Sunday, 19 May 2013

A simple way to avoid disappointments forever

Living a fulfilled life could be as simple as doing more exploring and less expecting.

By Nila Sweeney

As I sit here writing about exploration, not expectation, I can’t help but feel a bit like a phony. Of course, I expect myself to come up with brilliant prose about this very subject.

It's ironic isn't it, how we set ourselves up for disappointments without even realising it. It's like an automatic setting in our brain. Every time we do something, we attach to it an expectation of a certain outcome, which prevent us from being open to other possibilities.

When we create expectations rather than exploring what’s possible, we close ourselves off from potential breakthroughs because our expectations dictate how we do things. We exclude other possibilities because we get so fixated with certain outcomes. We miss out on potential opportunities.

When we set expectations around people and ourselves, we're really not giving them, or us, for that matter, a chance. They have to be a certain way, or things should be this way or else...Yes, or else we judge it a failure.

Taking for example my yoga practice. Like many A-type personalities out there, I'm a very driven person. I want to be always at the peak of my game. I have to be able to do certain things well at all times. If not, then I judge myself as a failure because I couldn’t do certain things on certain days. Instead of focusing on being in tuned with my body just like what yoga intended, I'm more preoccupied about looking good and proving to myself and others that I can do it.

When we let our ego and desire run the show, we're setting ourselves up for disappointments or in the case of my yoga practice, injuries. We're limiting the potential outcome in a bid to control the results. When we let go of our need to control, when we soften our stance towards how things should be, when we let go of the shoulds and musts, we're opening ourselves to limitless possibilities and the joy of the unexpected outcome.

The joy of being an explorer

I love the word explorer, the same way I love the word adventurer. They connote so much excitement and uncertainties with just a hint of danger. I aspire to be one and I’m currently working on being an explorer and adventurer in my remaining life.

So I've experimented and tested the theory that you gain more by trying to let go of a preconceived outcome. I started to apply this to my yoga practice.

Rather than forcing my body to do certain poses, I start my practice with the intention of pushing myself to the edge to see how far I can take my practice, and at the same time be open to what comes up. While this may sound like I am still trying to control the outcome, the difference this time is that I do so with softness, openness and compassion to myself. This simple act of setting an intention works wonder in making my practice more enjoyable. I continue to grow and advance my yoga practice without forcing.

Finding the balance between effort and surrender comes as a result of exploring what my body can do. It’s about knowing when to push it to the limit and knowing when to pull back. When I go through my practice without 'forcing' it, I often come away more satisfied with myself. When I discover that my body can do certain things,  it becomes a celebration. It's no longer a yardstick by which I measure myself worth.

I now apply the same principle with my dealings with other people. I used to create certain expectations around my relationships with them and consciously or unconsciously, I act, driven by those expectations. Rather than be open to other possibilities, I sometimes “manipulate” the outcome by some sneaky tactics such as applying pressure onto the other person. Rather than going with however the relationship is meant to be at that point, I ‘force’ the outcome, sometimes to the point of threatening the other person to commit or do things or else I banish them from my life.

Now when I’m with others or meeting people for the first time, I consciously drop all my preconceptions and judgement. I go with an open and curious mind and be open to how things will turn out. When I treat the encounter as an adventure, there was no way for me to lose, only reap the reward of meeting another human being.

Being an explorer is a more fun way to live. It allows you to see things differently. You are in constant discovery. You see things you’d otherwise miss because you were not looking for a specific outcome. You’re open to anything. Suddenly the world becomes your oyster.

Adopting a beginner's mind

There’s something exciting about being a newbie. The rush of discovering something new is a wonderful feeling. Your mind is ready to soak up and learn new things. It prompts curiosity and adventure.

Remember when you’re young and raring to learn anything? I remember the first time I worked in a newsroom. Being a civil engineering graduate and has no previous work experience in television journalism, being thrown in the deep end as a news assistant is the most-nerve wracking yet immensely exciting experience. I was so excited; I was literally jumping out of my skin. I felt so alive. It was a sink or swim situation. So I approached the challenge with open mind and heart and learned everything that I could within the shortest possible time.

I asked a lot of questions, I asked for help. I had no expectations about myself. I treated the challenge as pure exploration and self-discovery: to see if I have what it takes to make it into television journalism. Of course I pushed myself to the limit. There was no way I would not give this opportunity my best shot. But I did it with the attitude that I have no control of the outcome and therefore deliberately didn’t set any expectations. I worked hard and learned everything that I could, out of gratitude for this life-changing opportunity.  Needless to say, I made it and ended up working in broadcasting for about 10 years. I worked my way through to associate produce/writer position at CNBC Asia and then later at CNN International.

Being a beginner can be quite scary, because it exposes our lack of knowledge or expertise in certain areas. But rather than looking at it as a weakness, a better approach will be to look at it as a great opportunity to learn new things and skills. It’s when we’re learning new things and new way of doing things that we grow as human beings.

Adopting a beginner’s mind in everything that we do help us to relax and explore. Our interaction with others becomes more meaningful. When we treat each encounter as a chance to explore, we open ourselves to anything. When we simply explore and not expect anything, we save ourselves unnecessary disappointments. We become a happier, more content human being.


  1. I love this post. So true for so many of us - we need to learn to really remember the point of what we're doing and that sometimes it's about the learning and the experience. I forget this all the time!

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Jennifer. I'm glad you found this post worth reading:-)