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Why Wishing for Things to Be Different is the Enemy of Progress

  • 7 min read

One of the simplest and most impactful changes you can make to become a happier person is to stop wishing for things to be different.

If you haven’t made the change yet, you may already observe some fearful reactions in yourself after reading the first sentence of this post.

“But… will that not make me lazy and complacent?  If I’m okay with everything as it is, why would I still want to do anything?”

Don’t worry, my friend.  It won’t.  It will only make you better at everything you do, as we’ll soon see.

Let’s get this blog post party started!

This 6 Year Old Girl Wanted Vanilla Ice Cream… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

We all have expectations of how things will be.  Or at least how they should be.

We have expectations of our friends. Our partner(s).  How other drivers should behave on the road. How the final episode of Game of Thrones should go.  How the president of the USA should formulate his tweets.  How the room service should fold the towels before our arrival, …

When those expectations are not met, we get a little annoyed.  Or in some cases, get so pissed off that we throw our phones out the window in a fit of rage.  Bringing a morbidly ironic ending to our poor iPhone’s life.  Because the unfortunate Foxconn employee who made it, also threw himself out the window right after. I guess the “Apple” (pun intended), unable to escape its fate, doesn’t fall far from the tree.

All horrible jokes aside, whenever people (or life in general) piss you off, the reason is usually that your expectations of them made no sense in the first place.  

We tell ourselves  “Why can’t people just be more this or that?  Why is there no world peace?  Why can’t I be skinny and eat 100 twinkies every day?  Why don’t I get paid 2000 a month for being a couch potato? If only some of these things were different, I wouldn’t have to be so annoyed with everything.”

But where do those expectations come from?  They are certainly not based on how life, or people, or the world actually behaves.  They are nothing but a fantasy.

If you’ve ever been in traffic at all, you have no reason at all to expect that other drivers (and traffic lights) will all be committed to helping you get to your destination ASAP.  Yet most people still act as if that’s the way things are supposed to go.

It’s like a little kid who’s stuck at an ice cream van that sells only chocolate ice cream.  But she wants vanilla.

Well tough luck, kid.  You can “want” vanilla as hard as you…want.   But there’s still only chocolate.

Such is the case with the ice cream van of life as well.  There’s a West-Flemish proverb saying “t leven is gin crèmekarre” (literally: “life is not an ice cream van”).  But the truth is, life actually is an ice cream van (for my West-Flemish readres: “‘kzegn teegn den anderen, ‘tleven is potverdikke WEL e crèmekarre, zegt dakkekikket gezegd en”).  

The thing is though, in life’s ice cream van they only have chocolate.  And boy, that chocolate is delicious.  But you can only enjoy it if you stop wishing for fucking vanilla all the time.

So as a wise woman once said:  Shut up and start licking already.

Your Plan Vs. Reality

Imagine a powerful general, leading a great army into battle.

The day before the siege, he gets together with his board of advisors to discuss his masterplan:

“Tomorrow…”, he informs them.

“We’ll ride all the way to the enemy base…

…and when we get there….

We’re going to formally announce to them what horrible people they are….right to their faces!!!

…so that they will realize it once and for all. They’ll be ashamed of themselves, and finally start treating us nicely…


But then one of the trusted advisors, whispers carefully in his ear:

“But sire… What if instead of realizing they are wrong and we are right, the enemy just shoots us all in the left eye ball, chops us into chicken nuggets and feeds us to the pigs?” (Note from writer: Nobody really knows what’s in chicken nuggets, so this is not an error in my writing.)

The leader takes some time to consider wise advisor’s opinion, but then says:  “No. I don’t agree. They shouldn’t do that. People are supposed to play by the rules. MY rules. We stick to the plan I just told you.”

Sounds like quite an incompetent general, doesn’t he?

Why?  Because he’s making a crucial mistake.  He forgot to take into consideration how the enemy actually behaves in reality.  And instead he just decided that they should play along with the script he made up.  So tomorrow, his whole army will die.

This is the same thing you do whenever you wish for things to be different.
Instead of accepting things as they are, you decide they should play along with your scripts.  So you make flawed plans, and get annoyed when they fail.

But once you stop wishing for things to be different, and decide to make your plans based on how people (or the world, or life in general) actually behave, your plans are a lot more likely to succeed.

It’s for this reason that I said at the start of this post, that you will get more done by no longer wanting things to change.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to make a change.  There are always things worth fighting against.  Racism, sexism (including by feminists), or coming up with better flavors of ice cream.  But you won’t make any change by wishing for other people to be different.  You’ll make it by adjusting your actions based on what is real right here and right now.  How about you go make some vanilla instead? Or at the very least help the other guy learn how to make it?

Making the Change

When you finished reading this post, I challenge you to take all your expectations and put them on a nice little pile.

• Expecting praise, rewards or appreciation when you do something nice.

• Expecting all women or men to behave differently to make your dating life easier.

• Expecting people (or advertisements) to be more honest to you.

• Expecting anything you read on the internet or see in a video to be fact-checked and true.

• Expecting yourself to be a superhuman who’s good at everything.

• Thinking you’ll be able to fry the bacon every morning on your sizzling hot cheese grater abs simply by taking some pills or shakes.

Take one last look at your big pile of expectations, pour some kerosene over it and burn them all down.

Let it go.  You don’t need them, they are fantasies that only cause you suffering.

Now as you go through your days, observe your thoughts.  Whenever you get angry, frustrated, disappointed or are about to start a comment war on Facebook, take it as a clue that you are busy wishing that you’d live in a fantasy world that doesn’t exist.  

Throw your expectation of that situation on the pile as well, get your bottle of kerosene and BOOM, watch it burn.

Then, as the sight of the beautiful flames bring peace to your mind, remind yourself:

Life is as it is. Things are as they are. Don’t treat them as if they should be different. You also wouldn’t like people to treat you that way 😉

Now you may be thinking…  Doesn’t that mean I should also stop expecting of myself that my expectations will ever change?

Yes. Life is full of paradoxes. Deal with it 😉

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