Sunday, January 30, 2011

Expectations Great and Small

Last year President Obama was at a Town Hall meeting in DC. A woman asked him a question. She said she was a big fan of President Obama’s and had enthusiastically voted for him. She was excited about the change he promised. Two years in, she said was tired- tired of defending him, tired of defending his policies and exhausted from waiting to feel a positive difference in her life. She said that she was now worried for her future. It was a heartfelt statement that ended in a powerful question- “Mr President, please tell me truthfully, is this my new reality?”

It was powerful because she wasn’t necessarily looking for specific answers. She was looking for hope. She was looking for motivation to persevere when times are tough. People all around the world are feeling exhausted- tired of waiting for economies to turn around, tired of waiting for democracy, tired of waiting to be heard. Maybe it’s even true in your personal life. Are you tired of waiting for a break after working hard for years? Are you tired of waiting for the suffering to end? Are you exhausted from a series of setbacks that leave you feeling hopeless? Maybe you can relate to the woman at the Town Hall in DC. In those moments the big question on your mind is, “Is this my new reality?”

You aren’t looking for an easy escape, and you aren’t looking for someone else to solve the problem for you. You are just looking for a little optimism- a little self belief that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, a little outside validation that there is a future waiting for you that is brilliant and abundant.

Great presidents have provided this hope at the most important moments. They have pointed forward to better times. Think back to Ronald Reagan saying, “America’s best days are yet to come.” Obama gave this type of speech in his State of the Union address last week. He said, “We are poised for progress.” And “The future is ours to win.” He did a good job of building optimism at a time when people are looking for a reason to keep believing.

In the shadow of the attempted assassination and shootings in Tucson, we need hope. In the light of massive, violence and protests in Tunisia and Cairo, we need hope. In the aftermath of floods and devastation in Australia and Brazil, we need hope. We need to know that despair and anxiety are NOT our new reality, and begin putting flesh on the vision for a better future. Expect a better future. Anticipate a better future. Yes, it does get better after you lose a loved one. Yes, you will get your groove back after a relationship break-up. Yes you will find your way in life after years of struggle.

My theme today is the Law of Expectation, closely relate to the Law of Attraction that I will write about next week. What better time to focus on the power of attracting the future that you want to see in your life and the world. The Roman philosopher Horace who lived just before the time of Jesus said, “Life is largely a matter of expectation.” You get what you expect because your mind largely creates the reality that manifests in the world. How does this law work? Is it absolutely true? Are there exceptions?

What is the Law of Expectation?

I heard a story about an American minister named Terry Sweetser that illustrates the Law of Expectation. He had just arrived in his first parish. In his first year his sermons were so boring that people were leaving the church in droves. After one service a young boy came up to him and offered him a handful of quarters. The minister asked him why he was being so generous. The boy said, “My parents say you’re the poorest preacher we’ve ever had so I thought I would help.” (Well I added that bit but the rest of the story is true) In his second year people began returning. He wasn’t aware that the governance group had met in his first year. They discussed terminating him because he was SO awful. They chose a different strategy. They agreed to spread a rumor that their pastor was the most promising preacher they had ever heard. They believed that as that message spread, he would begin to live up to the expectation. One day the minister walked into a restaurant and overheard someone saying, “That’s the new preacher. He is one of the most promising preachers this town has seen.” He wondered about this because his confidence was low from some critical feedback he’d received. But he had noticed some improvement and didn’t know why. He decided that if that was what people were saying then he had better work harder and make sure it was true. This is the Law of Expectation in operation. Set yourself and others up to succeed with some positive expectations.

Another name for the Law of Expectation is the Pygmalion Effect. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was the sculptor who carved a statue of a beautiful woman, then fell in love with it. He believed strongly that it could come to life, and it did! The Pygmalion Effect can be used to sculpt the part of your life that you are least satisfied with, or something about the world that needs changing. The Pygmalion Effect has been used in schools and hospitals and encouraging results have been seen in studies where the people with the higher expectations achieved the better results.

Out of curiosity, I searched President Obama’s State of the Union speech for the word “expectation”. It showed up three times. The first reference was to the expectations of voters that politicians will work together. I like that idea that when you vote you are participating in democracy by way of the Law of Expectation. You are stating your expectations, whether it’s in your choice of candidate or your preference in a referendum. The other two references to expectations in the State of the Union speech related to education. He said we need to create classrooms with high expectations. Again, especially if you are a parent or a teacher, think about your expectations of children. It makes a difference. If you expect little from them, then they will oblige. Note that it’s not because they need to fulfill your dreams but because you want them to have large dreams and urge them to strive for those dreams.

The Law of Expectation works for others and it works for yourself. By striving to be all that you can be, you find yourself exceeding your own expectations. Whether you are a believer at this point or a skeptic, it’s at least true to some extent. There is room in your life to build a lot more positive momentum through expanding your expectations.

The Law of Expectation and Spiritual Traditions

The whole Hebrew Prophetic tradition is an example of the Law of Expectation. They expected a better time of freedom and prosperity and expressed their expectation without a hint of doubt that it would happen. “Thus says the Lord” was a statement of absolute confidence. Then in the New Testament, Jesus said “Ask and it shall be given to you.” Once again, there is no room for ambiguity in these words. Articulate your expectation and it WILL happen. In terms of positive thinking, the Proverbs pick up the dominant Greek culture of the time and say “Guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4;23)

Buddhism outlined similar ideas. Buddha said, “All that we are is a result of what we think.” Buddhism and Hinduism introduce the idea that the Law of Expectation will be fulfilled, whether it’s in this life or another.

One of the ancient Hindu texts speak of Vaastu Shastra. It is an ancient theory of architecture where you can build a house, a life, and a spirit that is all in alignment. The idea is that the earth is a living organism, and everything in the earth has living energy. All these living energies interact with each other, either creating harmony or disharmony. If you follow the basic ideas behind Vaastu Shastra, a little like Feng Shui, you can expect to manifest abundance in your life.

This science is complete in itself.
Happiness to the whole world it can bring
All the four benefits it bestows on you
Rightful living, money, fulfillment of desires and bliss
Are all available in this world itself
~ Viswakarma in Vaastushastra

Is the Law of Expectation Absolute?

The spiritual traditions seem to reinforce the idea that the Law of Attraction works. But is it absolute? After all, the spiritual traditions also speak about predestination and either the mysterious plan of God or the unpredictable law of Karma. What if your expectations don’t match the larger plan of life?

Don’t expectations get you in trouble at times? Sometimes expectations are a cunning attempt by the ego to avoid living in the moment. You can live in the future where everything is rosy or you can dwell in anxiety because you’re trapped in your imagination. Don’t you sometimes find yourself worn down by other peoples’ unrealistic expectations? Don’t you sometimes even exhaust yourself with your own perfectionist expectations? Do you struggle with guilt when your expectations don’t manifest? Expectations that are unrealistic or guilt laden are like noise in your life.

So how do you discern between expectations that are just noise in your life and expectations that raise you up to your highest potential? How do you distinguish between expectations that squash hope and expectations that inspire confidence? How do you draw a line between your own true path and the expectations of others?

There is a Facebook page called “The TV show Full House gave me unrealistic expectations about family life.” Thankfully it only has 12 members, but it’s a real issue. Sometimes your own fantasies get in the way of enjoying life the way it is. Maybe you grew up with an expectation that once you left home you would be completely content, or once you got married you would be happy, or once the kids left home you would be able to really start living. The expectation in this case just keeps you from living the life that is in front of you.

Then there is the recent publicity around the Chinese Tiger Mother. Some are even drawing a connection between strict Chinese parenting and the growing economy in China. Tiger Mother has two daughters. Her ultra high expectations seemed to work well for her older daughter but her younger daughter rebelled. An expectation that is too high will tip some kids over the edge. An expectation that is too low will create an energy of indifference. Follow the child and match your expectations to their circumstance. As Robert Brault said, “Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit.”

Clearly the Law of Expectation comes with a very fine line. So how do you find that line? There is likely no absolute answer to this question. This fine line is not a problem that can be solved but is rather a tension that has to be managed. Here are some general discussion points.

Expectations that Inspire

1. Open expectations inspire.

Open expectations inspire. Fixed expectations frustrate. One of the ways that the fine line can be balanced is to distinguish between specific, fixed expectations and open expectations. Open expectations are flexible and bend to fit changing circumstances. President Reagan once again provides a nice illustration of this point. In this week’s Time magazine there is an article about Reagan. The author says that Reagan “was a practical visionary, happy to claim victory if he could get 80% of what he wanted?

Another way of making this point is to shoot for the moon and even if you fail you will still land among the stars. Celebrate the partial victory with your kids or with your health. Leave room for the movement of forces outside of your understanding or control. Take patience and timing into account. If you lock your expectations in too specifically, you could be in for a rude shock. In terms of parenting this will likely mean adjusting your expectations according to the child and the circumstance.

2. Expectations that Motivate

Author Norman Cousins was given little chance of surviving from heart disease. He developed his own recovery program that included massive doses of Vitamin C along with hefty doses of Marx Brothers films. He found that 10 minutes of belly laughing a day gave him many hours of pain free sleep. Cousins said this about health care generally,

Nothing I have learned in the past decade at the medical school seems to me more striking than the need of patients for reassurance. . . . Illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that people don’t know how to deal with. They are reaching out not just for medical help but for ways of thinking about catastrophic illness. . . . Reassurance is not a Pollyanna concoction aimed at deception. It is not a verbal tranquilizer for creating a mood of synthetic calm. It is a way of putting the human spirit to work . . . The wise physician . . . instead of dwelling on all the melancholy possibilities, offers a plan of battle in which the patient has an active role. Quoted from Head First, the Biology of Hope, by Norman Cousins, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1989, page 66.

The Law of Expectation is not just wishful thinking. It is about putting the human spirit to work. It is a motivating energy that translates into positive effect when combined with action. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, “You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.”

3. Know where the expectation is coming from.

You have to search your soul to know why you have certain expectations. If you are running from reality, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you are trying to live vicariously through your kids, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you are in a fantasy world about your health and aren’t taking appropriate precautions, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. The Law of Expectation only works if it is coming from a pure motivation and has loose attachment to specific outcomes.

The Law of Expectation and Doubt

Taking into account the fine line of expectations, it is still clearly a powerful tool in human fulfillment. I will end with one last thought about doubt. Doubt is the largest hurdle when it comes to the Law of Expectation. Some of the loudest noise in your mind comes from the voice of doubt telling you that you are no good, and should never expect anything good in your life.

This is the theme in the movie The King’s Speech. King George VI was suddenly forced into the spotlight at a time when live radio was the new expectation. He was living with debilitating doubt that manifested as an awful stutter. He worked with a creative speech therapist to prepare to give the famous speech after Britain declared war on Germany. One of the tricks the speech therapist used was to blast loud music through headphones while King George read from a script. While the music drowned out his active voice of doubt, he read flawlessly. Once the music stopped, his stutter resumed.

I resonate very strongly with this story. When I was a teenager I was told by career advisers that whatever I did with my life, and this would probably not be much according to them, it should NOT involve public speaking. I developed my own voice of doubt that was drowning out my self belief. When public speaking became an inevitable part of my life goals, I had to overcome the voice of doubt and set expectations that I COULD speak well and confidently.

Do you have an issue with doubt? What is the noise in your mind that is drowning out all the possibilities of the Law of Expectation? Is it the precocious voice of skepticism or the winy voice of perfectionism?

Uncover the real blocks to your highest potential, suspend and heal the voices that limit you and set about living the Law of Expectation. After all who are you NOT to be gorgeous, fabulous, talented and abundant in all things? Manifest your highest potential. Raise your expectations, raise your sights, raise your optimism and raise your glass to a life of abundance. You are a child of God, the Universe and the Source of all potential. Namaste.

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