Intention Without Expectation
Counsellors and other health practitioners are often touting the importance of “living mindfully”. Mindfulness practices can be described as many things (e.g: being present, noticing without judgment, labeling emotions, meditating, body scans – the list goes on), so it can feel intimidating to know where to, or what to, prioritize. Rather than trying to embrace a bunch of new ways-of-being at once (which can set you up for feelings of failure when you struggle to be successful with all of these new practices), I recommend trying just a few things to start – even ONE can make a big difference.
You may have heard the advice of “setting an intention” [around something] when embarking on a new goal. An intention is a determination to act in a certain way. Think of intention as a plan or focus. In contrast, an expectation is a belief that something specific will happen. An expectation is feeling a concreteness about an outcome – it has a success or failure attached to it depending on whether that expectation is realized. Expectations resist taking a curiosity stance or openness to an unknown outcome (considering the only certainty in life is change, this can create big-time disappointment!) Intentions* “go with the flow”, believing that “gifts” can come in ways never anticipated.
Expectations can get bogged down with evaluation and judgment, thus giving rise to disappointment when reality doesn’t match what we envisioned – we are attached to a specific outcome.
The beauty in intentions, is that we are allowing ourselves to be truly open to the unknown. The most mindful I find myself to be is when I am in “vacation-mode”. I love to travel, but I resist having expectations around the preciseness of what gifts I will experience. After all, the best gifts are the ones we never expected!
An example of an unexpected gift I received was getting up early one morning in Nepal to bird-watch in the jungle with our lovely guide. Now I’m not the biggest bird-lover in the world, but I was game to just experience the sheer amazement of taking in the sensory details of the jungle. It turned out that bird-watching was made particularly challenging that day because it was too foggy to see far-away birds. I wasn’t overly disappointed, because I was enjoying the environment of where I was. And then, from out of the mist came a baby elephant. I absolutely adore elephants. I had spent time with elephants prior to this experience, but I had never loved up on a baby elephant. For me, this is one of my cherished memories. While this experience could be considered a win-win either way (being in the jungle is pretty cool), I have also not gotten jobs or housing, or numerous other things that I *thought* I desperately wanted, only to find out after the fact that there was a gift in not getting it as it put me on a path to something better suited for me.
For this reason, I believe that we should always “cast our net wide” when venturing on a new path. I almost never turn down free workshops or lectures in my field because even if the topic is something not entirely in my scope of practice, there is always something new I can learn – either from the material being presented, but just as equally in the people that I chat and network with….gifts are being presented to us all the time…we just have to be open to them not coming in an specific “package”!
*Obviously, intentions must be translated into action in order for us to achieve goals – we cannot just *think* our way into change something. Actions consist of things like time-management, making lists that include prioritizing needed steps for implementation, commitment, and budgeting, in order to achieve our identified goals.