February 1, 2012
How To Balance Your Expectations
Wise Expectations Lead to Positive Outcome
The ability to have balanced expectations of yourself and other people is an outlook that will reduce disappointment and increase your surprise and enjoyment in what you and others can do.
It’s natural to feel some disappointment when things don’t go our way. We usually feel disappointed when our expectations have not been met—expectations of ourselves, others, and the world. Expectations can be either reasonable or unreasonable. When they are not fulfilled, the frequency and intensity of our disappointment will mostly depend on our attitude.
“Reasonable” here means realistic, logical, sensible. It’s good to get a sense of what this means, because without it you will be constantly at odds with yourself and other people. It’s reasonable to expect that you and others do their job, are honest, respectful, and honor their agreements. It’s reasonable to expect yourself and others to attain a certain level of excellence, which depends on skill levels, intelligence, and willingness. It’s reasonable for you to expect that your child obey you, that your partner love and respect you (and that you do the same), and that your boss treats you respectfully. The big question is: What criteria do you have that shows that your expectation is reasonable? That takes good judgment.
A special way of looking at “unreasonable” expectations is to see them as either unuseful or useful. Unuseful expectations are quite unrealistic, and perhaps naïve. Some of them are conscious and some subconscious. Some examples are: expecting your children to always obey you or expecting your partner to never snap at you; or that you can be financially secure when not using a budget and investing wisely; that things will be ok if you go out drinking 2 or 3 nights a week; that other people will always forgive your irresponsibility or temper outbursts; or that a person who has always had a self-centered personality will become a selfless and devoted friend or partner. Unuseful expectations are alienating and self-destructive, and lead to a high rate of disappointment and failure.
Unreasonable expectations that are useful are those that appear quite unrealistic, but become realistic and possible when you put in hard work, never-give-up persistence, passion, creative thinking, and when you collaborate with helpful people. Things that appear amazing or impossible suddenly become real. This is the stuff of great inventions such as the lightbulb and nuclear power, the American Revolution, the allied victory in WWII, and the fame and fortune of the unlikeliest people.
We all have potential that is beyond our comprehension. Some people have overcome many odds and become Olympic champions, studied and gotten their degree at an advanced age, have made “impossible” recoveries from an accident or illness, have found a loving partner after many failures, a renewed marriage after months or years of discontent, built a successful business, or have found great satisfaction in a career after years of frustrating mediocrity. Expectations for this kind of success are useful if and when you are clear, have passion, build discipline, and stay on track.
Attitude is Critical
When expectations are not met, learn an attitude of acceptance and action, as in “Oh well,” and “I need to move on.” Let go of a mental demand that things go your way, without shoulds” or “have-to’s.” When you have a strong preference—instead of a demand—you release yourself and other people from the pressure of “have-to,” which allows space and opportunity—but not guarantee— that things turn out as hoped for.
Have Both Kinds of Expectations
When you find a balance of reasonable expectations and useful unreasonable expectations, you will find your life becoming more enjoyable and rewarding, even exciting.
Make time to act on these practical suggestions to hold wise and useful expectations:
1st Write a list of 3 significant disappointments. What expectations were truly unreasonable? How do you know? Turn them in reasonable expectations. Can you also find any useful “unreasonable” expectations in each case?
2nd Get feedback from some people who are wise or who have a particular expertise in the area of your concern. Look for insights and practical suggestions, writing them down.
3rd Before you expect normal or great things from others, first check in with how you are living up to the same kind of expectations, and support yourself at each step.