10 minute read

Expectations: we all have them.

You may, for instance, have an expectation about this post.

But what is an expectation? A hope or desire? A prediction based on facts and historic proofs? A vision of the perfect future, or a bleak assessment of what may come to pass?

Over the past 12 months many people have been unable to lead the life they, either wanted, or expected to live. Some people will have felt that they haven’t contributed in the way they used to, or achieved some form of success, or indeed created positive life memories. Ultimately, we all now find ourselves in a world of very limited opportunities and this sense of drifting, or the ticking clock of time wasting away, can often lead to negative mental health consequences. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Living up to expectations

The human mind is capable of some astounding feats of imagination and wonder. From the very beginning we have created – as if from nothing –  society, culture, religion and art. Our capacity for thought and prediction helps us manage ourselves and those around us in this complex world. It’s a wonderous gift, but as with many gifts, it comes at a cost.

I think it’s fair to say that we create a future in our minds and take a selective view of our past. The what if, the doubt and worry of a possible future. The angst and sadness about the past actions and choices made. The cognitive cost we pay is the ability to create the mind maze of the future or past that lie beyond our control, yet ultimately impactful on our psyche. We effortlessly forget that we made our choices as best we could for the right reasons at that time. We look back with the ‘gift’ of hindsight and regret and wonder why. We give ourselves a hard time on things that cannot be changed. We didn’t live up to the expectations we now have for our past self. This in turn can influence how we think about our future self. Maybe doubt creeps in? We may then look out the window and wonder if we Iived the way society says we should so far and whether we will be able to?

Future speculation

Imagine that we ask a toddler what next year will be like and what the future holds. Their quizzical look and confusion will stem from more than your question. For them there is only the here and now. They have no notion of next week, let alone next year. For most of us the present moment – whilst it may not be ideal – is in actual fact, very frequently ‘ok’.

Societal expectations can be felt as pressure to conform to a certain way of living, or by achieving certain ‘milestones’ by a certain age. If you don’t achieve these, you may feel you have failed in some way. But why? Expectations can unfortunately lead to pressure which results in poor decisions and stress, which then compounds the mistake of not living the life you want.

Taking stock

But remember, expectations only exist in your mind if you let them.

Expectations only exist in our mind. Do we really choose our expectations? Do they come from conscious thought and selective ordering of possible future states? Or do they spring from some unknown source?

Perhaps we should spend time thinking about what we have ordained our future should look like? We can certainly determine what will lead to the greatest sense of happiness or contentment on more than one level. We can assume expectations are helpful as they spur us into action to bring a chosen future state into reality. However, we must also be aware of the pitfalls of pining our hopes of ‘happiness’ on the future. What happens if we never quite get there? And perhaps more importantly, what happens if we do? Will we automictically be happy for ever more or does the cycle begin again and if so, what is the next expectation?

Living in the moment

Expectations can helpfully drive and guide us in our daily lives, but that is all they should be; just a guide. The true value in living comes, not in the hope of a changed past or some utopian future, but in the pleasures of this very moment. Right here, right now. Those cherished moments when time and everything else drifts away. When you feel true deep connection with another person, or feel the warmth of the sun on your face for the first time in spring, or behold the all-encompassing wonder of nature.

Because the truly wonderful moments are when there is a lack of consciousness, a lack of time, want, or judgement. The truly wonderful moments are when expectations and pressure are stripped away and all we are left with is the feeling of happiness and contentment. This is the space we should all learn to inhabit more often to feel true happiness.

Pause for thought

I realise this post has many questions in it – something that many may see as unhelpful. Afterall, we are all so used to, and indeed always, expect answers. But questions make us think. They give us pause for thought. And if this blog post does nothing else, then I hope it does allow you to pause momentarily.

So, try to use this moment to think about what makes you happy. Not what you are expected to like, or to wear, what you want to own, to say or to look like, but consider what really gives you that feeling of happiness, contentment and peace.

Expectations of our past or future will always pop up. But just ask yourself, do those thoughts help? Do they make me happy, content or feel at peace right now? It’s easy to get wrapped up thinking (and mistakenly believing) it’s who we really are.

Because we are not our thoughts. We so much more.