
Susan Kelemen says
Today I appreciate being alive, seeing the sun come through the window and sharing a loving caring relationship with my hubby.
Terri T. says
I appreciate that I’ve finally recognized the beginning of a new cycle in my life, and the need to reset from the previous cycle in order to truly appreciate this current one.
Linda McCabe says
I’m at the hospital today for a test. I can be thankful that it’s a beautiful new hospital close to home.
My husband passed away a month ago. Truthfully he would not have been able to deal with my medical issues. He would not have been able to deal with being an invalid either. So part of me is relieved that he didn’t have to face those things. He had a massive stroke during an angiogram and died a week later.
Kiki Kennedy says
I’m so very sorry for your recent loss of your husband Mrs McCabe, and I admire your positive and selfless consideration for your him during your own health trials now. You sound like a real woman of substance and I wish you the very best results for your current medical tests. Take full advantage of that beautiful new hospital and enjoy those quick trips home! God bless you!
Perla Milner says
Gratitude is the vitamin to the soul… I take it daily and the only one to take every moment of the day…. thank u always for your reminders! They make a difference.
I am very thankful for everything God has given me, never take anything for granted. So many people are struggling for what God has given us without much efforts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, these reads give mental strength, teaches to appreciate life…
Anne Odendhal says
Amen to this reality. Just having access to so much healthy food is a huge blessing. And we live in the only nation in the world where our constitution restricts and limits what the government can do to citizens. IT really was designed to protect citizens from tyranny. I’m so thankful to be blessed as an American.
I love your emails thank you, I forget really fast to appreciate all the blessings in my life and to live in the moment and be thankful….
Micheal E says
I was born into a family with a lot of financial issues, growing up, it has been a tough journey. Right now I’ve got a job and I can take good care of myself and my basic needs. For this, I am happy and grateful.
Recently, I just left a relationship, and it’s been affecting me emotionally, but reading this post has made me realize the things I forgot I should be happy about, it brought them to light, and I feel relieved and grateful. I feel happier and better, thank you.
John H says
After 26 years of marriage I wake up every day missing the person I feel should be next to me knowing she is close by but unreachable.
Focus so much on what was rather than what is.
The tangerine is a fair reflection of my life and when I really think about it, it was never as it “should” have been but still I carried on because I knew that out there one day the fruit would taste just right.
Guess I just need to concentrate on what is good around me, celebrate the good people who try to help me ….and maybe it’s time to try a different fruit? Hope everybody has one better thought for themselves today after all it may rain for a long time but we all know that the sun will come out at sometime so let’s just enjoy the rain.
I am grateful….
for these eyes I have that enable me to see all the beautiful/ugly people/scenery in the world
….for these here ears I use to listen
….this heart of mine too—-mending on its own from within and from with hardly any effort from me excluding allowing it to heal itself in peace
….my father who still fits all my life bills and because of his angelic generosity, I get to establish the life I want for myself without minimum stress. It truly is a privilege and I realize I don’t thank him enough. The truth is, I can never ever thank him enough
….this wondrous article too! And the burning curiosity that led me to it!
Thank you. Your words cut deep into our heart of hearts. The evidence is in the comments
Stay blessed all of you! And let’s be good so we end up in heaven if tales of another life after this one turns out to be true.
(No hope is too high, no belief is too naive, afterall nothing is impossible right?)
I think it would be unfair maybe even robbery tho read all these inspiring gratitude stories in the comments and not share mine.
I have so much to be grateful for, but my ambitions and of course the “should be” often rob me of my gratitude. So I am grateful for;
1. My health. Its better than it was last year
2. My husband (of 1 month)
3. My parents, brother and friends (My support system)
4. My job
5. and for this article that has helped me remember to be grateful
I am sad and very hurt of a past issue that recently happened. I am just now understanding that I need to go through the pain to get to the other side, feel it make peace with it and move on. I will enjoy time, I will enjoy my son, my friends, and all the beautiful things around me. I am a work in progress, thanks to your article. THANK YOU
nice reminders. excellent points. thanks for sharing.