It’s wild how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life keeps leading us down paths we would never travel if it were up to us.
Don’t be afraid.
Trust the journey.
Don’t let your expectations of how life “should be” blind you to the beauty of the life you’re living.
And of course, if you’re struggling with trusting the journey and taming your expectations right now, know that you are not alone. Many of us are here with you, working hard to let go, find more presence and acceptance, and get our thinking back on track. Let me share a quick metaphor with you that I often share with our course students and live event attendees…
Imagine you had a ripe, juicy tangerine sitting on the table in front of you. You pick it up eagerly, take a bite and begin to taste it.
You already know how a ripe, juicy tangerine should taste, and so when this one is a bit tarter than expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment and swallow it, feeling cheated out of the experience you expected.
Or perhaps the tangerine tastes completely normal—nothing special at all. So, you swallow it without even pausing to appreciate its flavor, as you move on to the next unworthy bite, and the next.
In the first scenario, the tangerine let you down because it didn’t meet your expectations. In the second, it was too plain because it met your expectations to a T.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s either not good, or not good enough.
This is how many of us live our lives… unhappily.
It’s why so many of us feel let down, disappointed, and unexcited about almost everything.
Because nothing really meets our expectations.
Now, imagine you try this instead: remove your expectations of how the tangerine “should” taste. You don’t know, and you don’t expect to know, because you haven’t even tried it yet. Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial and open to a variety of possible flavors.
You taste it, and you truly pay attention. You notice the juiciness, the texture of the pulp, the simultaneously tangy, tart and sweet flavors swirling around on your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew. You didn’t know how this tangerine would taste, but now you realize it’s different than the rest, and it’s remarkable in its own way. It’s a totally new experience—a worthwhile experience—because you’ve never tasted THIS tangerine before.
Mindfulness experts often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really, it’s just the result of a mindset free of needless, stifling expectations.
The tangerine, of course, can be substituted for almost anything in your life: any event, any situation, any relationship, any person, any thought at all that enters your mind. If you approach any of these with expectations of “how it should be” or “how it has to be” in order to be good enough for you, they will almost always disappoint you in some way… or be too plain and unexciting to even remember. And you’ll just move on to the next disappointment or unworthy life experience, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth…
Until you’ve lived the vast majority of your life stuck in an endless cycle of experiences you barely like or barely even notice.
A Mentally Stronger Way to Think & Live
When you add up over a decade worth of one-on-one coaching sessions with students, open conversations with our readers, and the annual live events we host, Marc and I have lots of experience when it comes to assisting people through the pain points that have been holding them back. And one of the most prevalent pain points we’ve seen unfold over the years is what I just described above—expectations gone wrong. In fact, most of what we describe as our “biggest problems” are the direct consequence of how we react to life on an average day.
Yes, sometimes there are major tragedies to cope with, but most of the time the only real tragedy is our weak thinking and resulting behavior in the present moment.
Exercising your mental strength—your inner resilience—is key! And you don’t have to be born mentally strong either. You can develop this vital character trait with daily practice.
Is it easy? Not exactly.
Is it worth it? Absolutely!
And it all starts with facing the present moment fully, with genuine presence and acceptance.
Even when times are relatively good, one of the hardest challenges we face in life is to simply live in our own skin—to just be right here, right now, regardless of where we are. Too often we aimlessly distract ourselves with anything and everything: food, booze, shopping, television, gossip news, social networks, video games, smart phones, iPads, etc.—basically anything to keep us from being fully present.
We use compulsive work, compulsive exercise, compulsive love affairs, and the like, to escape from ourselves and the realities of living with full presence. In fact, many of us will go to great lengths to avoid the feeling of being alone with ourselves in an undistracted environment. So, we succumb to hanging out with just about anybody to avoid the feeling of solitude. For being alone means dealing with our true feelings: fears, anxieties, anticipation, uncertainty, frustrations, envy, disappointment, and so on and so forth. And when harder times hit, things spiral even further out of control.
On the flip side, mentally strong people gradually grow to understand that finding peace and happiness in life does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no challenges, and no hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things while remaining focused in your mind and calm in your heart. It’s about letting go of the pictures in your head about how things were “supposed to be,” and facing the present moment’s challenges with presence and poise.
So, begin today by just noticing with curiosity, and without judgment, all of the ways in which you avoid being in your own skin, with your own issues, right here, right now, in this present moment we call life. Then focus, carefully, on what you’re truly feeling. Don’t numb yourself with any more distractions, but instead bring how you feel further into your awareness.
Turn to it, and welcome it. Smile, and give what you feel your full, thoughtful attention.
- Notice the feeling in your body. Where is the feeling situated, and what unique qualities does it have?
- Notice the tension in your body, and also in your mind, that arises from this feeling.
Try relaxing the tense parts of your body. Then relax the tense parts of your mind. Do so by focusing on your breath: Close your eyes, breathe in and feel it, breathe out and feel it, again and again, until you feel more relaxed.
In this more relaxed state, find some quiet space within yourself. And in this space…
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness within you, that’s present in every moment.
- Allow yourself to rediscover the fundamental goodness of this very moment, that’s always available to you whenever you’re willing to focus on it.
Take time to just sit with the inner peace these simple rediscoveries bring.
This is the practice of letting go of stress, and simply accepting this moment as it is, and yourself as you are.
You can do this anytime, wherever you are. You can practice focusing on the goodness in others as well. Seeing the goodness in your challenges and relationships and work, even when things don’t go exactly as planned.
You can build a healthy daily ritual of stopping unnecessary stress in your life, and rediscovering the peace and joy and love that are always just a few thoughts away.
(Note: Marc and I build healthy, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course and in our NYT bestselling book.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Don’t wish away any more time waiting for better times ahead. Just appreciate where you are. You’ve come a long way, and you’re still learning and growing. Be thankful for the lessons. Take them and make the best of things right now.
And if you’re up to it, we’d love know:
- Despite your challenges, what’s something good you could appreciate right now, if you really wanted to?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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