Ever notice how much more at ease you are and intelligent you seem when talking to a prospective date or interviewing for a prospective job you don’t care that much about? Your jokes are better. Your conversation is smarter. But then when you try to talk to someone you really are attracted to, you trip over your words and can’t think of anything to say?
That’s because you’re trying to get the metaphorical carrot—the extrinsic reward. You want the date or the job interviewer to like you and you are trying to figure out how to make that happen instead of just having fun, amusing yourself, and doing your own thing. Attachment to results divorces you from your spark.
It’s the same as playing pool or basketball or making art or playing music or living life. If we feel pressure from ourselves or someone else to perform in order to achieve some reward or result, we get nervous, perform worse, and have less fun.
There is a reason people tell us to “just be ourselves.” It is because when we are trying to figure out how to avoid the stick or get the carrot, we kind of split ourselves from that part that just does things for the joy of it. And that’s the part that makes our lives work well and feel worthwhile.
But some of us have been chasing after extrinsic rewards for so long that we no longer even know who we would be or how we would act if we weren’t.
To reacquaint yourself with wanting what you really want, take an hour, a day, or even a week to do exactly what you feel like doing, just for the hell of it. What you do just for the hell of it—just for fun—will tell you a lot about who you really are. You’ll probably find you are kinder to people than when you are chasing a carrot, too.
Here are some hints:
1. Schedule an hour or two to just be. Choose a meaningful amount of time but not one that will make you feel so stressed that you can’t indulge in it. During this time you will not be allowed to do anything to achieve a result (also, no screens!). This will be a period of pure play, just doing whatever feels satisfying in the moment.
2. Prepare for this time by making a list of the worries and concerns that have stopped you from taking this time before. Think about exactly how you would feel if all those things were taken care of. Write down the pleasant feelings and physical sensations that would come with that.
3. When the scheduled time arrives, sit down and imagine all those worries and concerns are taken care of. Try to imagine yourself feeling all the associated pleasant feelings and sensations. In this way, you trick your body and mind into allowing yourself to play. Repeat this whenever you feel anxiety creep in.
4. Do whatever you feel like! Let yourself enjoy. Don’t worry if it feels awkward the first time.
5. When the period is over, write down the things you did that you really enjoyed.
6. Repeat this exercise a few times over the course of a few weeks.
7. At the end, you should find that you have a list of things you would do just for the hell of it, things that are internally rewarding to you.
8. Congratulations! You have allowed yourself to want some of the things you really want.
I hope this helps you set yourself free from your own expectations.