I love this season! Something about the christmas lights and cozy nights just makes me feel all warm and tingly. But lately, I must admit I’ve been acting like somewhat of a grinch. It hit me one night while I was getting Cyrus ready for bed. It was bath time and before I even turned on the bath water I could feel my body react. I felt this sense of dread and heaviness. Thats when I realized that I was reacting not to the act of giving him a bath, which can be a wonderful bonding experience, but instead to the expectation that there would be problems– that I would have to beg him to take off his clothes, that I would have to drag him into the bath tub, that in the bath I would have to ask him 99999999 times to keep the water in the tub and then after the bath I’d have to ask him 99999999 more times to get out, that I would have to drag him out of the tub… you get the idea.
So I paused for a second, could my negative expectations be a self fulfilling prophecy? I took a deep breath, tried to let go of any expectations that I had and then I asked him nicely to take of his clothes for bath time. And guess what? He did it! No argument no struggle, and the rest of bed time went equally smoothly.
Our expectations can manifest themselves. You don’t have to believe in new age “science” to understand that even the subtle expression of thoughts and emotions can affect those around you. Our expectations even greatly affect our own actions. For example, if you expect that you won’t get accepted to a certain school will you even bother to apply? Probably not.
That’s not to say that having expectations isn’t important or necessary, just that the ability to suspend expectations is equally important. The “expectation gap” is a well studied phenomenon where people are less happy when their reality does not live up to their expectation. This concept seems simple and obvious but what is interesting is that it is only based on perception not necessarily on the actual quantifiable outcome. For example Olympic silver medalists are often less happy than Olympic bronze medalists because the silver medalist looks forward and compares himself to the gold medalist, while the bronze medalist compares himself to the non-medalists. Although you might expect that winning a silver medal may make someone more happy than winning a bronze medal, this is not the case because of their perceptions.
In this way we can also hold ourselves back from experiencing greater happiness by holding on to expectation. In yoga we try to let go of expectation, to experience our body with fresh eyes each time we come to the mat. A pose that may have felt hard or difficult one day could feel light and buoyant the next day, but you may miss that if you are always expecting it to feel hard. Our expectations guide our experience of reality, if we hold to tightly to them we are bound to be endlessly disappointed and to miss out on the blessings that come from the unexpected.