Reality vs. Expectations - Is There A Magic Formula?
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
7 months ago, I embarked on my journey through Central America - without any specific destination in mind, rather finding my route as I go.
So far this went pretty well and I am truly grateful that I could visit so many beautiful places at this part of the world.
To get around I never use guide books. Instead I ask other travelers where they have been and what they enjoyed most.
So as time passed, I kept hearing again and again about that one beautiful place that apparently offered everything I was looking for: A hostel with a great vibe of like-minded people, located in a tiny village in Nicaragua directly at the beach, and with good surf.
Every time someone told me about it, I was like "Man, that sounds awesome! For sure, I'm gonna go there and stay for a while..."
All the things people told me created a certain expectation in my mind...
Well, one thing I learnt about life: reality is often different from our expectations.
So after nearly 5 months when I first heard about this "magical place", I finally arrived.
As you might already guess, it was the complete opposite of what I imagined it to be. There was only one other guy in the hostel since prior it has been under construction. It rained cats and dogs, it was full of mosquitos, and apparently there was no good surf recently...
"Doesn't feel like people told me.." was the first thought in my head. In the past I would have been definitely bummed out. Immediately I would have gone into overthinking mode and searching for alternative places where I could go.
"Maybe if I leave early tomorrow, I can make it to that other place people told me about." or "Sh*t, maybe I shouldn't follow people's advices anymore, and start researching on my own." etc.
In any way, I would have been stressed out and probably couldn't sleep well that night because my mind would have been so occupied about the future and what to do.
Well, last night I slept like a baby (maybe also due to the 12 hours of traveling that day). But I think the main reason was that I just accepted the situation. I didn't go into resistance with how things were at that moment.
I didn't try to change reality, so that it is aligned with my expectations again. No, I just let it be... and I was at peace...
SIDE NOTE: I'm well aware that the situation I just described might look fairly easy to accept and to let it be. At least compared to more severe issues like illness, death or loss of any kind. I don't want to compare my situation to others. I just want to point out what helps me when I'm disappointed or frustrated with certain things or circumstances in my life.
Some people say "Don't have expectations, then you can't get disappointed".
While I think this is certainly true, I haven't figured out a way to "not have expectations". People tell me certain things and I naturally create an imagine in my head which in return creates certain expectations. I guess that is how our mind works - or at least mine.
My best friend told me once about the equation happiness = reality - expectations and I definitely think it is true to some extent.
If we don't have any expectations, we feel happy since it just equals our perceived reality.
If we have a lot of expectations though, it lowers our level of happiness since it distracts from our perceived reality. Sounds plausible to me, but as I mentioned already, it's hard for me to go through life without expectations...
So, I thought about a new approach where we don't try to live without expectations, but alongside them... This begs one question though... How can we be happy and satisfied while having all these expectations in our head?
Well, to answer in one word: Surrender.
By not going into resistance with what we expect, but accepting how things are. Thus we instantly create a certain relief.
I don't say that we should just take anything that life throws at us and not trying to change anything. No. But the first step is to let go and accept how things are right now. Then we can think about what we want and what actions to take in order to achieve it. But before that, the first step of surrender is important!
The good side of expectations
Although expectations have an overall bad reputation, I think they also have a bright side. They create anticipated joy.
When we book our next holiday, we expect it to be a lot of fun... To lay at the beach, enjoy the good weather and swim in the ocean.
That is how we imagine it in the future, but it creates a positive feeling right now. No matter if it will be really like this when we will be there, it creates these feelings already in the present moment.
For example, I guess most of us know the feeling once we book a flight ticket. Our mind realizes that it will most certainly become a reality. I mean, we have just booked it.
So, if we have positive expectations about the place we are going (or about the future in general) we get filled with joyful anticipation.
In Germany we even have a word for exactly that feeling: "Vorfreude". (Actually we have a word for everything). And Vorfreude is a great feeling, sometimes even better than the actual event itself.
Additionally, experiencing positive feelings like gratitude, joy and love in the current moment will attract more of the same things into our lives in the future. Simply because our mind is occupied with the positive instead of the negative and therefore our attention (and energy) goes to those things. I'll write another article about this topic soon.
We shouldn't judge ourselves either if we feel angry or frustrated when our expectations aren't met. We all perceive reality differently.
So, it is natural that we will see some things as disappointing, when our own reality is worse than the "actual" one and that we are happily surprised if it's the other way round. And honestly, what is reality anyway...? As I said, it's different for every one...
Surrendering can't be forced. I think it is better to be angry than to suppress our instant reaction and enforce acceptance. Surrender can be only achieved by truly letting go.
I want to leave you with this...
I think, having expectations is a natural human trait. So, we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves - neither if our expectations aren't met nor on our first emotional reaction. However, we should try to step back and accept the situation before we approach changing it. One step at a time...
Regarding my living/travel situation, I have no idea if I'm gonna stay here or if I continue further. For sure, I give this place a chance and see.
In any case, we gotta trust the unknown...
Thanks for reading and expect more blog posts to come - or don't ;)
PS: Accepting what is and letting go is closely connected to feeling gratitude.
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León, Nicaragua, June 2022