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Undoing Expectations

Prerequisites: undoing fear

Expectations are the source of all upsets

(becoming unbetrayable by others or by life)

Without expectations we would never get upset

Without expectations we would get more of what we want

Without expectations we would have much better relationships with others

Why would anyone indulge in expectations given all the costs? Yet, most of us much of the time, continue to indulge in expectations, either consciously or unconsciously.


Why? Why do we, given that expectations set us up for so much suffering, continue to create them again and again, no matter the cost? I've discovered four benefits for indulging in expectations:

The short-term benefits of indulging in expectations

  • We do it, in large part automatically, because expectations make us feel safer. They don’t make us safer. They often increase risk, but they make us feel safer. For example, you just assume that your boss will give you the raise as he indicated he would because it would stimulate your fear if you entertained the notion that your boss might not followthrough on what he said he would do. Or you assume that your girlfriend will show up on time for your date and she won't cancel your plans together. If you allowed for and accepted the risk that she might not do as she said she would, that could stimulate some fear that you don't want to feel. Better just to blind yourself by assuming she will do what she said she would.

  • Another benefit of expectations is that they allow us to indulge in fantasies that things will turn out a certain way. We get to count our chickens before they hatch: "I am so excited he's going to come to my party!" or "There's no way she won't honor our agreement." It could dampen your excitement or increase you fear if you allowed for the chance that he might not come to the party or that she wouldn't keep her agreement.

  • A third possible benefit is that it helps us to avoid a difficult choice. If we fully face the fact that a certain thing may or may not happen, especially when it involves someone else's behavior, then we're presented with a new Frightened-Fearless Integrity choice to make that we would not otherwise have.

    For example, let's say that a potential client tells you that, if you help her get her house ready for the market, she will list it with you, as her real estate agent. Indulging in an expectation, you go ahead and help her get the house ready for sale, just assuming that she is bound by her verbal agreement. Consequently you have just set yourself up for the possibility of feeling betrayed. You don't openly face the risk you are taking.

    If you did, you might realize that before agreeing to help get the house ready for the market, you need to say, "That's a reasonable arrangement. I'm happy to go ahead with that if you sign a letter of agreement to list your house with me afterwards." You must choose courage to show that you don't fully trust her verbal agreement. And, if she refuses to sign the letter of intent, then you must also then choose courage to let her know that you're not willing to go ahead.

    Yet, with the signing of a letter of intent, even though you've reduced the risk, it can never be eliminated completely. However, with the reduced risk, you're able to go ahead and "be happy" with whichever way it turns out. You're playing the game with open eyes and you set it up so that you are 100% responsible for any and all risks that you take, leaving no openings to blame her or anyone else, including yourself.


  • A fourth benefit is that having an expectation that something will happen for sure helps us to push through an unpleasant process to hopefully get to a result that our Next wants. Yes, this could provide a value, but at what cost? Cashing in on this value helps perpetuate your lack of Now-Next integrity. It perpetuates the war between Now and Next. Example: "I can tolerate the pain of this training because I know I'll be able to win the race."

Let’s distinguish expectations from wants, intentions, commitments, promises, and predictions

"But if I don't have expectations, why would I do anything?"


This question implies that the speaker lacks clear distinctions of the ideas of "wants," "intentions and commitments," "promises," and "predictions."



If I want something, yet attach no expectations to it, then, if I don’t get what I want, I will not be upset. “I wanted him to invite me to the wedding. He didn’t. That’s interesting.” Note: many people do get upset when they don’t get what they want, because they have the belief that they “should get what they want,” which attaches an expectation to every want that arises.

Intentions and commitments


If I intend something and take actions in service to that intention, yet attach no expectations to it, then, if it doesn’t occur, I may be surprised, but I will not be upset. “I intended to get a raise and did several things to support that happening. I didn’t get the raise. I am interested in finding out why my actions did not result in getting a raise.” Note: many people do get upset when they don’t get what they intended and worked toward, because they have the belief that they “should get what they intended and work for” and "feel that they deserve it," which attaches expectations to intentions.

Promises to others

A promise is a commitment to someone else, leaving aside the the notion of making a promise to yourself, in which you are staking your reputation or other possible consequences on whether or not you deliver on the result. If a promise has no expectations attached to it by the maker of the promise, then upset will not occur if the result is not delivered. Note: many people do get upset when they don't deliver on what they promised, because they have the belief that they "should always keep their promises," which attaches expectations to promises.

Promises made to you

If another makes a promise to you, there will always be some risk they may not keep it. For different types of promises, made by different individuals that you know to varying degrees or even by institutions, you most often will be able to assess the level of risk that you are taking and how much you might be willing to rely on that promise. Even so, you can still be off in your assessment of how much risk there is or not. If you've attached an expectation to the promise, then if the promise is not kept, you will be upset, blame the other party, and maybe even feel betrayed. You did that to yourself.


If I predict something, yet attach no expectations to it, then, if what I predicted didn’t happen, I may be curious to learn more about how to improve the accuracy of my predictions, but I will not be upset. “I predicted Hillary Clinton would win the election, but she didn’t. Interesting.” Note: many people do get upset when what they predicted didn’t happen, because they have the belief that they “should be able to predict accurately,” which attaches an expectation to every prediction that they make.

The definition of expectation

If I expect something to happen or not happen, then if my expectation is not met, I will automatically think and feel that something is wrong with me, or something is wrong with another or others, or something is wrong with God or the universe. Expectation is blame waiting to happen. Expectation is setting yourself up to be a possible victim. “I expected that we would never get divorced. But, after what that bastard did, I couldn’t live with him any longer!”

Toxic words create expectations

Our language is fraught with toxic, yet seemingly “innocent” words, that co-create our expectations:


  • should

  • should not

  • good

  • bad

  • right

  • wrong

  • must

  • must not

  • fair

  • unfair 

  • just

  • unjust

  • always

  • never

  • proper

  • improper

  • deserve

  • don’t deserve

  • worthy

  • unworthy

  • duty

  • obligation

  • failure

  • success

  • giver

  • taker

  • good enough

  • not good enough

  • greedy

  • selfish

  • unselfish

  • honest

  • dishonest

  • integrity

  • lack of integrity

  • lazy

  • diligent

  • slacker

  • hard working

  • loyal

  • disloyal

  • loving

  • unloving

  • considerate

  • inconsiderate

  • patient

  • impatient

  • mature

  • immature

  • polite

  • impolite

  • respectful

  • disrespectful

  • responsible

  • irresponsible

  • sensitive

  • insensitive

  • supposed to

  • not supposed t

  • stubborn

  • trust

  • distrust

  • betrayal

  • marriage

  • divorce

  • persistence

  • quitting

  • punctual

  • late

  • sin

  • virtue name just some of them.


Fighting with reality

Everyone of these words, depending upon how it’s used, sets up a potential fight or argument with reality. And, as Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.”

Is your use benign or toxic?

Each of these words can be used benignly or toxically. If their use sets up or reinforces an expectation, then their use is toxic.

Toxic awareness

The first step in dismantling expectations is to become aware that you’re creating them by your thinking or speaking. One important way to create this awareness is by learning which words with their meanings have the potential to be toxic. In addition to reviewing the words above, check out the section on toxic words.

Yellow flags

Once you’ve created that “yellow flag” in your mind that pops up whenever you or another uses a potentially toxic word, ask yourself, “Am I creating or reinforcing an expectation by thinking, speaking, or listening to this word?” If the answer is “yes,” and you can’t easily let that expectation go just by noticing it, then you can undo that expectation by the undoing fear process, since the main reason we automatically create expectations is to try to fear safer.

"Should" as toxic

For example, let’s imagine that you notice the belief that, “I should always get what I want,” with “should” as the toxic word. Consequently, you have an expectation that you will always get what you want, which sets you up for a lot of upsets. But just noticing this belief in a particular situation may not be enough to dissolve the expectation. More specifically, you notice that this belief expresses itself in, “I should get a raise next week.” In this example, you would apply the undoing fear process by speaking either or both of the following:

Undoing expectations

“Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared I won’t always get what I want!”


“Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared I won’t get a raise next week!”

Use undoing fear to undo the expectation.


Remember: belly breathing, slowly silly shouting 11 times

Looking for the expectations

Sometimes, however, you won’t notice the underlying toxic word right away; but you’ll just catch yourself in creating an expectation: “I’m expecting my friend to be punctual for our meeting tomorrow.” Then you would undo the expectation by undoing the fear that might not be on time:


“Holy cats and jeepers creepers, I am so scared my friend might be late tomorrow!”

Use undoing fear to undo the expectation.

Did you undo it?

How do you know if you’ve undone an expectation? A good test is this: Imagine the circumstance turning out the way you don’t want, like your friend showed up late or you didn’t get that raise, would you still know that:


  • You’ll be okay.

  • You won’t blame your friend, in case they came late.
    You won't blame your boss if you don't get the raise.
    You won't blame yourself in any case.


You would be able to know this because, in making the appointment or going for the raise, you accepted the risk that it might not happen as desired or intended and you were still happy to go for it happening anyway. You being 100% responsible.

Check out this story of how avoided seeing myself as a victim: How I did not feel taken advantage of.

Make the games winnable

Another perspective is that we play many games in life. All games have risks. Let’s become aware of those risks as much as possible, undo our fear of those risks, and if needed, then decide clearly whether or not we’re willing to take those risks with our eyes open, knowing that we’ll be okay and it will be a blame-free game, whichever way it turns out. When we indulge in expectations, we are blinding ourselves. Life goes much better, with virtually no upsets, with our eyes open.

Back to the objection we started with

"But if I don't have the expectation that I will get the result I want, then how can I be motivated to take the actions needed to get the result?"

Two answers.


  • If you've insisted on finding a way to enjoy the process of going for what you want, thereby creating Now-Next Integrity, regardless of whether or not you get the result, then you can easily find the motivation in the enjoyment of the process itself, regardless of the risk. See the NNI toolkit for the many approaches to enjoy the process.

  • If we clearly decide that the chances of getting the desired result are well worth the risk that we may not get the result, then we can be happy to go for it, no matter the outcome, because we've made friends with the fear that it might not turn out the way we want. Moreover, our actions are likely to be better chosen than if we are sure, because of our blind expectation, that we will get the result. 

Rooting out the expectations

The automaticity of creating expectations runs deep. When you first start undoing your expectations, it may seem that they are never ending. I have found, however, that, as I have kept dismantling them whenever I catch myself creating one, they occur more and more rarely. Whenever they do occur, I see it as an opportunity to take 100% responsibility and to take steps, by undoing my fear, to avoid similar upsets in the future.

See also undoing shoulds.

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