No expectations

In practicing mindfulness in daily life, it’s worth watching out for small experiences that lead to tension, stress, or anger.

I noticed several months ago that I’d start feeling resentful as I walked toward a pedestrian crossing with the intention, of course, of crossing the road. The resentment is connected with the number of drivers who don’t stop when they see someone — well, me! — about to cross the road.

But I’d actually start getting resentful before I even reached the side of the road, long before drivers could possibly realize that it was my intention to cross in front of them. It’s all rather irrational, and goes way back, but I won’t bore you with the history.

What’s important is that I recognized that this was a source of suffering for me. It wasn’t one of these things that ruined my day, but it created an unpleasant experience that would color at least part of my day.

And it’s completely unnecessary. I was pushing my own stress buttons.

So I got into the habit of saying to myself, as I walked along the sidewalk toward the crossing, “No expectations.” It was just a little reminder that I couldn’t expect drivers to psychically know that it was my intention to cross, and that even once it should be clear that that was my intention, it was pointless having expectations that they would stop. After all, we all have times when we’re a little distracted and don’t respond promptly to things around us. What’s the point of taking these things personally?

The interesting thing is that saying “no expectations” has not just prevented frustration, tension, and anger from arising — when I say those words I find myself relaxing more deeply and enjoying my present-moment experience.

It’s a small thing, but then our lives are made out of the small things.

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To apply this approach, we first have to notice that we’re causing ourselves frustration. Noticing this isn’t necessarily easy to do if our habits are longstanding. And in any event, we often tend to think of these petty frustrations as just a normal part of our experience.

And we often externalize our feelings, by which I mean that we blame the outside world for what we’re feeling. We might see it as those drivers are the problem and they’re making me frustrated rather than it’s my frustration toward those drivers that’s the problem. So we have to remember that people do not push our buttons. Our buttons are inside our heads, and we do our own button-pushing.

I can think of other circumstances in which this could be useful for me. When I log in to Wildmind’s Facebook page, for example, I often feel some disappointment when I see that an article we’ve posted a link to has received a small number of “likes.” The link to the article may have been viewed by 2,000 people (Facebook helpfully displays this information) and perhaps only 12 have clicked “like.” Now there’s a side to this where I can perhaps learn to craft better Facebook posts or to find the best times of day to post, but as long as I cling to expectations, I’m going to suffer.

I wonder what circumstances the mantra of “no expectations” could help you in your life?

14 Comments. Leave new

i always read your posts on fb and even though i “mentally” like them i don’t always physically hit the like button so please don’t think you need to craft better posts, you’re doing exceptionally well

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Hi Bodhipaksa
I like your Facebook posts, but like Tom don’t often click like or comment on them. So the Like button is not a true reflection of how liked an item is I guess. Keep on posting just as you do as it connects me nicely into my mindfulness practice. This latest post on ‘no expectations’ is great… and I will go click Like now. ;-D

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Thanks to both of you. I just want to stress that the comment about Facebook “likes” wasn’t a passive-aggressive criticism, but just “work in progress” with accepting that even most people on FB who are interested in what we post are not inclined to hit “like” very often.

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Melody Peters
October 22, 2012 7:52 pm

I am a faithful reader and I click the like button most times but not all. It is no reflection on you but a sign of whether I am present or not. Please continue.

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I could definitely use this technique when driving. I am a slow, patient driver, but find that I have no patience with impatient drivers. Yes I get the irony. Your ” no expectations ” practice would help to reduce my frustration level tremendously.

Thanks,
Dan @ ZenPresence.com

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Renée Layberry
October 24, 2012 3:29 pm

I’m learning that I have to release expectations of my teenagers. I’m very often frustrated with them because I think they “should” listen more, respect me more, behave with more consideration, etc. Now, I don’t want to swing to the wrong end of the spectrum and treat them with total disregard, but I know I could release a great deal of stress in my life if I simply released expectation.

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Good example, Renée.

I think we can have an aspiration that our children behave differently, but without having the expectation that they will do so right now. It’s like growing a plant; you want it to grow big and develop flowers, but that doesn’t come about by yelling at it. It needs time and nurture. Teens’ brains are still developing, and their ability to pay attention (or to show that they’re paying attention) has to develop and grow, much as a plant’s flowers and leaves need to grow and develop. A compassionate approach is, I think, more likely to have the desired outcome.

You could try using those moments of your teens “not listening” to remember the love you have for them, and to bear in mind the amazing and difficult journey to adulthood they’re going through. This is what I do (sometimes!) with my almost-six-year-old.

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Renée Layberry
October 24, 2012 3:47 pm

Thanks for your response. Yes, there is a difference between aspiration and expectation. I also heard it said years ago that our children are raising the parents as well. I agree with this but I forget this a million times daily. Compassion is so important—not just with our children, but with ourselves, too. Oftentimes my frustration with my children is that I feel invalidated and ineffective when I do not feel “heard”, and that is an old wound that definitely precedes their arrival on this earth. In those moments, I do externalize my emotions and assign blame. Your article really spoke to this, and I thank you for articulating it so well.

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Jennifer Mahern
October 24, 2012 4:03 pm

Thank you again Bodipaksa for another important reminder of wisdom we can all use. I do the same thing when walking to the bus stop hoping there will be a seat and I won’t have to stand all the way home. I will remember that today and try to remember it every time I get on the bus. And although I may not “like” all of your posts, I truly appreciate the short articles (from you and others) you post that help me with my daily practice. Sadhu!

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” we often externalize our feelings, by which I mean that we blame the outside world for what we’re feeling. ” Very well said, great piece.

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Jennifer Mahern
October 25, 2012 11:25 am

Thanks again! Last night was the most mindful and best bus ride standing up I have had yet. Thanks for helping me strengthen my practice!

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I can’t tell you how good it is to hear this kind of thing. Thanks for taking the time to write.

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So, merely half an hour after I read this I noticed its benefits. Two days later it has come to empower me over my emotions consistently throughout the day. I don’t say, as you suggested, ‘no expectations’ but I do say to myself, ‘external’ with regard to the part of your article that I quoted above. I have never struggled with being mindful for most hours of the day but when senseless things irritate me I find myself helpless under their pressures. I am mindful of them and have always tried, to no great result, to try and understand where these silly moments of anger arise from, attempting to chase them to the source and banish them that way. It has rarely worked as I intended and as, most often, they are irrational I doubt it would be an easy feat finding the source of such things. They are probably more to do with my own internal harmony. I have now spent 48 hours recognising the external influences and I can stop my anger before it even develops into any significant emotion. I feel you have given me the tool to remain in control of my emotions 100%. I was close before but sometimes the little things roused me. Now I am free from such things. thank you.

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Hi, Alex.

It’s very good to hear this. Isn’t it funny how a single word, and the perspective it evokes, can so completely change our experience? I like how you’ve modified the suggestion and made it your own. Excellent!

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