Ah, expectations – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Or can you? As humans, we are plagued by this constant need to create expectations about our life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. We craft expectations about what our wedding will be like, but also about what the pizza we just ordered will taste like. Subconsciously, we are ruled by our expectations. But is that a good thing?
You weren’t disappointed by them, you were disappointed by your own expectations.
Expectations, by their very nature, set you up to fail. This can be seen most clearly in romantic relationships, where frustration and disappointment tend to be a common factor. By constantly trying to anticipate what our partner will do (for example: will he buy you flowers?), we are already weakening his chance of success.
Think about it – as soon as the idea of flowers appeared in your mind, you already envisioned this great, big bouquet of roses you saw at the florist’s earlier. But when your partner arrives, he comes bearing a smaller bouquet of tulips, instead. Now, by rights, you should be happy – he made a nice gesture to show his love for you, he took the time and effort to buy you flowers. In other words, you did get the flowers, you just didn’t get the ones you thought you wanted. And now you’re disappointed and angry.
In this case, were you disappointed by your partner or by your own expectations?
How to maintain realistic expectations
Once you understand that your expectations are actually working against you, the obvious impulse would be to try and give up expectations altogether. Except that’s easier said than done. It is in our nature to formulate expectations, to try to guess what will happen next because it helps us prepare and react to it.
So while you may hear people boast that “they’ve given up expectations”, know that it’s probably not true. Instead, you would be much better off crafting realistic expectations for yourself and others.
Get out of the “it’s not enough” mentality.
What drives us to desire bigger and greater things (flowers, experiences, emotions, etc.) is the underlying mentality that nothing can ever be enough. Often, such a mentality is inherited from a caregiver or childhood influence and can be detrimental to our emotional development.
In other words, the ever-greater expectations we set up for ourselves are related to our inner desire to prove something. Example: “My partner is great because he bought me this big bouquet.”
Try to figure out who you’re trying to prove this to and why, as a way to stop it.
Identify your values and true desires.
What matters to you more, the roses or that you have a partner who cares enough to do this nice thing for you? This is largely a matter of perspective and of understanding your own core values. Think about your ideal self and what matters to them.
Instead of harboring unrealistic expectations about others, focus on you.
The only thing that you are in control of is your own action and response to the world, so try to model that after your own ideal (identified in the previous step). This alone can save you a lot of disappointment, in the long run.
Lastly, make a plan.
This applies to the unrealistic expectations you set for yourself, like “I will shed 20 pounds in 7 days”. Rather than merely naming an abstract and unrealistic goal, try to figure out how you can move closer towards it, realistically. Write down what you can do towards that goal (e.g. “I will take a 30 minute walk each day”), and begin practicing those things.