Last year I was in India talking to a friend of mine who is a Buddhist. I was telling him that even though I was extremely satisfied with my accomplishments, I wasn’t completely happy. I felt there was something missing. This is the story of what he said to me and how that changed my mind.
My friend taught me the power of setting expectations. If you think you can run 20 miles and you run 10, you’ll be disappointed. But, if you think you can run 5 miles and you run 10, you’ll be extremely happy.
When my friend told me that I had to detach myself from expectations, I was like, “No way. I’m not going to settle for less than I think I can get.”
He explained that there’s nothing wrong with desiring things. We all do that. The problem is when achieving a certain goal determines how happy you are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you want to make a million dollars. You work really hard and are extremely determined to make it happen. The goal becomes an obsession. Three years and a lot of hard work later, you make your million dollars. Do you think that now you’ll be happy forever? Of course not! Now you’ll want to make two million dollars, or even ten.
There are two problems with this:

  1. Our goals are always moving and this is a great thing. We want to grow and that’s good for us. The key here is to understand this principle and realize that once we achieve a goal, we’ll want to set a new, bigger goal.
  2. You spend much more time in the journey that you do at the destination. Do you want to sacrifice three years of joy for one day of happiness?

My Takeaways

  • Dream big and set big goals, but enjoy every second of the journey of getting there.
  • Understand the power of expectations. Lowering your expectations is not being a loser; sometimes it just makes sense. Try this: think about what’s the most important thing to you. Don’t settle for less in that area. But try settling for less in other less important areas of your life.I’ll give you an example: my goal for 2011 has been to increase our clients’ traffic an additional 25%. I’m doing my best and I’m pretty sure we’ll achieve that goal in the next two months, but if we don’t, I won’t let that stop me from being happy. I’m trying my best and even if we don’t hit the goal, we’ll have done something great for our clients.But there are other less important areas in my life where I decided to lower my expectations: I stopped expecting my house to look spotless (I now settle for 90% clean). I stopped expecting my friends to call me every weekend (if they don’t, it’s what I expected to happen, and if they do, it’s a great surprise). I stopped expecting my employees to do everything perfectly (I screw up many times every day, why wouldn’t they?) I let go of all the small things and now focus on my main goal. Not only am I making more progress than I’ve ever done before, but a I’m also much happier.

It’s hard for me to talk about lowering your expectations in this goal-driven society. But the truth is that all you can do is do your best and work hard. If you do that for long enough, great things will happen. They might or might not match your expectations, but if you’re enjoying every step of the journey instead of being obsessed with the destination, chances are you’ll be very happy.