Zero Expectations: A Thought Experiment or Something More?

Posted on October 25, 2019
Posted by Zack Imbrogno

The following article by Zack Imbrogno is the beginning of a series that describes some of the realizations and experiences that students in my Meditation/Contemplation classes are having. Meditation can be more than just sitting for a set period of time. It can become a part of one’s everyday life. Also, it can help us discover the nature of the beliefs and considerations that interfere with our being able to live in a calm, clear state and then help us learn how they can be released.


Think about the things you hold onto most: Getting the big promotion next year? Having a child by a certain age? Hitting a key fitness milestone? Or even just hoping for a certain number of likes on a social media post? The list of expectations we have of ourselves and others ranges from large to small, is specific to all of us, and could probably go on at length. After all, expectations are a part of all of our everyday lives. Aren’t they?


Until a couple years ago, I’d never really looked at what expectations I held onto and what this might mean for my state of mind, much less my life as a whole. However, in one of the first exercises given to our meditation group we were asked to look inward at our expectations — described more specifically as “attachments to outcome” — because that’s literally what they are. An expectation can be defined as holding, in our heads and in our hearts, a feeling that something must happen in order for us to feel satisfied, loved, given our due, etc.


In our exercise we were simply asked to look at what outcomes we held onto most and list these attachments as best we could, observing them without judgment. Some things that came up for me? What career level I needed to reach to be happy; how much more money I needed to make to feel secure; how kindly or better others should treat me, based on how generously I had treated them. The immediate emotional reactions I observed upon listing these out were: impatience, frustration, and resentment.


The next part of the exercise brought us to a state of inquiry over what, in a material or energetic sense, our expectations were. Everyone has them so it’s easy to assume they are a part of our objective reality. But as I looked closer, I did see that my mind (driven by my ego) was a part of the manufacturing process of these expectations. These narratives, which my mind was repeating ad nauseam, did not come out of thin air. They came out of, and were perpetuated by none other than me. I was their author. And when we were asked to look at yet an even deeper level for “why” we’d authored such expectations, in searching for their origin point I found that they always arose from a place of fear. An unspoken yet deep-seated feeling that none of what I wanted would ever come to be.

A further bit of inquiry towards expectations was with regard to what percentage of the things that happen in our lives, both good and bad, we can actually control. When I thought deeply on it, my answer was less than 10%. Sure, I can make my bed every day and pay my bills on time, but when it came to getting something bigger to happen — say something that had to do with others in the world of business or relationships — this idea of “just making it happen” wasn’t so practical. What I thought I “should get” or someone “should do” in these realms had little to do with what would happen in reality. No outcome would ever occur the way I had imagined it would; nor did I have much control over it either.


At first the acknowledgement of not having any real control was a scary thought… but as it settled in, I could see the flip side of it as well, which was a certain kind of freedom. After all, what was the point of using up my emotional bandwidth to dwell on things that were out of my hands?

In light of all this, it became clear to me that it was a bit insane to create an expectation around anything that had to do with others. Not only was it a disconnected thought from reality, but it was an unnecessary setup for disappointment later on. Also, it increased the anxiety that came from living in a state of expectation. And anxiety is a key part of understanding the next and larger, more metaphysical part of this thought experiment.


This part of the thought experiment had to do with going out into the world, taking with us the knowledge gained from the inquiry we had done over what expectations are and exploring life through this new lens. The intellectual idea that expectations were essentially a lie I was telling myself did not produce overnight change. The first part of this everyday life integration of the process involved simply holding my awareness to see how many expectations I had over the course of a day and how strongly I held onto them. What I noticed was the bigger they were and the longer they’d been around, the more pressure I had built up on them to work out as I had hoped and the worse they tore me up inside. What they all shared in common was that they carried with them loads of anxiety that could be borderline crippling if I let it get away from me — say walking into a big meeting or right before taking an important call.


Here is where things got metaphysical. If I was harboring expectations, for example, in a business setting, I could see that I was by definition also bringing fear into that interaction. Fear can often be subtle but it is something that people seem to smell on us a mile away, and giving off this lower quality vibration or energy (while it may be invisible to the naked eye) can completely alter the outcome of an interaction. As I looked at the amount of times I entered into situations with these unbelievably high-pressure stakes that I had manufactured via a buildup of expectations, my heart pounding from the nerves, I realized I had created what amounted to massive energy blockages. After all, no one who encountered me in this state of fear would have felt the chemistry necessary to want to work with me or be in any sort of relationship in general, as they could sense that I was in fear. I was in a state of lack, I was disempowered, and I was not having fun. I was unable to be present with them because I wasn’t really in the room. I was off in the abstract. Holding on to the imaginary outcome I had in mind that mattered above all else. And later, when things didn’t work out, I was devastated. And really really angry about it.


The combination of holding this new awareness about the irrationality of expectations, along with observing my expectations in action in my daily life, led to gradual changes in my thought processes. Increasingly, when an opportunity came up, the mind was quiet. It didn’t want to get involved. No, the mind was happy to give expectations a break for a while. Because finally, it had become familiar with the damage they were causing.


So, what happened next?


Well, the first result was less repetitive thought cycles about unknown outcomes. A calming of the mind. The latter was harder to pin down, but I’ll describe it as best I can. Essentially, I was walking into the same big meetings, taking the same important calls, but in a state of total neutrality about it. The first time I began walking into meetings feeling calm, I was shocked as I didn’t even know this was possible. But then I thought about it and — why wouldn’t I be calm? I was no longer expecting anything! So, I joked around more. I became curious about the other person. And I got lost in whatever I was there to meet about, simply enjoying being present in the discussion. Not only did I not appear in lack; in fact, I appeared empowered. And suddenly, offers I had been hoping to receive for 10 years started to come in month by month.


The profound results of this thought experiment in my daily emotional life, my relationships (a whole other story), and my career only encouraged me to continue to practice it more and more. And I have to this day. The level of effort I put into my work and relationships has stayed exactly the same. The only thing that has changed is how much I dwell on the possible results — which is as close to zero as possible. This isn’t always easy as expectations do have a tendency to appear and re-appear in various forms, but when they do I am prepared with how to observe them and eventually dissolve them.


What I have discovered is that when expectations truly fall away from our consciousness, this can create a real change in our energy — one that not only improves our state of mind but also affects how others experience us. This can lead to more doors opening while also allowing us to enjoy our daily lives more fully.


Ultimately, what seemed like a small thought experiment to me at first has proven to be a practice that has changed my life and that I feel strongly can change anyone’s life in major ways if truly actualized.

See more student articles

We do not have any new Meditation/Contemplation classes at this time. However, if you think you might be interested in getting more information about them, please contact Carol Pilkington at or 818-975-0587 for more information.

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2 responses to “Zero Expectations: A Thought Experiment or Something More?”

  1. Excellent inquiry, and exercise. What I’ve found, and what I bring to my own meditation/mindfulness teaching is that Awareness, Presence is the great gift to our live, and joy potential. And, RE “expectation,” one can lean into it either from fear/anxiety OR from faith/love. The latter is a wonderful way to be alive and attract more experience of Life’s Stream of Blessings, ever available.

  2.' jen amo says:

    thank you ….great observations and very appropriate for this mercury retrograde in scorpio….

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