Expectations as trailers for daily life

There was a time when I was a card-carrying film buff. I worked at a DVD store (remember those?) and so was constantly surrounded by movies and the people who loved them. My passion for the seventh art has dimmed somewhat in the last few years, but I remember what it was to live and breathe cinema and still surround myself with people who survive on the stuff.

One thing that distinguishes a film buff is his or her views on trailers. Some love them, awaiting teasers and previews with almost as much anticipation as the final product, whereas others will avoid those controlled glimpses like the plague.

See, some movie lovers don’t want the surprise ruined, nor do they want their expectations affected by a trailer that might actually be better than the film it advertises.

Now, where movies are concerned, I don’t have much of an opinion on the virtues or evils of trailers, but when it comes to daily life, I am firmly in the second camp: trailers are terrible.

See, fact is, as much as we may try to avoid trailers that create unrealistic expectations for an upcoming film, we constantly create trailers for events, places and even people in our own lives, to far more damaging effect.

You’re headed to a party and, in your mind, consciously or not, you create a trailer.

Maybe you’re not in the mood to party and feel pressured to attend, so it’s a pretty crappy trailer made up of scenes of you bored or annoyed, suffering through tedious small talk, shoving away a drunken stranger, sipping on warm beer, gritting your teeth at the too-loud and terrible music . . .

Then again, maybe you’re primed for the gathering and so your mental trailer is stitched together from snippets of you meeting an attractive stranger, dancing to awesome music, chatting with friends you haven’t seen in far too long, and discovering a new local brew you’d never even heard of . . .

In the first instance, the trailer will likely not allow you to truly enjoy the party. Even if it isn’t nearly as bad as you expect, it’s unlikely that it will drag you up to actually enjoying it. The best you can hope for is, well . . . not that bad. Which sucks. Or, the trailer may be so bad that you skip out on going altogether, missing out on what may have been a good time.

And that super cool trailer? Well, chances are, no party can live up to that mental smash cut of fun, so there’re good chances you’ll be disappointed.

Obviously, this is a banal example, but I think you get where I’m headed. The expectations we create for . . . well, everything are like trailers we build in our minds and they serve very little.

Expectations are, in a very real sense, the killers of genuine experience.

It’s not about lowering expectations—that bummer of a trailer can be just as damaging as the hyped up one—it’s about having zero expectations.

Repeat that with me: zero expectations.

Now, let’s capitalize that bastard ’cause it goddamn deserves it: Zero Expectations.

You’re headed to a date: Oh, she seemed really hot in her pics; and the chat we had was awesome; pretty sure she made a Fight Club reference and that’ my favorite movie and maybe it’s hers too; she said in her profile that she was into casual so maybe there’ll be a little sexy sex on the menu tonight, or at least some making out . . .

That’s a pretty great trailer you created there. But, what if, instead, you lead with: I’m going on a date. No trailer. Just the goddamn scene. You walking to the bar. You entering. You meeting her. You chatting and learning. All in real time. As it happens. Single fucking take. Oscar-level filmmaking.

Just take it all as it is, not as you expect (hope/anticipate/believe) it could (should/might) be. Zero Expectations.

Now, obviously, you will have some expectations, such as those created by her pics or any profile details, but shunt those aside. Those pics and details are what they are and shouldn’t be built upon, just accepted. If they don’t quite match the person sitting across from you, then you’ve got a new reality to deal with in the here and right the fuck now. So deal with it.

I’m not saying this is easy. We do it all the time. I do it all the time. But we can stop. We can be aware of it and we can shut it down, like one of those autoplay videos that pop up on your screen. Just x that bastard out.

In sounds corny but much of it is about that old cliché: living in the moment; also known as mindfulness. Enjoy the moment (event/place/person) for what it is. Expectations—those mental trailers—make that nearly impossible.

So, I try. I try not to create expectations for those moments that make up my days, weeks and months. I try not create expectations for the people who surround me. I try—really try—not to create expectations for myself.

When those scenes start to flash through my mind, I try to stop, acknowledge these burgeoning expectations, and remind myself: Zero Expectations.

It’s not easy. Sometimes those trailers just plow through every mental ad blocker I throw up.

But, when I manage, I find that the experience, completely free of expectations, is always more gratifying and somehow more genuine.

Zero Expectations. Repeat it.

Zero Expectations.