We live our lives trying to fulfil expectations, both our own and others’. Sometimes, they can be daunting, but ignoring them won’t make them go away. You need to learn how to deal with them, and rise to the challenge.
Don’t Mistake Expectations for Reality
It’s important to note that expectations aren’t the same as targets. Your target might be to get straight A’s or 10 clients this week, but don’t let that also be your expectation.
Adult film star Jiz Lee illustrates this point with how couples behave in the bedroom. When experimenting sexually, they say you might have already talked about what you want to do, but don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.
Lee explains that setting “sexual expectations” for your encounter can easily become a recipe for disaster. “There’s a chance you’ll stop listening to the body’s cues and sexual responses, making it harder to do what you’re trying to accomplish and you’ll set yourself up for further disappointment,” Lee noted.
Rather than make sex about getting from A to B, Lee said people should have a different mentality: “Instead, come into sex with a curiosity to try it, but without any expectations of it happening. Try it simply just to try it.”
The takeaway is to change the approach towards your task. It’s good to set goals and achieve them, but don’t expect that achievement. In fact, as we have already said, learn to enjoy the process of achieving your goals.
Ignore Your Brain’s Need to Expect the Same Thing Over and Over
To deal with internal expectations, you need to first identify where those expectations are coming from. Take something simple. You expect it to be cold once winter comes around. It’s happened in the past, it’s going to happen again, right? More often than not, past experiences dictate expectations. It’s a type of confirmation bias, writes Peter Bregman in Harvard Business Review.
Just knowing that and being mindful of it is the first step to managing internal expectations. Once you identify why you have a certain expectation, you are more prepared to be able to meet it or tone it down to a realistic degree.
Of course, doing that is easier said than done. Bregman has one trick to get over your confirmation bias. Look for what is wrong or different in a picture:
Instead of looking for how things are the same, we can look for how they are different. Instead of seeking evidence to confirm our perspectives, we can seek to shake them up. Instead of wanting to be right, we can want to be wrong.
Of course, this takes a tremendous amount of confidence. Let’s face it, we’d all prefer to be right than wrong.
But here’s the irony: the more you look to be wrong, the more likely you’ll end up right.
So next time you look at an employee, ask yourself what’s changed? Instead of focusing on what she’s doing wrong, try looking for something new she does right that you never noticed before.
In a nutshell, make a conscious effort to look for what’s different in a situation the second time you come across it, so that you don’t set expectations for the third time.
Keep Your Promises but Beware of Exceeding Them
Sometimes, we know the expectations others have of us, but in an effort to impress them, we try to exceed them and do more than we promised. Here’s the problem though: exceeding expectations isn’t necessarily better than meeting them.
For example, you know that your mum expects you to call every week. So you might try to do better and call her twice a week. When you can’t do that, everyone is disappointed by the missed expectations. But studies have shown that exceeding your promise isn’t rewarded any more than simply meeting it:
The bottom line, study co-author Nicholas Epley says, is that exceeding a promise may not be worth the effort you put in. “Invest efforts into keeping promises, not in exceeding them,” he says. And this advice also holds true for businesses, which should prioritise resources to make sure they do not break promises, rather than trying to go above and beyond.
So rather than over-reaching, stick to what you have said you’ll do and thus have created an expectation of fulfilling it; it’s better to do that right than to strive harder.
Talk to Others to Clarify Their Expectations
Expectations are abstract. Too often, they are not clearly defined nor expressed. In fact, you might have vague expectations in your own head that you don’t clarify, and thus end up disappointed. The easiest way to get around this is to talk to people to get some clarity, says Reach Out:
Talk to someone outside the situation. Talking to someone outside the situation, like a friend, parent or counselor can be a great way to express your feelings. These people are also in a good position to help you identify expectations and help you work out strategies to deal with them.
Talk to the person setting the expectations. Sometimes a person who is setting unreasonable expectations might be unaware that he or she is putting unfair pressure on you. When you talk to this person, it might be helpful to use a phrase like “When you treat me like this, then I feel…”
The bottom line is to open the lines of communication and be clear about what the expectations are and how they match up to reality.
Harness the True Meaning Behind Expectations
While you can get bogged down by expectations, it’s important to also realise why they are there in the first place. It’s a sign that you are being held to a higher standard, that there is faith you can achieve more. As Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett puts it:
Expectations are just leftover praise. They are a blessing. If you didn’t have the capability to meet them, they wouldn’t exist.
Sports stars often carry great expectations from their fans. Cricket is huge in India and the Indian team faced tremendous pressure from expectations while playing the World Cup at home. But it was a reminder of what those expectations mean from their star player, Sachin Tendulkar, that relaxed the unit:
I remember during the 2011 ICC World Cup, the team felt tremendous pressure of expectations going into the tournament. And more so because it was a World Cup at home. We workshopped, dealing with the pressure and how they would handle it. Sachin made the point that the players should not see themselves as “carrying a nation’s hopes, but rather a nation carrying the team.” I thought that was a powerful image and words, especially coming from Sachin, which helped the team deal with expectations.
When you realise expectations come from a good place, and that the people carrying those expectations are with you for the ride, it becomes easier to handle them. It shifts the burden from your shoulders alone to the idea of a unit or team of well-wishers upon whose behalf you are carrying out actions.
You can’t escape expectations, but you can learn how to cope with them, which hopefully the above points should help you do. In turn, you will be able to take the challenges of life. Entrepreneur Stevan Noronha makes it a simple equation: “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”.