An expectation is the feeling or belief that something will or should happen. That sounds good, doesn’t it? But, if we’re being honest, we know that expectations aren’t always reality, and they can lead to disappointment, heartache, and frustration.
Our early interactions and life experiences form the way we think about ourselves and others, and how we perceive the world. Initially, it’s our parents who set standards for our behavior, followed by the academic standards set by the school system. Later in life, expectations for our responsibilities, behaviors, and reactions are set by our employers, colleagues, friends, and romantic partners. From these experiences, we develop our own expectations, which we then take into our relationships with others and impose on them. And so, the cycle continues.
Realistic Expectations vs. Unrealistic Expectations
Healthy or realistic expectations give us hope and anticipation of good things to come. They make us proactive in setting and achieving achievable goals and they help us cope with whatever comes. Realistic expectations inspire us to become the best versions of ourselves. Unrealistic expectations are more ambiguous. It’s a desire for something to turn out a certain way, which may be possible, but not necessarily probably. We tend to put all our hopes for happiness in the fulfillment of these expectations. So, what happens when things don’t turn out the way we thought they would? We’re disappointed and unhappy. We get hurt, frustrated, or angry. And we can get so caught up in the expectation that we lose sight of what’s real or true and we might miss out on opportunities that could be good for us. Our unrealistic expectations can also affect those we care for. When people don’t respond how we expect them to, we project our feelings of hurt and disappointment onto them. Do you remember Yoda’s famous quote: “Fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering”? Having unfair or unrealistic expectations of others has the same deteriorating effect. Disappointment leads to resentment. Resentment leads to the mistrust of others, ourselves, and the world.
Over time, unrealistic expectations can wreak havoc on our emotional and mental health. Repeated “failures” leave us drowning in a sea of self-criticism and create in us a fear of change and a fear of intimacy with others. Unchecked, these feelings can manifest into a heightened level of stress, immense pressure, and even anxiety or depression. This is why it’s so important to know how to manage our expectations.
Identify and reflect on our expectations
The first step to making any change in our lives is to acknowledge that there’s a problem. In this case, we need to acknowledge that we have expectations and try to identify them. What are our expectations for ourselves or for others? What expectations do we hold for our present and our future? Then, we need to reflect on why we have expectations. Unrealistic expectations are often rooted in unprocessed experiences or feelings, so this step may mean digging into our past. Were unrealistic expectations put on us at some point in our lives? Did something happen that left us feeling insecure or fearful? Do we feel that some element of our life is out of control? Are our expectations within our control?
Creative a more positive mindset and practice gratitude
When things don’t go the way we planned, we shouldn’t suppress our emotions. It’s ok to feel disappointed. But negative thinking doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t make us feel better, nor does it make the situation better. What can help is trying to have a positive outlook. We can think about what we’ve learned from the experience and what might serve us better in the future. This helps us become more resilient, so that we’re better able to deal with future challenges. It’s also essential that we learn to be kinder and gentler to ourselves. Rather than constantly berating ourselves for our flaws and failures, we need to give ourselves grace, and focus on all that we’ve accomplished. Finally, one of the best things we can do is practice gratitude. When we learn to appreciate all of the amazing things in our lives, it’s so much easier to be hopeful.
“If you can learn to stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others, you may find the happiness that has always eluded you.”
– author Lisa Kleypas