The Weight of Expectation


We break our own hearts.

Seriously. We do it through expectation, through attachment to outcome, through anxiously trying to force things instead of flowing. I’m as guilty as the rest of you of doing these very things. It’s so incredibly human to want to direct things to protect ourselves.

Old me would have agreed with you that this absolutely makes sense. The me I’ve grown into (who is, btw, still working on it daily) would say “That is incredibly boring. WHY would you want to know how everything is going to go?!” Well, safety, sure, but if you know me at all you know I’m going to tell you that safety is overrated and that a predictable and safe life is no life at all. (NO, I am not saying that we should all go out and be impulsive lunatics, or that safety within realistic expectations isn’t necessary and good.)

Setting ourselves up for Failure and Heartache

We have expectations of situations and people all the time. Especially if we have trauma. It’s SMART- anticipating responses keeps you safe. You can't protect yourself if you don't know what threat you're anticipating right? (No, but the traumatized brain says otherwise.) However, it’s also a recipe for disaster when we can’t cope when things don’t follow the script. Not to mention all the time we spent writing all of the contingency plans. It’s a survival mechanism, but ultimately it handicaps us. We can’t always live up to our expectations for ourselves, others will naturally let us down (especially when unaware of our personal scripts), and sometimes shit just goes haywire.

So, if trying not to have expectations, how does this work? The idea of NOT doing something simply leaves a black hole for the brain to interpret. Many of you don’t know the other side. The idea is to jut be present. BE in the IS. Let things evolve as they may, moment to moment, trusting yourself to handle whatever it is that gets thrown at you. I know- WAY easier said than done.

Work Smart, Not Hard

It’s The New Year. That means it’s time for the hope of living our best lives, creating lofty goals, evaluating the past year and temporary solutions. Because, let’s face it- we fall off. The excitement and the hope that the idea of a fresh, new start brings is potent. Our want to make changes is admirable if not somewhat misguided. This isn’t to say that we aren’t capable, don’t misunderstand, but hope without a plan is just that and nothing more. There needs to be a tangible way to create that outcome or you’re just stumbling around until you find the bullseye.

This is coming off unintentionally negative. It isn’t meant to- more to be realistic. Those who work with me know that I’m honest, direct, and realistic. It’s important to be so I think because realistic thought keeps you from blind optimism. Whether you believe in prayer, conscious manifestation, or hope in itself- bringing things to life still requires effort on your part. I’ve seen lots of people wish and hope for things while not making any effort towards bringing that idea to fruition, then calling it a failure and moving into victim mentality. Even more so, it requires effective effort. “Work smart, not hard” right?

Why I HATE “Resolutions”

A resolution is literally “a firm decision to do or not do something.” I cannot see, in any way shape or form, how that can be good for anyone. It’s too black and white. People quote Star Wars around me all the time and it makes me cringe: “Do or Do Not, there is no try.” It’s the worst mentality in my opinion, because there’s no gray. It’s succeed/fail. I suppose on its own that may all be well and good, but what happens when a person fails? Well, many times they’ll become stubborn and overcome it. However, with a trauma background, or if the goal is too lofty, the inclincation is just to give up. So, then we have one more tally on the “Reasons why I suck” scoreboard. And all this because the year started and we wanted to improve something? Yuck. No thank you.

Failure is important and I feel that discounting it and creating fear around it is detrimental to a rich life of knowing who you are and what you want. There most certainly IS try and try is important. We learn from it. Not always hard lessons. We also learn preferences, personal characteristics, and different perspectives. It’s a critical part of life and we shouldn’t be trained to fear it.

Don’t be All or Nothing

So, I wasn’t going to talk about New Year’s Resolutions directly, but then I got into a pretty interesting conversation with a friend of mine that made me think I really need to. She asked me what I thought of her New Year’s Resolution (more on THAT word in a minute. Resolution- ugh) to not buy ANY new things that she didn’t need. My response kind of surprised me. I told her I hated it. Please understand, we’re close, and she knows better than to ask my opinion if she doesn’t want it. Though I always try to be gentle. She’s okay, I promise!

She asked why, naturally, and I told her that I felt it was too black and white, setting her up for failure- and therefore shame and guilt, and too restrictive. What if you WANT to buy something that you don’t need? What if it makes you feel good? Isn’t that a necessity on a bad day? What if you want to buy something for someone else? Technically it isn’t something YOU need. Where’s the line? Also, an entire year of restriction for some arbitrary limit that God-knows-who set for you? And your measure of accomplishment and self worth comes from this arbitrary all-or-nothing goal you set for yourself because the calendar set over? Again, no thanks.

Maybe Try for an Intention Instead

And so, she asked me, what would you recommend? I think, rather than trying for this black or white accomplishment, maybe try for a range. Instead of Do or do not, maybe count the try. Revel in the Gray. Instead of “I don’t want to buy anything I don’t need,” aim for “I want to reduce my frivolous purchases by 30 percent or more.”

Intention is different from resolution. Intention: “an aim or a plan.” It’s the intent, the meaning, behind what you’re trying to do, not simply the fact of accomplishment or non-accomplishment. It’s the try.

The reason this is a better way is because with a range, and with counting the try, you improve even slightly. ANY improvement is so much better than “failing” because you missed some lofty goal, and then giving up for the same reason.

Fear as a Motivator

And so, my sweet friend says to me, “But, how am I going to motivate myself if I don’t have shame and guilt about not meeting my goal?” Wait. I’m sorry, sweetie. WHAT? You shouldn’t need guilt and shame to motivate you. I promise you they don’t. Motivating others (or yourself) with fear is dysfunctional and is either 1) goading you into doing something you actually DON’T want to do or 2) keeping you in a space where you think that’s how you’re motivated because the goal doesn’t quite fit.

Also, can we not use the word motivated? Terrorized. Let’s use terrorized: “How am I going to terrorize myself if I don’t have shame and guilt?” Because that’s really what you’re doing. If your goal fits for you, you won’t need to.

Moving into Growth for Its Own Sake

Growth should happen for its own sake, not because you’re guilted or shamed into trying to be what others think (or what you think) you SHOULD be. We seek growth for a lot of reasons. Primarily because something isn’t working for us. So- what if that was “motivation” enough? “This isn’t working, how can I move towards doing it better?” Not perfection, improvement.

Criteria for a Good Intention

I suppose if I’m going to ask you to use an intention instead of a goal I should help you understand how to better do that, right?

First, ask yourself about the intention and the tone of what you’re saying. “I want to lose 15lbs.” Why? To be more attractive? To whom? To be “healthier?” What parameters are you using- because if you lose 15lbs of bone mass that’s a bad deal and isn’t healthier. This is also a particular goal that often matches appearance to value. You get my point, understand what you are saying with your intention. If you’re just going to use your New Year beginning to start with the same old habit of punishing yourself- don’t.

You want your goal to be a range. You’re seeking improvement, not perfection, remember? Give yourself a broader target. Try for a set amount of some sort- a quantity, a percentage, something measureable.

It’s not absolutely necessary, but I’d also seek something sustainable in nature. At its core, not buying anything you don’t absolutely need EVER again is restrictive, punitive, and a recipe for disaster. With a goal that black and white you can’t keep it up. It’s too rigid. If you’re going to make a change, make it sustainable so that you can build upon it.

And finally, I suppose if you want to offer yourself a “reward” for reaching that goal, go for it. But if you set the intention right, meeting it is reward in itself. Rather than making yourself earn those shoes you’re going to use to reward yourself once you lose those fifty pounds, buy the shoes as a radical act of self love and work on healthier eating habits as an intention to also show your body some love.

In this office, perspective is everything. Yes, we are kind of doing the same thing but in a much kinder way. We use self compassion, a growth mindset, and overall love of self instead of black and white, punitive, self hatred forms of forcing growth that some rando dictated we should do.

Make the changes you want. Period. And I promise, they’ll come much faster if you’re your own best cheerleader than they would if you let the shitty committee lead the way.

Personally, I think the bar is set pretty low for 2021 to be “better” than 2020 so we’re already on our way up!