Earlier today while I was working out, I remembered an important teaching of the Bhagavad Gita: acting without expectation of reward.
This was a lesson I had learned back in 2015 and wrote a post on it back then, but over time I slipped back into my habit of holding onto expectations.
When I realized it again today, I recognized that I've been holding a lot of expectations lately - and as a result I've been feeling pretty dissatisfied with my situation.
As I was doing yoga, I reflected on this idea and let go of the expectations.
This immediately took me to a peaceful state of contentment.
Expectations keep us in a state of anticipation, always looking at what we want but don't have instead of appreciating all that we do have.
I decided to revamp that old post into this one here, so that you can feel the same peace that I found.
With love and gratitude
Have you been feeling dissatisfied with your current situation? Do you feel stuck and think that things are not going your way? Are you always looking at what you want next, focusing on what is lacking instead of appreciating what you have? If you’ve answered yes – this post is for you.
In marketing class I was taught about customer satisfaction, it was said that the difference between the expected value and the perceived value of a good or service will create dissatisfaction if the expected value is greater. This is a simple notion, but it is applicable to far more areas than just marketing. Let’s reflect on how expectation plays a role in day to day life and the relationship it has on our general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the way things are.
Contrary to what you may think, your displeasure does not come from your situation: it arises from your anticipation that the situation would be different or better than it is. Even if the situation is favorable, if you had higher expectations you will experience dissatisfaction in varying degrees.
Typically whenever someone takes action they expect a certain outcome as a result. For instance you might do something nice for someone and expect them to be grateful, or work out at the gym and expect to lose weight, or accumulate wealth and expect to become happy.
There is no way of knowing the future, so pretty much any expectations you have will set you up for some form of dissatisfaction. Expectations are like an attempt to find a temporary, false sense of security by trying to turn the unknown future into something known. They provide comfort until the mismatch between what was expected to happen and what actually happens is realized.
When you plan based on your expectations, you compound those expectations and set yourself up for even more displeasure. This can also make you too rigid to adapt to the ever changing circumstances of life because it takes your attention away from the present and into the future, thus detracting from the quality of your action right now.
Reflect on how you tie expectations to your actions. Ask yourself before you do something: am I expecting any reward or specific outcome as a result of doing this? Be honest and take note of what expectations you have related to the activity. Think about how your expectations keep you yearning for something in the future instead of enjoying the moment and being fully present in your work.
Some may read this and think that they should do the inverse and set very low or negative expectations in order to find satisfaction, but that won’t help either: if you anticipate bad things to happen you may become depressed or anxious. There is another alternative: let go of expectation altogether and find joy in the action itself.
In the Bhagavad Gita, a 2nd-century BCE Hindu scripture, one of the core lessons is to take action without expectation of reward:
“Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good.” ¹
Also in the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu in the 6th-century BCE, the virtue of action without expectation is expressed:
“Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife and it will be blunt.
Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
Care about peoples approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”² P.8
This is certainly not a new idea, but it’s one that is often forgotten or overlooked. I first learned this years ago, and today I realized it yet again. Letting go of expectations brings me contentment and peace of mind – holding on to them creates a constant state of anticipation.
When there are no expectations, there can be no displeasure: you either realize the appropriate action to change your situation, recognize the intrinsic lesson in the experience, or see that it doesn’t really matter in the end and isn’t worth getting worked up about. Empty of expectations, you are free to adapt to the way things are.
Our minds have been conditioned to project and predict; we constantly focus on the future instead of living for the moment. Reading these words you might even expect that having no expectations will be hard. Recognize how subtly the thoughts arise!
Become aware of your expectations and observe when they form in your mind. Recognize, accept, and let go – by increasing your awareness of this mechanism you can systematically rid your mind of preconception and find true serenity: satisfaction with the way things are.
I’m an Empowerment Coach here to help you expand your potential by releasing limitations that are holding you back.
1. Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation. Three Rivers Press, 2000. P.65
2. Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching: Translated by Stephen Mitchell. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2015. P.8
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