Toss Your Expectations Into the Ocean

Zen Habits

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‘Act without expectation.’ ~Lao Tzu

How much of your stress, frustration, disappointment, anger, irritation, pissed-offedness comes from one little thing?

Almost all of it comes from your expectations, and when things (inevitably) don’t turn out as we expect, from wishing things were different.

We build these expectations in our heads of what other people should do, what our lives should be like, how other drivers should behave … and yet it’s all fantasy. It’s not real.

And when reality doesn’t meet our fantasy, we wish the world were different.

Here’s a simple solution:

Take your expectations, and throw them in the ocean.
Picture all the expectations you have for yourself, your life, your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your job, the world. Take them from inside you, and toss them in the ocean. A river or lake will also do.

What happens to them? They float. They’re carried around by waves. The current takes them out, and they drift away. Let them be washed away by the cleansing waters, and let them go.

Now live your life without them.

What’s a life without expectations like? It means you accept reality as it is, and people as they are, without expectations, without trying to force people into the containers you have for them, seeing things as they are. It’s a life where you don’t need to be disappointed or frustrated or angry — or if you are, you accept it, and then let it go.

That’s not to say you never act — you can act in a way that’s in accordance with your values, and influence the world, but never have an expectation of how the world will react to your actions.

If you do something good, you won’t expect praise or appreciation. Let those expectations of reward and praise float away with the waves. Do good because you love doing good, and expect nothing beyond that.

Pay attention to your thoughts. Don’t beat yourself up if you have expectations. Just see them. Then toss them in the ocean.

Notice if you start to wish things weren’t the way they are. If you wish someone else didn’t do something, notice that. You have expectations, and you wish people or the world could have met them instead of doing what they actually did. Toss those wishes in the ocean too. Now accept things, and move on.

Let the waters of the world cleanse us, and let us walk lightly in a world that is already wonderful without our fantasies.

‘I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.’ ~Dalai Lama

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  • shiny says
    Hello am i the only one thinking that this is against the true nature of our humanity......rewards create desire, without reward any action is discouraged. Hence why we need to reinforce positive behaviour in our society. Yet it seems most attention and money is redirected at negative behaviours.
    Expectation on the other hand can be postive and negative. Yes it is personally harder with age as i've found, to change our expectations. The truest quote is 'to never judge a book by its cover'. I love it when my expectations are almost wiped from the slate when getting to know someone for the first time. Realising my first impressions have been generated from societys generalisations and media representation of a particular type of person. Wow i having a rant...
  • Agreed. I have my like full with expectations, I don't know how the hell I would manage to set myself any goals without having expectations. Maybe it would work for Dial-a-Llama... but not this pom.
  • Clint says
    An example of this... On Sunday I was preparing a roast. I'd marinated the chicken over night and had put aside the marinade to baste the bird as it roasted. And popped the chicken in the oven.

    I left the kitchen to attend to something and in that time my flatmate had poured the liquid down the drain, thinking I didn't need it and cos she wanted to use the container.

    Previously that would have really ticked me off and got me stressed out etc. But I let it go, I didn't worry about it, and you know what... The bird turned out perfect!

    When you have no expectations, you will always be content =)
  • Anthony says
    It's an interesting idea. If you don't ever expect something, then when it happens, the success is much sweeter. But I agree with Jason, unfortunately life requires goals and ambitions, and if you don't expect to obtain them, then things will start to fall apart.

    Surprises are nice, but you can't build your life on it...

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