When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment
From the minute I woke up, at the age of 16, and took control of my life, I had a good understanding of the power of expectations. At least this is what I thought for a long time. I thought that I switched from having low expectation to high expectations and believed that high expectations were the key to success in life.
I still think so, although I believe that it is important to distinguish between expectations from ourselves and expectations from others. Even more important is what we do when our expectations are not fulfilled.
Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event
Expectations can be a blessing or a curse and we can always determine what they were after the event. Subconsciously, when we succeed, we tend to consider our expectations as blessings, as a ladder that led us to victory. When we fail, we consider them false, frustrating and painful. In victories, we reward ourselves for having “motivating expectations”. In failures, we blame circumstances and/or people, and sometimes, we blame ourselves.
Expectations are a double-edged sword if we do not define them properly.
In the dictionary, “expectation” is a “strong belief that something will happen or be or is very likely to happen or be”. You see? An expectation is a belief. An idea. It has nothing to do with reality. It comes from our desires, preference, fears and hopes.
Note that an expectation is a “strong belief”. Some people think that the stronger the expectation, the more likely they are to get it. When the expectations are from yourself, that is “will power”. When the expectations are from others, that is judgment.
Unfortunately, both can be problematic!
To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect
I think that “will power” is overrated and an illusion. How do you ever know you have enough will power? That’s it. You don’t! When you succeed, you say, “I had enough”. When you fail, you say, “I didn’t have enough”. Either way, you can only assess your will power in hindsight.
Expecting from others is problematic as well as we have no control of others and our relationship with them is a series of disappointments. In my opinion, the source of suffering is unmet expectations from self or others.
Unmet expectations are the source of all suffering
The double-edged sword of expectation
If you look at any suffering in life, you will find unfulfilled expectations. Research on physically abused children found out children who considered physical punishment the norm suffered less when they grew up. In their mind, beating was “normal” and they had no expectation for it to be any other way.
This is true in many areas of life, with no expectations, there is no heartache and pain.
There’s a victory in letting go of your expectations
When I share these ideas with my clients, workshop participants or friends, they are often worried. Especially the parents. I think they confuse having no goals with having no expectations.
Since the age of 16, when I realized I could take control over my life, I have had goals, but my goals were mine – from me, for me, without the expectation that someone else would do anything to achieve them. Before that, I had thought it was my parents’ responsibility, my teachers’ responsibility or the department of education’s responsibility. No wonder I felt helpless. Once I took the responsibility for my life, including my expectations and my suffering, I was free to design my own future.
I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine
Setting goals is a great way to manifest expectations, so it is important to distingue between expectations and aspirations. You can tell if you understand the difference by how you respond to not achieving your goals.
Aspiration is the desire to go towards something. Whether you get there or not, you keep aspiring. You adjust your actions. You improve yourself. You learn. You keep moving.
Expectation is like setting the coordinates of the destination and seeing the destination without seeing anything that happens along the way. For expectations to lead us straight to our destination, we must be able to predict every curve on the road, every obstacle and every setback. Since we are not fortunetellers, we have a 100% chance of failing.
There’s a difference between expectations and aspirations
Many people are afraid to let go of expectations, because they think that without having an eye on the destination, they will browse through life aimlessly. Some people find it so overwhelming that they ask me, “What is the meaning of life without expectations?”
Stephen Hawking said, “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have”. If you do not confuse desires, goals and aspirations, you go forward free to change your mind and try another path, without the burden of knowing for sure what the future holds.
There is so much flexibility in letting go. There is so much wisdom to gather along the way. Flexibility and wisdom will be useful on any life journey. I think it is a realistic way to live life. You do not have the ability to predict every step of the way with 100% accuracy. Let go!
Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life
Again, I think expectations are important, but more important is whether we expect them from ourselves or from others, and what we do when our expectations are not met.
Join me next week for more about expectations and how we use them for self-inflicted pain.
This post is part of the series The Expectations Paradox: