The Upside Of Not Chasing Rainbows
The magic of zero expectations and the happiness it can bring
I would argue that the number one killer of creativity (and happiness, in general, for that matter) is the need for brilliance.
It‘s paralyzing. It‘s also depressing, as it is steeped in — and is rocket fuel for — feelings of gross inadequacy.
If we didn’t feel inadequate already, then piling ridiculous expectations on ourselves for something we haven’t even done yet (or have/own/become) is a guaranteed way to get there.
When we aim disproportionately too high, the Ugly Sister of Inadequacy — the Critical Inner Voice — is then, by default, given free reign to well and truly put the boot in.
It relishes this as an opportunity to remind us in a myriad of ways just how much of a ridiculous failure we really are. “We’re never going to get there”, it whispers, “So, why bother?”
This is not to say we shouldn’t aim high in life, by the way. But there are times when it helps to scale it back a bit.
The Joy Of Zero Expectations
Having zero expectations is a joy in itself — regardless of what comes of it (which is literally the point).
There is so much pressure in life to be “this”, look like “that” and live an Instagram-worthy life. It’s flat-out miraculous to find a place in this world where we can be completely free of any expectations.
And that is why creating-without-expectation is so incredibly healthy. It is creativity for creativity’s sake, giving us that one sacred place, free of obligation, where we can just be.
Finding Our True Voices
Dropping our expectations, or our ambition, every now and again can also free us from hive-like thinking, which is vital if we are to act in a way that is unique to each and every one of us.
Often our goals (and ultimately our identities) our influenced largely by people we see in the world who have already “made it”.
We want to be like them, we think they have found the perfect formula, which, if followed to the letter will make us as “happy” and “successful” as they are.
Before we realise it, we have modeled our ideas and lives on them.
So, if we want to be a successful blogger, for example, we might obediently look at what other successful bloggers have done and think — “there’s the formula — they’ve got it right”.
So, we just do what they do. We operate on the assumption that if we follow their rules, implement their procedures, reach out to the same kinds of people, then bingo — we’ll be like them and we’ll have the kinds of lives they have.
And while that might actually work in some cases, we need to ask ourselves if this is it what we actually want for ourselves?
Is there a certain degree of emptiness in this approach? Are we denying ourselves the ability to chart our own paths?
As Joseph Campbell once said:
“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
Charting Our Own Paths
Paradoxically, embracing a lack of ambition and significantly lowering our expectations are what allows us to find out what our path actually looks like.
Here are some ways it helps:
We can sideline procrastination and actually get started on something new (rather than just fantasize about it), because it doesn’t really matter. The pressure is off.
(As Mel Robbins argues here, excessively ambitious plans can be the very thing that prevents us from actually starting a new project, because of the inordinate pressure it puts on us.)
We can take risks when we are in this state as we are not trying to prove anything to anyone. As a result, we are far more likely to try something new, or take a new approach — and do something that’s more like us.
3. Creative Block
Being a bit crap allows us to avoid creative blocks. We can actually leverage it as a technique when we need to.
(Tim Ferriss testifies to this approach with his “Two Crappy Pages” tip.)
Following our natural inclination to do something, regardless of the outcome, can be a gateway to discovering what really matters to us. This is what will bring us greater meaning and a sense of purpose in the long run.
5. Intrinsic Motivation
By creating something for the simple joy of doing it, we get a taste for what it feels like to be intrinsically motivated. There are no expectations on us, no-one is asking us (or paying us, even) to do this — we are acting autonomously, which in turns gives us:
We gain a sense of agency from doing something we are not obligated to do. We gain a feeling of control over part of our lives, that we might not otherwise have in other areas, which is vital to our health and well-being.
7. Flow/The Zone
Being intrinsically driven and autonomously led are vital ingredients for entering that elusive — and highly sought-after — flow state. Doing what we genuinely like to do — without expectation — is far more likely to get us in the zone than killing ourselves with unreasonable expectations and following cookie-cutter methods to get what we think we should have.
8. Eureka Moments
Ideas come when we are not trying — when we have switched off. Dropping the expectations, easing up on ourselves and literally going with the flow is then far more likely to lead to those breakthrough moments. And this, ironically, will likely take us to that magical place we had, at last, stopped chasing after.