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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The Downside of Expectations

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: May 16th 2012


downSo often we go through life doing things and expecting something to come from it. We may do a favor for someone expecting something in return or maybe we practice Yoga so we will look for fit or be relaxed, or maybe we're going to practice meditation in order to break some old habits. It’s important to take a moment and be mindful of our expectations. This may best be explained by a story:

In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn describes a New Yorker Cartoon where two Zen Monks are sitting side by side meditating. After a while, the younger Monk turns to the older Monk quizzically. The older Monk then replies, "Nothing happens, this is it." 

As soon as we do something with the expectation of something else happening, we are more likely to lose the ability to stay present and set ourselves up for disappointment. To take it further, I’d say this also has a significant impact on depressive relapse. How? By focusing on the expectation, you are narrowing in on the gap in between where you are and where you would rather be. If you are not where you would rather be, you feel "less than" and disappointed with your current state. There is nothing wrong with a little disappointment as it can create motivation to improve, but when this becomes a habit, it can lead to depressed mood.

Life is full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs. The truth is, it is all part of life. In The Now Effect we talk about saying, "It's like this...and this too." What if from time to time when we were not feeling well or when we were feeling great we could say "It's like this! Yes, this is a part of life and it is already here right now, let me open up to feel it." This simple phrase can bring us closer to accepting the reality of the present moment and allow us to experience life as it is, right now. This in no way means resigning to the uncomfortable feelings that may be here, but quite the opposite. We need to be able to be present with what is here to recognize that we have a choice in how to responds.

The great paradox of mindfulness practice, the practice of intentionally paying attention to present moment while putting aside our programmed biases from the past, is that we let go of wanting the experience to be anything other than it is and we have more of an ability to make a change. We just accept or acknowledge things as they are from moment to moment. 

In other words, when we stop the habitual struggle of wanting to be somewhere else, we can stop the war inside and begin to listen more deeply to ourselves and others. This renewed connection can open us up to strengths of compassion, empathy, and a greater ability to trust in our own experience.

Try saying "This is it" or "It's like this...and this too" from time to time throughout the day. Tune into your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Do you notice more pleasant or unpleasant feelings? Get to know how you're doing during these days that pass. Does this make a difference in how you choose to respond to the next moment?

As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

The Title - Myrna C. - May 23rd 2012

I think people in general have a distorted sense of reality; and today's bombardment of media-driven consumerism  does not help anchor people into a more logical direction.

Along with "mindfulness", we are supposed to be drawn away from abstract/ metaphorical thinking that american culture has grown accustom to. Thomas Hobbes gave this warning in his book Leviathan that the inability to put a proper name to a thing (logic) would be deceptive.

If we acknowlege reality the correct way, the glass is neither "half full" or "half empty"; the glass is an accumulation in its entirety, of both positive and negative aspects; to say otherwise, would be like averting our eyes from the whole picture of life.

It is very difficult to begin from an unrealistic concept of life, which for Americans means the "perfect" life (i.e. the perfect marriage, the perfect car, the perfect facebook page, the perfect job) and at the same time attain realistic goals. 

The greater tragedy of not being "in the now" would be a society anesthetized from dealing with realistic problems along with their realistic solutions.

The song "Nobody Told Me" by John Lennon was what came to my mind from reading this artical; and a good artical indeed!

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