This has been the theme for me this week. From what I’ve heard from others, it seems like I’m not the only one—can you relate? Even if your plans this week are going swimmingly, I imagine you’ve been in the position before where things don’t happen they way you expected. According one of my favorite blogs, the power path monthly forecast, we are all currently being asked to really take a look at our expectations and adjust as needed.
Unfortunately, most of us who’ve grown up in this culture are taught that we must have a plan and that if we don’t, we won’t go anywhere–and certainly there’s merit to having a plan. That said, we don’t really get taught how to hold our plans loosely, how to balance the idea of having a plan with the idea of letting things unfold without our conscious involvement. So this article is not about not having any plan or any expectations, rather it’s about increasing our capacity to let our expectations go when something different wants to happen.
This past week as I was exploring expectations with one of my clients, she shared this wonderful story of an art professor who gave them an assignment of cutting out/marking through/erasing the part of the art project that the students were most attached to. He explained that when artists are stuck on an art project, it tends to be because they are too attached to the part they like. So when they take out that part, it opens up more room for possibility and reconnecting with the creative flow of what wants to become. I love the idea of intentionally creating a change in expectations. Though I’m not asking you to get rid of something in your life that you’re attached to, I do encourage you to reframe the unexpected as an opportunity to build your capacity let go and to surrender to what wants to happen.
Based on my own experiences and what I’ve learned from my incredibly wise clients (who I’m very grateful for!), I’ve come up with five simple steps for increasing our capacity to shift gears and go with the flow. This process can apply to both daily expectations like “I expected to go to work today but my son woke up sick so now I have to cancel my sessions and stay home with him” and larger life expectations like “I thought I would be married and settled down by this age”. So here ya go!
- Acknowledge what your expectations are or were–notice what you were attached to. We’ve got to know what story we’re telling ourselves in order to drop it. Even though this seems like a given, sometimes it just helps to pause and really acknowledge where you thought you’d be at this point in time. For me, for example, I thought that at this moment in time, I’d be in a session but that’s not what the universe had planned for me. In order to create space for what’s next, we need to acknowledge the loss, disappointment, frustration.
- Surrender. Let go. Accept what is currently happening. This is one of the hardest parts, I think. In fact, today, I spent a good bit of time in resistance—basically trying to replay my week in my head and wish it into a different reality. We’ve all been there, right? It’s not a very helpful or productive use of our energy. That said, play around with just giving yourself permission to be there for a little while—just don’t let yourself get stuck with replaying the past. Sometimes self-judgment, shame, or guilt can make it hard to let go. In these cases, offering yourself compassion is crucial!
- Shift gears. Shift your focus of attention. Change your physical location. Do something that gets you out of your head and into your body or your heart. For me, it was really hard for me to shift gears this morning staying in the same place I was in—I had to physically shift locations in order to get unstuck. So I went to the gym. I put on some of my favorite music and tried my best to just be present rather than trying to plan what was next. Here you could also do something that’s just naturally resourcing, which might be being in nature, playing with your cat/dog, gardening, going for a run. The trick here is also to let go of any expectations you have about the shift you’re making, e.g., that it will help you feel more productive, settled, peaceful.
- Listen deeply. Get quiet. In order to create space for what wants to happen to unfold, we have to listen. Your plans changed because what you planned wasn’t what needed to happen so don’t just replace it with a new plan. We have to stop trying to figure it out. Let yourself be in this not knowing space. It may be hard to distinguish which ideas come from your thinking mind and which just show up, but that doesn’t really matter. You’ll get a sense of it when you land on something that feels more aligned because your energy will shift. You’ll start to feel more expansive, more movement, more motivation.
- Look for new possibilities and opportunities that came about or might come about because of this change of plans. Martha Beck has a great exercise where she encourages clients to notice past challenges and how they’ve contributed to something good in their lives. Oftentimes, we can’t see the bigger picture in the moment. We can’t always see the possible benefits of whatever unlikely situation is occurring–especially if we’re not even looking for them. You can even get creative and brainstorm potential good that may come in the future. For example, suppose your flight got cancelled, what new information would you need that would allow you to feel grateful for the cancellation or at least neutral? What do you get to do now that you wouldn’t have gotten to do if they trip had gone as planned? What challenge may have been avoided because the flight didn’t take off? Get creative–this one is a right brain exercise.
So here’s my invitation for you: Grab a journal. Ask yourself, in what areas of my life are things not going as I expected? Go through the steps above. Use your journal along the way or just do some reflecting afterwards.
Affirmation: Today may I let go of expectations and embrace the flow of what wants to happen.