5 Steps to Letting Go of Expectations

As a minimalist, I try hard to be intentional about what I include in my life – from my possessions to my relationships – but there’s one thing I’ve always struggled to let go of:

Expectations.

Picture this – you go to bed with a clear picture in your mind of how the next morning will play out.

You’ll wake up refreshed, have a nice cup of coffee, read or meditate, get to work early, have a productive morning …

Sounds good, right? (Yes!) But then life happens. You sleep through your alarm, you’re out of coffee, you miss the bus … and next thing you know, you’re on the fast track to a Bad Day.

I know we’ve all been there and it’s more than just a challenging morning; there’s also the disappointment we feel when our reality doesn’t match our expectations.

I’ve struggled with this all my life (I’ve written about it here and here) but it’s at the front of my mind again because of the little one growing in my belly. I’m already realising my body and my schedule are not my own anymore and I know it won’t be long until I really have to say goodbye to control and learn to roll with the punches!

I’ll be honest; there’s going to be a learning curve – this is not a habit you unlearn overnight – but I’m getting there (slowly!). If you struggle to let go of expectations as well, here are 5 steps that might help.

It's never easy when our reality doesn't live up to our expectations. If you struggle to let go of expectations as well, here are 5 steps that might help.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE ROLE OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS

First and foremost, my biggest challenge with letting go of expectations is often just owning up to the real problem! Instead, of acknowledging that I’m disappointed, it’s often easier to turn the blame elsewhere.

For example, a few weeks ago I was driving home from work and started thinking how nice it would be to have a date night with my hubby. I imagined going home, getting changed, and heading out for a nice dinner and some quality time together.

But when I got home and checked my phone, I had a message from him letting me know he was going to the pub for an after work drink…

Now to be clear, he very rarely does this, and he’s not a mind reader – there’s no way he could have known I was dreaming of a date night – but my first instinct was to feel neglected and angry. Was he choosing his friends over me?

Of course not. When I had a moment to calm down and think rationally, I realised my frustration had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my expectations – and when I acknowledged this, I felt my anger disappear and it was easier to move on.

CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE

When things don’t go as planned, it’s natural to feel negative and to focus on what we’re missing out on. (I’m not having a productive morning, I’m not on my date night, I’m not [fill in expectation here].) With this mindset, it’s no surprise when we feel irritated or let down.

But what if we choose to change our perspective?

Sometimes it’s as simple as the language we choose to use with ourselves. Instead of saying “I’m not”, we could decide to say “I am” – encouraging us to seek out gratitude and to look at our glass as half full.

You might not be on a date night, but an empty house to yourself? Sounds like the perfect setting for a glass of wine and a good book (or your self-care ritual of choice!).

DEFINE WHAT YOU REALLY WANT

Next time things don’t go exactly as you hoped, try asking yourself what you’re really trying to achieve. Once you identify it, you can adjust course and look for a different way to achieve the same result.

Going back to the date night example again, what I really wanted was quality time with my husband – going out on a date was simply one way to achieve this. By defining this, it was easy to see another alternative; I could simply talk to him and let him know I wanted his attention when he came home.

RETHINK HOW YOU SET GOALS

One of the best ways to let go of expectations is to look at how you frame them in the first place. One thing I’ve realised is, too often, I’m setting myself up for disappointment before I even begin.

Consider these two goals:

  • I’m going to write a blog post tonight.
  • I’m going to spend two hours writing tonight.

The first goal sounds good, but let me be honest with you – my creativity isn’t available on tap. Despite my best intentions, there are some nights when I write and write and write, but the words just don’t flow! Inevitably, defining my goal by the end result will eventually lead to frustration.

But the second goal? It’s much more manageable. Of course, it’s not guaranteed (life still happens!) but by framing my expectations around the effort I’m going to put in (instead of the results), I’ve got a better chance of accomplishing what I set out to achieve.

DECIDE TO CHOOSE YOUR MOOD

This is one of my favourite sayings, one I turn to in all sorts of situations, but it’s particularly relevant here. We can never be in complete control of what happens to us, we can only control how we choose to respond to the situation.

When things don’t go as planned, we can choose to indulge in our disappointment or we can choose to let go and move forward. Ultimately, the choice is up to us.

How do you manage your expectations? Is this something you struggle with – or do you have tips/tricks to share? Let me know in the comments! x

photo credit: unsplash.com // Used with permission

Sharing is caring!

11 thoughts on “5 Steps to Letting Go of Expectations”

  1. Hi Jennifer, I totally agree with you. It’s like you put words to my thoughts. You’re just so amazing! One thing that you cleared indirectly is things are the way we look at them, situations will be the same but it’s us who will decide that whether it should ruin our day or are we proactive enough not to let it? I loved your idea of the time you’re totally calm ask yourself why did you want such a thing to happen in the first place and answer to that can solve many mysteries going on in our heads. I’m surely gonna use that. Thanks a lot for such a beautiful article.

    Reply
  2. Oh, I love this! I’ve always struggled with expectations vs. reality, too. I constantly set expectations and then get disappointed when real life doesn’t align with the fairy tale in my mind. I am learning that I tell myself these stories and I that I am choosing to think these things. The shift in perspective and reframing that story is key. It’s hard work for sure but so worth it!

    Reply
    • Hey Tracie! I’m glad to hear I’m not alone here – it can feel so silly (my hubby actually read this post and said “seems like commonsense”) but sometimes it’s just SO HARD! It’s amazing how much we hold onto to our expectations. I think the only way to work through it is mindfulness and practice, so good luck for both of us! xo

      Reply
  3. This post speaks so loudly to me.
    Even as a child, I would have expectations and then feel disappointed. I would ask my parents for example the plans for the weekend, I would get excited, and then if it didn’t happen, I would be SO disappointed.
    I think you brought up the things that I do to manage my expectations – the language I use, acknowledging that I’m disappointed but then changing how I see the outcome are really important.
    What I’ve realized recently is that I also set expectations of myself on how to be wife (we only got married last August!) and also how much I want to accomplish over the weekend. Instead, I’m trying to learn A) To understand why I have those expectations; B) Be realistic about it; C) Reframe or re-define it : what does it mean to be a ‘good wife’; what do I want to accomplish (a to-do list or having meaningful moments where I am accomplishing something while feeling satisfied and also allowing myself to rest if I need).
    It’s a work in progress but it makes a difference!!
    http://www.elleisforlove.com

    Reply
    • Oooh – yes, I can completely relate to “also how much I want to accomplish over the weekend”. I used to be guilty of writing HUGE to-do lists that I was never going to be able to complete in a million years … and then I’d feel so guilty/disappointed when it didn’t all get done. I’ve started to get better at this since getting pregnant (mostly out of necessity) and it has been so freeing! But at the same time, I still struggle when things don’t turn out as planned.

      I guess we are all just a work in progress!

      Thanks again for reading 🙂 xx Jen

      Reply
  4. I love this idea – it’s something I’ve been trying to do a lot lately.
    You may have experienced this as a traveller yourself, but for me, one of the biggest stresses of my day is being in a new city and reading about a really great little restaurant – and then it’s closed. And we can’t find anywhere to eat. It drives me nuts!
    I’m really working on letting go of my expectations – hopefully one of these steps will help!

    Reply
    • OMG – yes!!! One of my biggest struggles is dealing with food expectations!! I’m so bad – when I have something in mind and I can’t have it, it can nearly bring me to tears (doubly worse while pregnant!). Glad I’m not alone here! xx

      Reply

Leave a Comment

shares