Contentment

...on Expectations & Intentions

I met up with a friend the other day for a nice catch-up, since it had been a crazy 5 months or so since we had last seen each other. Amongst the many things we talked about, we spent some time on dating and the various feelings it brings up for us single folk. It’s so funny, actually. As I’m writing this, it just occurred to me that every time single people talk about dating to each other, there seems to be this underlying, implicit hope of “Have you found a way to work it out?”, “How did you do it?”, “Any new clues on how to navigate this modern world of dating?”

Anyway, my friend was telling me how he was trying to keep low expectations for dates, as a way to avoid anxieties and disappointments. And then it dawned on me: the problem might not be so much about the level of expectations, but about the presence of intention, or lack thereof. Let me explain.

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I’ve been actively letting go of expectations in life. They have brought me nothing but heartache and confusion, and I’ve been trying to live from this place of not having any, and simply following the clues of life. This is an intention. To set an intention is to have a little heart to heart with yourself and really get down to the bottom of things: what matters to you? What do you want? What do you need? What is important for you in this exact moment? These questions are simple, but very difficult! To have clarity on what the answer for these questions is, you need to have clarity on what goes on inside of you: feelings, thoughts, patterns, desires, etc. You need to have clarity on your values. And let’s be honest: just saying that you want to be happy and have love in your life doesn’t cut it. You need to know what this means to you. What does it mean to be happy, TO YOU? What does love in your life mean, TO YOU? This isn’t Disney or Hollywood. These things don’t just happen!

And yes, I’m aware I’m using the word “you” a lot, as if I’m somehow different. I’m not. The “you”, is the collective one. It’s me, you, it’s us. It’s everyone! When I facilitated Dramatherapy groups with people recovering from addiction, I remember the question that clients found most difficult was exactly this: “what does happiness mean to you, and what does it look like on a day to day?” No one had an answer for that! Including me! I’m totally in this group as well. It’s only recently that I’ve started really discovering what happiness means to me.

Unsurprisingly, I also ended up having a similar conversation with my flatmate and closest confidant recently, about these matters. He had recently come across this life coaching/psychology concept of the Six Human Needs. I thought this was a very helpful framework in which to consider our human needs. Other frameworks may make more sense to you, but I wanted to share this one on this occasion. Based on the work of psychologist Chloe Madanes, these needs are:

-          Certainty: the need for security, stability, and reliability.

-          Variety: the need for change, stimulation, and challenge.

-          Significance: the need to feel acknowledged, recognised, and valued.

-          Love and Connection: the need to love and feel loved, and to feel connection with others.

-          Growth: the need to grow, improve and develop, both in character and in spirit.

-          Contribution: the need to give, to help others, and to make a difference.

Now, each person will have a different ranking for these needs. And, in fact, the same person will have a different ranking of needs at different times of their lives. I can tell you right away, that my ranking of needs from two years ago has changed quite dramatically. Additionally, these needs will actually be manifesting in unconscious ways. But this is the power of self-awareness, of therapy, of being attuned to yourself: clarity. Yes, you end up giving up the very useful “ignorance is bliss” paradigm, and begin to be confronted with how responsible you are for your life, but I wouldn’t give it up. But back to these needs. Once you become consciously aware of them, you begin to see how your thoughts, feelings, actions, desires, are all connected to one, or several, of them, depending on their ranking.

Once you become aware of what you need, which then relates to what you want and value, it becomes much easier to determine your intentions. Because after many years of reading about intentions, and setting myself intentions, and experiencing no manifestation whatsoever, I discovered that, perhaps, intentions only work when they are in some kind of alignment with your values. This happened to me with my current job. I set an intention, literally 10 mins before my interview, of “just being Ryan”. We might think we are being ourselves throughout the day, but most of the time we actually aren’t. Most of the time, we are acting according to what we think others expect of us. There is no authenticity in that!

So, for me, “just being Ryan” entailed being very aware of all my feelings in that moment, acknowledging them, reminding myself of my worth and abilities, being present with all of it, and relate to the environment around me from a place of groundedness. This was in direct alignment with my values of feeling my feelings (#Feel), being compassionate and kind to myself (#Love), using fear and trauma for growth (#Grow), and connecting to others authentically (#Connect). “Just being Ryan” actually meant just being honest with myself. I know, there’s no “just” in that. Being honest with ourselves can be very difficult. It certainly is for me. But I do it, because I have growing evidence that this is the only way to live an authentic life.

As I stepped into that room, I was absolutely clear about my intention of being myself. And the difference here, is that I didn’t expect anything from it. I still don’t. Every day, before going to work, I set this exact same intention. You see, intentions are about being, they are not about having or getting, they are not about outcomes at all. Outcomes relate to expectations. And that’s why intentions are immune to disappointments and anxieties: they have no expectation. In that moment, I learned about freedom: having a clear and authentic intention of being, detached from any outcome.

And this is what I mean by “the problem might not be so much about the level of expectations, but about the presence of intention.” An intention requires clarity of values and of core human needs, and clarity requires self-awareness, perhaps some personal development or therapeutic work. When we enter any kind of situation without a clear set of intentions, we are bound to become distracted and thrown out of balance by external circumstances. I often go back to Oprah Winfrey as an example of many great things in life. Having been inspired by her for years, I know that one of her practices before each interview she has ever conducted is to set an intention: to become aware of her feelings regarding the person and the topic, and to detach herself from any outcome. The fact that she was number 1 for 25 consecutive years, and then went on to build her own television network, is no joke! And it’s a great testament of the power of intention and clarity!

The minute we even think: “I’m just going to have low expectations about this date or interview, so I can be more relaxed”, we are already setting some kind of expectation, we are already attaching ourselves to some kind of outcome, we are already dependent on something else.  Expectations often put us at the mercy of external circumstances. They are dependent on people’s behaviours, on cost of things, on weather conditions, etc. The moment someone does something unexpected, the moment an unexpected life event takes place, we’re thrown off balance because they didn’t match our expectations for how life, people, and things, should be. To have expectations creates situations in which we will inevitably become disappointed at something or someone. Nothing is perfect, no one is perfect. Nothing and no one can maintain consistency forever, and so, sooner or later, there will be disappointment, or anxiety.

I’m not saying that any of this is easy, because it really isn’t. But if someone like me, who grew up with a “golden/miraculous child” complex, can experience several instances of no expectation and of clear intention, then anyone can do it.