Have you ever had a friend hype up a movie, new restaurant, band etc. only to be extraordinarily disappointed by it when you get around to trying it for yourself?
I find it most often happens to me with movies. I get into the theater having spent nearly half of my salary just to get two movie tickets and some popcorn, find the perfect seat, and allow my excitement to build. I can hardly wait for the cinematic drama to unfold before my eyes.
Fast forward an hour and a half later and I’m left questioning my friend choices. Seriously? How could they recommend THAT to me? I’ve been cheated! Misled! I want my half year salary back!
I frequently find that I have a problem with expectations that are higher than the situation calls for. That is not to say that having expectations is a bad thing, on the contrary, expectations provide a helpful framework for how we go about our daily life. What I am saying though is that expectations need to be carefully managed.
Whether we realize it or not we have expectations for more than just the next movie we go to see in theaters. We have expectations for our relationships, for how other people ought to treat us, and for how our lives should turn out. These expectations inform how we go about our lives – they are completely natural. Very rarely do you come across a person who has zero expectations in life.
The trouble is that when something does not go according to our expectations it can lead to great disappointment and unneeded stress. There needs to be a careful balance between having expectations that motivate us to be better versions of ourselves and to work hard at pursuing our goals and expectations that keep us in a crippling cycle of hurt and disappointment. This is the art of managing expectations.
In order to manage our expectations, we need to first be aware that they exist. We often behave in ways that reflect our expectations, but are not always aware of their existence. For example, if you have a fight with your significant other over them always leaving their dirty socks around the house for the one thousandth time, you most likely have the expectation that this person should be cleaning up after themselves. If you want to uncover your expectations, keep a running log of all the times you feel hurt, disappointed, or upset by an interaction you had with another person or by the way something has turned out for you. Ask yourself – what was I expecting to happen? Trust me, it will be an eye opening experience.
Once expectations have been uncovered, the real work begins. We need to question their validity. Are the expectations we hold for other people unfair? Are the expectations we hold for our life or our goals unrealistic?
Realize that the higher your expectations are and the more unrealistic they are, the more you are setting yourself up for hurt and disappointment. Furthermore, they may keep us from being able
to enjoy life as it is. When you are chronically stuck comparing how life and others are matching up to your expectations, you will miss out on what is happening around you and may become stuck in frustration and even anger.
Decide which of your expectations need to be reduced, which need to be eliminated, and which need to be communicated. In many cases, we would be much better off letting go of our expectations completely. However, in some cases, it is more of a matter of communication. This is particularly true of our expectations for relationships with significant others, friends, and families. If you are chronically finding yourself disappointed by another person who you want to keep in your life, it is worth having an honest conversation over expectations. It may be an issue where the other person was not aware of those expectations or it may be that you are holding on to some unfair or unrealistic expectations. Either way, an honest conversation conducted with love will help you to discern the difference.
The final piece when it comes to management of expectations is to not cling too tightly to them. When there are factors outside of your control that interfere with your expectations, you will do well to learn to adjust your expectations accordingly. Doing so will free you up from hurt and disappointment and allow you to enjoy all that you do have. Acceptance is easier said than done, and it is not to say that you can or should eliminate all disappointment from unmet expectations in your life. Some that will be unavoidable because life and people sometimes just have a way of letting us down. But moving towards acceptance and having hope for the future is something to strive for.
What expectations are holding you back right now? Take stock of your expectations this week and whether they are helping or hindering your life and relationships.
Health and happiness,