Everyone has expectations: things they desire to happen or come true in their lives. We want to find our soulmate, move into a bigger house, or become a millionaire. We become so attached to the outcome that when it doesn’t happen, it brings disappointment, frustration, and suffering.
From a spiritual standpoint, we want to be free of expectation so that we can experience as much joy as possible in the now.
But how does one live life without expectations? It’s not easy, but it is possible! Keep reading to learn about what it means to live without expectations, if it’s healthy to have no expectations, and 15 ways to let go of the outcome to increase your life satisfaction.
What does it mean to have no expectations?
Living without expectations means to experience life spontaneously in the moment. It doesn’t mean to never make goals or plans for the future – those are essential to a full, purposeful life. It simply means that we live the journey rather than fixating on the destination of those goals and dreams.
We live our days anticipating new experiences and following our instincts rather than trying to control everything around us beforehand. The key is that if things don’t go as planned, we can be okay with it because there’s no attachment and we don’t give up when a different outcome occurs than expected.
Releasing your expectations means having more peace within yourself because you live in the moment – not what might happen in the future.
What about expectations of others?
Expectations of others is a difficult balance to find. We worry about people disappointing us (or worse, them being disappointed in us). This especially applies to a partner or family members like parents and children. We feel responsible for how our children turn out, and so our expectations of them are high.
With a spouse or significant other, we tend to project our expectations of ourselves onto them. When you expect something of someone else, you alter how you treat them and how you behave around them, sometimes without even realizing it. It helps to focus on the love you share and accept that person for who they are. After all, meeting someone where they are assumes the best in them, which in turn brings out the best in them.
“I know my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.”– Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
Is it healthy to live without expectations?
Just like positivity can become toxic, so can living without expecting anything. We think of people with zero expectations as lazy, no drive or motivation, and lacking vision. Or perhaps we see those without expectations as push-overs, self-sacrificing, or martyrs.
I want to give you a personal anecdote. I was married in my mid-twenties to a man that struggled with mental health and self-esteem. I tried to be entirely selfless, expecting only the basic necessities of a relationship from him, like faithfulness and occasionally taking out the trash. But I gave all of myself, sacrificing my time, mental space, money, and patience for him.
This was not a healthy balance.
The power of releasing expectations comes when we are open and honest with ourselves and with others. We live without expectations by being aware of our needs and communicating them, not just to others but also to ourselves. When we live a life with awareness and communication, it becomes easy to be content because no matter what happens, you will always experience joy.
I became honest with myself and was able to let go of that relationship from my life. I had no expectations other than enjoying life, and because I trusted the journey my life was on, I manifested my soulmate just months later.
14 Ways to Live Life Without Expectations
1) Be more present
The simple answer to letting go of what you expect out of life and from others is to focus on the now.
Being in the moment looks like:
- getting out of your mind
- putting down your phones
- interacting in a caring manner
The people around us appreciate it so much when we’re there with them instead of thinking of other things.
2) Stop the judgment
Here’s another example of something that not only benefits you, but benefits all the people around you. Judgment and criticism only ever do harm. Often, these judgments are based out of fear of “what will happen if…?”.
Don’t go down that road.
Instead of commenting on your coworker’s blouse not being her color, allow her to wear it! Rather than criticizing your husband for forgetting to help the children pick up their toys, thank him for being there when you were upset earlier that week.
Allow and accept. Life happens around us and we don’t have to expect others to have the same priorities in life as we do. (Also, work on learning to meet people where they are.)
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3) Think about the outcomes, then don’t
In modern life, we fear that if we’re not thinking three steps ahead, that we’re already behind. We think the only options are being a disappointment or achieving our grandest goals. But you don’t see that there is an entire range of things that could happen in between those two things!
Take a second to think about something you’ve been expecting or trying to achieve. You may feel that if you don’t achieve it, the worst will happen. But give yourself permission to let the process go. When you find yourself holding onto those outcomes, take comfort in knowing you’re doing your best, and forget the rest.
You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel!
4) Recognize fear
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear. So much of our actions in daily life is based in fear. But we’re not very good at recognizing it.
When we feel fear, it’s not always obvious. Fear is the feeling we experience when we have a nagging instinct telling us something isn’t right. Of course, fear is also when we expect that this one tiny threat could crumble our entire world.
Start to recognize what actions you take in your life are based in fear, and which are based in love.
5) Be honest with yourself
When we are honest with ourselves, we can be true to who we are and what we want out of life. Learning to let go of expectations gives us many opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
What do you need? There are a variety of things that you could truly need. You need to live a fulfilled life, most of all. But this also means not being afraid of negative or uncomfortable feelings.
Feeling these types of things is often an indication that we’re in an area where there’s something we can let go of. Being honest with yourself means confronting those challenging emotions.
6) Be honest with others
This may be challenging, but you need to be upfront and honest with the people in your life when you are missing something from them. It doesn’t mean to confront them in an emotionally charged attack.
When someone crosses a boundary, be honest. Say, “I felt really hurt when you canceled our plans. I had really been looking forward to it.” Hopefully, if they’re being honest and authentic too, they will tell you that it wasn’t their intention, and they’ll either explain the situation, or make an effort to mend the situation.
If they act defensively, this may be a sign that they aren’t a person you want in your life, or that you need to set stronger boundaries with them.
7) Believe that joy is yours
We all just want to be happy! But few of us take the time to really enjoy what life has given us! When we can see all the simple pleasures around us, it helps us not take life too seriously. You begin to know what happens when you focus on your true pleasures.
You create joy. You manifest joy.
The people around you (the ones that you want around you) bring you more joy as well. Releasing expectations can even be done through affirmations and practicing joy regularly!
8) Get out of your own way
We all want safety and security. But sometimes the thought of losing these means hanging onto something that may get in the way of living authentically.
How many of us have passed up on an opportunity because it meant uncertainty and change? How many of us have allowed someone in our lives who was treating us poorly because the fear, the expectation, of being alone was too great?
When you’re in your own way, your own actions are causing you to hold onto these expectations. Get out of your way and let them go!
9) Practice stress management
Stress management is the practice of being aware of and managing our stress. It is a big part in our day-to-day life.
Stress management techniques include changing your environment, such as rearranging your desk or taking a walk; making time for fun things such as hobbies and exercise; talking through problems with a partner or friend; practicing deep breathing or meditation, and using positive affirmations.
When we learn to cope with our stress, we experience a lot less pressure pushing down on us that prevents us from going with the flow of life and letting go of those expectations.
10) Allow negative emotions to move through you
I’ve heard it said, “Be angry. Be upset. Wallow. Cry. Just don’t unpack and live there.”
Holding onto emotions is so detrimental to our health. We often want so badly to be right that we would turn our lives upside down just to prove it. We expect others to read our minds, to know what we’re thinking. We want people to be disappointed that they’ve hurt us.
But holding grudges and holding onto negative beliefs never helps us achieve happiness or enlightenment.
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11) Learn to respond rather than react
Another emotionally intelligent tip is to respond instead of reacting. When we react, it’s impulsive and often emotionally charged. If we give ourselves the time to cool down, ask for help, and stop feeling angry, we can respond in a mindful manner.
Those gut reactions are ones that happen when we expect something, but the opposite is also true. When we train ourselves to take time and respond from a place of objectivity, we are training ourselves to release any expectations we have.
12) Ask for what you need
Just as in #6 above, asking for what you need is about being honest. It’s about allowing the negative emotions to flow out of you.
And often that means requesting help or support from someone else. You may think they don’t expect you to do this. You may assume that you’re stronger than that.
But being strong doesn’t mean to never rely on someone else. It means to know when to lead and when to follow.
13) Realize you can’t make everyone happy
People-pleasers are the worst. I know, because I used to be one!
As much as we would like to support everyone and free everyone from their burdens, it’s just not possible. Understanding that you can’t be the hero 100% of the time can help you move through life a little smoother. Trying to make everyone happy is a sure set-up for failure.
14) Understand that life is a journey
When we arrive at an outcome, life doesn’t stop there. What makes you assume you’ll be happier once you get to your destination?
The truth is that you won’t. Being happy comes from inside of us, every moment. It’s a belief and a practice, like unconditional gratitude.
Expect the journey to take some twists and turns, and let go of the wheel. You’re not the one driving.
Finding joy in life means letting go of expectations. Events of our lives don’t have to be planned for us to enjoy them. We don’t even have to reach the destination.
Think about any Pixar movie. Lightning McQueen learned his lesson but didn’t win the Piston Cup. Carl never made it to Paradise Falls in Up. And in Soul, Joe learns that a spark is not his soul’s purpose and he starts embracing all the simple joys in his life like 22 taught him.
What we expect may not be what happens, but it may in fact be what we need most of all.