Welcome to Awareness Counseling
Elle Garfield, LMSW

Exploring Expectations


Exploring Expectations To End Errors (in Thinking) and Enjoy Everything

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon


Enter Thoughts

Expectations are our thoughts about how we want someone or something to be. Expectations are not real.  We can expect something and be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) by what actually happens. Haven’t you ever felt sure you would love a movie you ended up hating or were convinced you were a certain size only to realize with glee, you hadn’t gained the weight you thought you did, when you actually tried on the clothes?  

Sometimes our attachment to our expectations can fuel our resentments helping us to feel victimized by what’s happening or by what didn’t happen. Yoga and mindfulness help us to be open to what actually is happening and be flexible enough to let go of our attachment to how things should be. This allows us to be present in the here and now and empowers us to move beyond victimization and choose how we want to live in reality. Expectations sometimes fool us into thinking that they are real not just thoughts or opinions about the way the world and everything in it should be. If we can recognize our expectations and name them as a thought, not fact, we free ourselves from their binding influence allowing us to live in and enjoy the present moment and take action from our compassionate heart or our authentic intention.


An Education for Lucy

Lucy, 37, is the lead teacher of children with severe disabilities in first and second grade. Since she began working in special education ten years ago, she has loved her work and the children she cares for. She just naturally has the patience and ease that helps her students with autism, Down syndrome and other more mysterious disorders relax and go through the regular routines of the school day. Although some days are stress-filled from start to finish, Lucy’s regular yoga practice helps her remain calm and present for the many challenges she faces during the day.

Feeling tired and achy one morning Lucy learned that her two assistants had called in sick. When, Tina, a student with cerebral palsy, had wet herself, Lucy realized she was the only one available to change her. She could feel her anxiety rising when she had difficulty getting someone to watch her class so she could attend to Tina.  


“C’mon, sweetie,” Lucy says taking Tina’s hand when she could finally lead her to the bathroom. As she walks through the door Lucy sees that the changing table is piled high with books another teacher had left there. Unconcerned at first, Lucy then realizes Tina has also soiled herself. After laying a towel down on the floor Lucy reaches for the supplies she needs to complete her task but sees that the last person to use the wipes didn’t refill them.


Her patience quickly dwindles as she sees that what she thought would be a quick diaper change has turned into a messy chore that is made more difficult by Tina’s resistance. With her resentments building Lucy felt more and more tense and victimized by her situation and pulled away from what was happening at the moment. Barely remembering Tina was there Lucy jumps as Tina lets out a squawk as she shifts to escape Lucy’s hold.

Startled, Lucy was brought back into the room where she was able to looked in Tina’s eyes and saw her discomfort and embarrassment. Lucy felt a wave of compassion move through her. Wanting to comfort and reassure Tina, Lucy apologized and let Tina know she understood how uncomfortable she was and would surely rather be doing something more fun. She took a deep breath not even bothered by the foul smell and felt comforted.

“So kiddo, What’s it going to be today, Mr. Potato Head or Chute’s and Ladder’s?”  Tina laughs as she begins to relax. Lucy finishes up and takes her back to be with her friends.


In that moment, Lucy realized she had let go of her expectations of how things should be. Without realizing it she responded to what was really happening in the moment and of course she knew just what to do. She had forgotten about her crankiness, her aches and pains, she had released her anxiety coming from the stress of her work and let go of her resentment about not having enough help. Lucy, freed from her anxiety and resentment was able to later remind staff that supplies need to be refilled and brainstorm strategies to help everyone at the school have help when it was most needed. The difference was that she was able to come from a more compassionate place remembering why she chose the field she was in instead of feeling victimized and angry looking to place blame and choose up sides.


Excellent Results

We all have expectations. They appear in our unconscious like weeds in a garden. It’s not necessary to rid yourself of all your expectations just be aware that you have them and many of them will fall away with your awareness. Some are reasonable and help guide you in speaking up when a boundary has been crossed. Some will make you laugh and take yourself a little less seriously.

You may be thinking, “Wait, if I just let go of my expectations won’t everyone just walk all over me? Won’t I become the hole in the donut, not caring what does or doesn’t happen?” You are not alone in your thinking. Many people feel high expectations are necessary to have a successful life and that misery is caused by circumstances alone. On closer examination though you may see that it’s not actually what is happening that is the cause of our suffering it’s our ideas about what should or should not have happened instead of what actually did happen. Expectation may keep us focused on what we have no control over- what is outside of us and we miss out on the opportunities to see what we do have control over, our attitudes and our behaviors.


Next time you feel victimized or resentful about what’s happening in your life see if you can stop and notice your expectation, then notice how you feel when you are able to let go of that expectation and come into the present moment without any judgment, just awareness. As you begin to take some deeper breaths notice sensations in your body and expand your awareness to how you feel and what is actually happening around you. As you notice sensation, sound, smell, even taste, you come back to your senses so to speak. From this experience you will see that there is always a lot going on inside you and around you, there for you to notice and respond to in ways that promote your highest good. From this inner knowing and awareness an intention can arise that helps you know what the next right thing is to do based on how you want to behave.


Don’t let unexamined expectations keep you stuck in resentments and out of the present moment. Recognize the thoughts that have been fooling you into thinking they are reality and get ready to have the life that is your birthright- joyous and free.                            


*Names have been changed.


 Contact information: Awareness Counseling, Elle Garfield, ACSW. 248-961-4081, egarfield10@gmail.com
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