Action and Expectations

Mindfulness is the art of “just doing”. The problem with expectation is that it adds a layer of unnecessary complication to doing, a layer that is potentially self-defeating. If you do a thing with an expectation, and it doesn’t live up to your desire (as so often is the case) you experience fear, failure, detachment and laziness.

The reason people are lazy is simultaneously the reason they are ambitious— they associate action with expectation. If they don’t act, they don’t expect, and thus don’t suffer. If they do act, they expect, and often do suffer. Projecting idealizations onto an uncaring and inhuman world doesn’t make good things more likely to happen. It often just causes you trouble.


It’s important to see that it’s not life that causes suffering but our expectation that life should be the way we want. We can’t live without expectation, but if we can handle the feelings caused by the difference between our expectations and reality, that’s liberation.


Having a positive outlook on the future (optimism) seems like a pre-requisite for happiness. On the other hand, expecting the worst not to be disappointed is a common technique to avoid unhappiness. The technique is closely related to stoic philosophy. Zen masters, on the other hand, advocat not expecting anything at all.

There seems like there is a contradiction there. And indeed, there is. These examples are representative of a broader trade-off between a radical acceptance of the present moment, and the kind of positive visualisation that often is the impetus for action.

What's the answer then? I think it's to transcend the trade-off.
Act without expectations.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill