How to Shift From Expectations to Intentions

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Shift the way you view the future, and the world around you will shift, too.

Setting intentions for your day, your relationship, and your life could be one of the most beneficial things you do to steer yourself in a positive direction. But not all intentions are made equal. If you feel downtrodden, frustrated, or downright disappointed, chances are you have set an expectation—the sneaky cousin of the intention, that is far less forgiving, accommodating, and beneficial to a life well-lived.

Consider this: anytime you feel disappointed at an outcome, it is because the reality of the situation didn’t align with your expectations. Put another way, you expected one thing, and got another. If you expect life to be “fair” or that everyone will always like you, for example, you should probably also expect to have to eat a big slice of humble pie at some point soon.

Examples of Expectations

Can you relate to any of these examples?

  • You expected that moving to a bigger home would make you happier, but it didn’t, so you felt disheartened at the result of your move.
  • You expected to easily find a love interest on a dating website, and then you didn’t, so you felt deeply discouraged about your potential for finding love.
  • You expected your boss to recognize your hard work with a raise, and then didn’t receive one, so you felt despondent in your future with the company.

Examples of Intentions

Now see what happens when you shift your expectations into intentions.

  • While settling into your new home, you set the intention to be grateful for all the newfound space it will give you to work and play with your family.  
  • When signing up for the dating site, you make it your intention to use the experience as a way of telling the universe you are ready for love, and will engage with potential dates with lightness and a sense of humor.
  • You do your work with the intention of it being of benefit to others, rather than for the credit it will bring you. You then approach your boss with a request for higher pay.

A clear intention is a necessary element to any successful endeavor. An expectation narrows the field of possibilities of the myriad ways the universe can delight you.

One key difference between intentions and expectations is the onus of responsibility. Intentions rely upon choices you make yourself, whereas expectations usually demand actions of other people. Since it is impossible to control another person, your surroundings, or external circumstances, it is wise to put your energy into an area you can control—your mind, words, and intentions.

Here are some more examples of how intentions can create greater freedom and ease in your life.

1. Mornings

The mindset with which you start your day can change the trajectory of your entire life. Try waking up and setting intentions that empower you and are fortified with positive language.

  • Gratitude is my way of life.
  • May I follow the flow of whatever life wants to express through me today.
  • My intention is to finish writing my presentation with ease.
  • May this problem be solved to the benefit of everyone involved.

Be sure to leave some space for magic. Waking up expecting that everything will happen according to your plan sets you up for disappointment if your expectations aren’t met. Waking up with a plan, but being open and ready for whatever comes your way, will equip you with grace on the path to success.

5 Steps to Manifesting the Life of Your Dreams

2. Relationships

The longer a couple is together, the easier it is to take one another for granted. Notice the expectations (spoken or silent) that you have of your partner. Do you expect him to always know what you are thinking? Do you expect her to always fill the car up with gas? Do you expect him to have your morning coffee ready for you when you wake up? Do you expect her to tell you that you look beautiful when you get dressed up?

If your expectations aren’t being met, first ask yourself why. Have you communicated your needs clearly? Are your expectations realistic? And if you are honest with yourself, can you say your gratitude for your partner has not fallen by the wayside?

Instead of expecting things of your partner, try setting some intentions to pave the way for love and understanding.

  • I intend to tell my partner how much I appreciate it when he does something thoughtful for me.
  • I will take the lead today with doing kind acts for my partner. I will fill up her gas tank so she doesn’t have to.
  • I will ask for what I want, rather than expect my mate to read my mind.
  • I will not take my partner’s love for granted.

Communication is key in relationships, and couples must get comfortable and clear in how they voice their needs. The desire for compliments comes from the need to feel accepted and loved, so try sharing this need with your partner, and see what happens. It is never fair to expect your partner to psychically know what you want.

3. Your Spiritual Practice

Your relationship with your Self can also benefit from a shift to positive intentions versus expectations. Check in with how you treat yourself when you sit down to meditate. How do you expect your mind to respond? Do you feel you should be enlightened by now? People are often hardest on themselves, so consider it an act of self-compassion to set intentions that will expand you rather than disparage you. Expecting that you should be any way other than you are in the moment you are in is counter to principles of yoga and the spiritual path.

  • It is my intention to get up each morning at sunrise to meditate. I do not expect it to be easy right away, but I am prepared to follow through with this habit.
  • I intend to practice loving kindness to each person I encounter. I do not expect not to be challenged in this intention. I know that each person on my path is an assignment, and I commit to being steadfast with my love. 
  • As I walk along my spiritual path, I will practice acceptance of other people’s views and beliefs. I do not expect everyone to agree with the way I see things, but I honor everyone’s unique journey.

Intentions point you in the direction in which you want to go. Expectations predetermine the path you will take. Have a destination in your mind and in your heart, but be willing to adapt with your higher powers on how exactly you will get there.

What Expectations Are Not

Expectations are not the same as standards and boundaries. It can be a standard in your life that no one verbally attacks you, but it’s not necessarily realistic to expect that it will never happen. Just as parents set up certain guidelines for their children, it’s probably not realistic to “expect” for them never to make a mistake or challenge the rules.

Expectations might also be the word you use for “beliefs,” and you might feel like that concept works for you. Is it a bad idea to “expect the best”? Is it wrong to expect love and respect from your partner? Is it unwise to expect your best friend to follow through on her plans with you? Only you can answer these questions. If having these expectations in place expands you, then they are of benefit. If they narrow your ability to be pleased, then perhaps a slight shift in wording and in attitude could make all the difference.

Let it be your intention to inquire within as to the ways your unconscious habits affect your happiness. Experiment in the laboratory of your life all the ways you can grow, learn, and enjoy the life you are living. Intentional living could be the key to exceeding your expectations of the life of your dreams.


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About the Author

Karson McGinley

Yoga Teacher and Life Coach
Karson McGinley is the owner of Happy-U Yoga in San Diego, California. A teacher for over a decade, Karson works to bridge the gap between the ancient wisdom of yoga and the modern science of human flourishing through her classes, bi-weekly article contributions to The Chopra Center, and leading the Happy-U Yoga & Positive Psychology Teacher Training program. Karson teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, and Anusara Elements™ classes, inspired by the teachings of Classical and Tantric yogic philosophy, positive psychology, and metaphysical texts like A Course in Miracles . By sharing spiritual themes, scientific research, and anecdotal...Read more