How to Manage Expectations
There are many theories about how managing expectations better can improve our wellbeing and make us happier.
One of these theories says that we should lower expectations, so that in any situation we can be pleasantly surprised when things go the way they are supposed to or better. Another says that we need healthy expectations that are feasible in relation to a situation or to a goal, so that they are not impossible to reach, and that it is good to have them as long as they are aligned with reality.
Do you remember those moments when you expected your partner, family or a friend to do something for you, or remember an important day, and it didn’t happen? The feeling of disappointment would rush through the body and cause all sorts of reactions, which could end up in an argument, or an embarrassing silence, or worse, a sense that this could never be forgiven. And the mind would swirl around “why did they forget, am I not important enough?” and bring out all kinds of insecurities. Yes, the mind chatter coming to haunt you again and again and filling you with self-doubt.
The truth is that whatever expectations we have, the people around us do not know them, and they are not the ones who are responsible for our self-worth and self-confidence. And unless there is an open agreement on something, we can’t really expect a particular outcome. Besides, other people have expectations of their own too, which may involve us too. Can you see how, without laying the cards on the table, these premises offer the perfect recipe for a quarrel?
Expectations also vary according to our state of mind. If we are sad and lonely, we expect people who are close to us to “know” and be there for us, but if we are having a great time, we may easily forget about everything else because we are in a good place. But sometimes others are not in a good place either, and misunderstandings may rise and float for a while if not addressed.
So does it help or does it not help to have expectations? Ultimately, it seems difficult to be able to not have any expectations at all, however what we can do is remember that we have the power to change the world by starting to change ourselves, step by step. If we remember that out power is to do the best we can, and that we are not responsible for external outcomes (eg. other people’s behavior or reactions or insecurities), and that we may not know what others are going through this very moment, we can be much freer and happier.
Are there good tips as to how to deal with all these expectations? Here is one: STOP GUESSING! None of us have the power of reading other people’s minds. Yes, we may be highly empathic with some, and yes there are some special relationships where people instantly know what the other is feeling, however, if there is one thing can dissipate any doubt, that is to SIMPLY ASK. Are you wondering if there is something going on in your relationship or in a friendship? Ask. Are you unsure whether a particular gift will be appreciated? Ask!
Asking is such a simple thing, though sometimes it is not simple at all. It may be very difficult to ask about something that scares us, or when we fear the answer. Here’s another tip: when you ask, remember to ask non-directed questions. Once you ask a question, there may be answers you would much prefer to receive or not receive, however a leading question will never get you an authentic answer. And if the real answer is not something you really wanted to hear, it still puts you in a better position to deal with an issue than a fake answer, people-pleasing answer. Let’s pick a silly example: if you really want to know whether an outfit looks good on you or not, would you prefer to receive a pleasant answer or an honest answer? Which one will ultimately help you to improve?
Once you start sharing your honest feelings with someone, what really matters is to show that you’re willing and open to listening too. Real listening is not easy. It is actually trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, without judging them, without commenting whether what they say and do is right or wrong. Forget the right/wrong mode, forget the comment mode, and this will instantly open new horizons of connection and intimacy and trust with the person you are talking to.
And if you have an expectation, why not discuss it openly? The scarier it feels to discuss it, the more useful the challenge. Perhaps you can come to a mutual agreement that will make everyone happy and release you from the tension of your expectation. How good is that? There is always something to be gained from honest and open communication, and often the outcomes are pleasantly… unexpected.
So what is your experience with expectations? Feel free to share and comment below!