How often in our lives do we find ourselves over analyzing or even mourning the circumstances in our lives after some situation or, more often, some person doesn’t live up to our expectations? Then again, how fantastic is it to be in the middle of a moment that so far exceeds anything you could have imagined that you almost have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real? For what it’s worth, these are universal human experiences because we are all blessed and cursed with the ability to imagine what we want and then to desire that it comes into our lives.

Since it is a universal human experience, it probably means it’s also a necessary part of the human experience and one that has contributed to our evolution in one way or another. Without expectation of reward, positive or negative, why do any of us leave our houses in the morning and face the day? It is because we have expectations that the day offers something new and amazing, or that it will at least move our lives forward. Hope, after all, is just another name for positive expectation.

The dictionary says that expectation is both A) “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future” and B) “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” I think this perfectly captures the dilemma of expectation. Expectation is a belief about the future and a belief is not necessarily a truth, nor does is guarantee an outcome. Expectations are sort of like goals, except that people rarely put effort into the creation of expectations. A goal is a decision injected with purposeful action, whereas an expectation is an idea mixed with varying levels of conviction. For the most part, goals are actively pursued and expectations are passively accepted.  

I believe that the way people understand and manage expectation is a defining factor, if not the defining factor, in the quality of their lives. Expectation can act as a guide, allowing us to move through the world with some evolving hope about what we may encounter in the world. Otherwise, expectation can become a liability when they are rigid and inflexible, eventually dragging us down into a fog of disappointment.

This topic has been at the forefront of my mind because I just experienced a wildly challenging period in my life. One in which I have felt my motivation, focus, energy, and self-worth drain out of me through the cracks that appeared in my well-being during this time. These cracks and the collateral damage they created in my life were all caused, in their essence, by my expectations. More accurately, it was my relationship to my expectations that lead to all this difficulty.

For the better part of a year, I have been grappling with various expectations that I let become a prison cell around my life. This time taught me a lot about how powerful expectations can be when they become too inflexible. One of the nefarious qualities of expectation is that when we commit to them too strongly, the doors of opportunity to anything else slam shut. For me, I had created a scenario in my life based on the assumption that when people say they feel a certain way, they will behave a certain way. As I read that sentence now, I see how ridiculous it is because I know it’s completely untrue. But I believed so overwhelmingly in what I felt and how I expected things to turn out that any reasonable perspective was completely lost.

Because of this, I pushed for things to be a certain way despite a horde of circumstances that absolutely required flexibility. I spent every day wanting things to be a certain way and then felt progressively worse as each day passed and what I expected never came to pass. This made every part of my life difficult, making me question my motivations, my abilities, everything. Needless to say, I don’t recommend letting this happen in your life.

If we allow expectations to exist with some lightness in our lives, free to evolve with changing circumstances, instead of hurting us, they can buoy us when things get tough. Strong, heavy expectations keep your focus in the future instead of in the present moment.

Here’s the challenge with adjusting your expectations: when someone says they have low expectations, what is your initial reaction? You probably react with concern, confusion, or pity. But this reaction is a mistake. Having low expectations is not the same as having low ambition. It also doesn’t mean a loss of faith in people. Instead, it means being ready to let people and situations unfold naturally without the need to push for particular outcome. I’m not saying people should stop expecting others to treat them with respect or fulfill their responsibilities, but if expectations get set of everything and everyone around us, whose fault is it when these expectations are not met?

The only person anyone can or should expect things from is themself. While this might sound sad, this is actually a good thing. First, others WILL show up for us, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. If there is a time in life when it seems like no one is there or expectations won’t be met, turn to oneself to get through it becomes an incredibly powerful and transformational moment.

This blog post is just me scratching the surface of a pretty intense topic. Changing the way we manage expectations isn’t something that happens overnight. We have to shift our mindset and that should be done thoughtfully and at our own pace. But it’s definitely worth it.

For a more clinical breakdown of this topic, check out this link.

Written by Chris Jambor