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What Do You Expect? - Week 3 of "Mental Muscle" Boot Camp

Posted: 02/10/10 12:05 PM ET

Part 5 in a series.

The theme of expectations during this week of "Mental Muscle" Spiritual Boot Camp was a tough nut for me to crack. By comparison to everything that came up with last week's challenge of "no complaining", it took a while for anything to hit home.

James Mellon started the week by asking Boot Campers to think about the expectations we have for ourselves and the expectations we think other people have of us.

My immediate thought was, "I have no expectations." I have trained myself to have no expectations. As far as what anyone expects of me, there are only two people that came to mind on that count: my parents.

That was as far as I got by Wednesday and it felt a little frustrating. I did do one really good experiment though. Wherever I would normally use the words "want" or "hope" in a sentence, I substituted it with "expect."

The energy shift was palpable. I was truly surprised to find the word "expect" has a tremendous amount of power. It feels more like a command than a desire.

During the morning journaling period, I would write out positive things I expected for the day ahead. Most of what I expected came to pass. Not everything, but many things. I expected to be early for a special evening at NoHo Arts and wasn't. However, I also expected an easier pace at work, which happened, and that's quite a feat!

Each day I also wrote, "No matter what comes my way, I expect I will handle it."

It nagged at me, though, that I hadn't zeroed in on James' directive. I had no problem coming up with what happens if people don't live up to my expectations of them, but I couldn't think of what I expect of myself!

Lately, I don't know what to expect, so I tend to expect nothing. Some people might say, "If you expect nothing, you get nothing" but I know that's not true. There are plenty of times I have expected nothing from a situation and amazing, unexpected things have happened!

In that respect, for a long time now, I have felt having no expectations was a good thing. To me, having no expectations is equal to no disappointments and "being realistic."

During Friday morning's session, James tapped into that concept by asking, "What is a realistic expectation?"

"To be happy," one Boot Camper responded.

"No no," James said. "Don't give me an expectation. What does it mean to have a realistic expectation?"

Almost immediately, I thought of all the "realistic" reasons I've given to explain away why I haven't fully pursued certain career interests.

"There's too much competition. I won't get paid enough to live the way I do now. The business is not the same as it was; it's become fragmented and unpredictable. I don't know the right people. On top of that, the economy sucks. It's too uncertain."

All of those may be valid observations, but they are all justifications and negative ones at that. As I realized this, I went to the computer and typed the following into the Boot Camp online chat room:

"A realistic expectation is an illusion. I just got this. It's a limiting concept."

"Being realistic" has essentially been the act of convincing myself, with as much ammunition as possible, that something I want to happen is not going to happen. I've rationalized why ambition is too risky and squashed my confidence in the process. How lousy is that?

Now, of course, there are certain things that are absolutely unrealistic to expect. I can expect a major Hollywood agent to spot me in a grocery store tomorrow and do everything in his power to make me a star, but I'm likely to be disappointed!

However, think of all the stories you've heard from people that knew, innately, their dreams were always going to come true. People around them may have called them crazy, or told them their goals were lofty or "pie in the sky" but they didn't listen. They expected everyone else was wrong and they were right.

Although I have stated I have "no expectations" there is a part of me that says that cannot be possible.

There are many amazing moments and events in my life I never planned for, but in some deep way, expected would happen. These are generally not situations I went after with full force and gusto. In almost every instance, opportunity knocked and I answered.

There is a quote in the "Mental Muscle" book from one of James' former Boot Campers that sums this up perfectly.

"I think sometimes I wait until something happens to realize that it's what I expected to happen. It's time to put the expectation before the experience." -- Anonymous.

Finally, after six days, I keyed into James' directive. It's not that I have had "no" expectations, it's that I've chosen to be unconscious of my expectations. If I don't think about what I expect for myself, then there will be no reason for upset if I fail. I've grown complacent and waited for things to happen to me in due time, because they usually have.

I can hear James now, saying "There's your b.s.!" (belief system).