Planning for the future is an important part of life. My decisions today affect my day tomorrow, so I better look ahead to make sure I do what I need to. But by creating a plan for tomorrow, I also create an image of what I can expect tomorrow to look like. I create an expectation. My expectations may be based off past experience or from what I’ve heard or may be completely made up. No matter where they came from, my expectations trick me into thinking that I have control over the future and that is what makes them so dangerous.
Planning for the future is necessary for me to reach my goals to the best of my ability but what use do expectations serve in my life? What good is a predisposition that is based on information totally separate from the situations I look forward to? When I expect an event, I am deciding how I will react before having a chance to experience it. Not only does this take away from the experience itself but takes away some level of freedom in my reaction. If I have decided to be bored, I’m going to be a little bored even if the event is more fun than I expected.
I do my best to watch my expectations with a mindful eye because they do shape my experiences so much. Expectations can lead to a happy surprise or crippling disappointment. Still, can I really stop creating expectations and should I even try?
Expectations are an imagining of a possible future. Picturing the outcome of an event gives me a chance to start processing the possible outcomes and foresee any complications that may come my way. This means that I can be more mentally and emotionally prepared for any conclusion. This can make them pretty useful. They also take the unknown future and make it just a little less scary by making me believe I know what’s going to happen. But that belief can make any change scare me more than not knowing at all. That’s when my sense of control breaks down and I don’t know what to do.
For some, changing their plans on a dime comes more easily but it has taken quite a bit of practice for me to be able to shift my expectations here and there to fit the situation and how it is going. It’s necessary if I want to enjoy myself as much as possible which I do, as a rule. Still, some expectations are easier to change than others and disappointment can come suddenly and swiftly.
Recently I had a mournful disappointment when I got into a car accident on the way to a play I had bought the tickets for months ago. No one was hurt and it hadn’t been my fault so as accidents go it could have been much worse, but not even that relief could dampen my disappointment at having missed the show. I had been so excited for so long and had planned so carefully and was still foiled at the last minute. All I could think about was how sad and angry I was to be on the side of the highway instead of in a velvety theater seat. The evening got turned around somewhat with the help of ice cream and a good movie but there was still that tug of grief. Along with the grief came a determination to see the show that I had been looking forward to for so long no matter what.
In the end I was able to go to the show and had a grand time. It may have cost more money, time and tears than I had expected but I was able to achieve my goal. After all, that is the bottom line: Even if our expectations are shattered like a headlight on the highway, we have to find a way to move forward, go to plan B, C and D. To reach our goals regardless of any changes in plan.