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Expectations vs. intentions

In our previous blog (which you can find here), we introduced the concept that acceptance is the first step to making positive change. This can apply to many aspects of life and to many situations. In the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, ‘whatever we accept, we go beyond’.


‘Going beyond’ introduces another important issue. One that is strongly associated with subjective wellbeing. Expectations.

Mo Gawdat discusses this topic at length in his book Solve for Happy, which he wrote based largely on his own experiences and how he found happiness again following the tragic loss of his son. He refers to a simple equation which he and his son devised.


But how can we have goals, desires, dreams and ambitions without creating unhelpful expectations?

If we draw on some of the concepts from our previous blogs, hopefully we are able to take time to pause and observe how we are feeling, following which we can consciously acknowledge these feelings and choose an inner dialogue which allows us to give ourselves permission to accept things as they are, whatever that might be.

But what if we have noticed, acknowledged and accepted that we are feeling frustrated with ourselves because it’s 4pm and this is the third time this week that we realise that we have not eaten or drunk anything since breakfast. What next?

One option might be to set a rigorous routine and create a strict process of reminders and alarms that make sure we don’t do this again. And have a strict word with ourselves. An internal chat that is peppered with phrases such as ‘I should not have let that happen’ and ‘I must/will do it differently’. But the problem with words such as ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ is that they infer a harsh judgement upon ourselves. Equally words such as ‘must’ and ‘will’ are demanding a certain behaviour.

Together these dialogues can create expectations, which may lead to a change in behaviour. But we also know that human behaviour is often not this easy or predictable, especially when it comes to changing habits.

And so, as demonstrated in Mo Gawdat’s equation, if we fail to meet our expectations, it can have negative impacts on our wellbeing.

So, what’s the alternative? Does this mean we should no longer have aims, set goals or be ambitious? Not at all! However once again it all comes back to how we frame it in our minds and the mindset we bring to the process.

Mindfulness is a great example of how carefully considered words and phrases can make a huge difference to how the brain engages with any particular activity. Phrases that feature commonly within mindfulness training are ‘we invite you to…’ or ‘build an intention to…’ Using these much kinder phrases with ourselves can have a big impact and may help us approach our actions and self-thoughts with self-compassion, above all else.


So, let’s use the example we discussed previously. Having noticed, acknowledged and accepted our frustration at not looking after our physiological needs as well as we would have liked, it’s absolutely fine to come up with practical ideas to improve the situation (we are great fans of Shawn Achor and he has some great ideas on changing habits). However, the words we choose to approach these solutions can have profound effects on how we subsequently feel about ourselves. Approaching this example with the phrase ‘it is my intention to follow this plan as best I can most days’ will not only help us to be kinder to ourselves if it doesn’t go exactly to plan, but will also make us more likely to stick to the plan in the first place.

About VetLed

VetLed was founded to provide support to veterinary professionals who are faced with significant challenges every day. The VetLed team believe that creating a compassionate and professional workplace culture that puts people wellbeing and patient safety at the core of everything we do, will in turn, improve animal and people welfare. The VetLed performance approach supports veterinary professionals to maximise their own wellbeing and to fully utilise their skills to deliver optimal patient care. You can contact VetLed by emailing [email protected]


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