I always say life depends on what we focus on. Our expectations are a way of focusing on what we would like the future to hold for us, which means our life depends on them.
Expectations can motivate you or hurt you and only we can determine what they will do to us. Here is it how this works.
We all have expectations, because we rely on them to make life more predictable and therefore safer and less stressful. We learn from past experiences and predict how thing will turn out.
A person without expectations is like one with very short-term memory, because he or she cannot remember how things will turn out and must re-learn life’s lessons over and over again.
When I ask my daughter for her name, I expect her to tell me the name I gave her when she was born. Every day, I get up in the morning, I expect the sun to be there (sometimes it is hidden behind the clouds, but it is still there). I expect my sister to call me on my birthday and say “Happy birthday”.
If you go over every aspect of your life – the people around you, your environment and even yourself – you will soon realize you have expectations all the time and experiencing life is a constant effort to fit what happens to our expectations.
Can you find the catch? We try to fit life to our expectations even though sometimes we need to do it the other way. This is what I mean when I say that expectations can hurt – we feel like banging our heads against a wall trying to make life match our expectations when it is out of our control.
In this list, much like all the lists, we aim to discover our expectations and find out if they make us happy or frustrated. Obviously, if they make us happy, it will be good to keep them, so we can experience more of them, and if not, it is usually a sign we have created something ourselves that makes us unhappy.
How to list your expectations
- When making your list, remember that the first stage is just writing all your expectations of the world around you.
- Concentrate on every person in your life and work outwards in circles. Start with those who are very close to you and expand to people that are further away – partner, kids, parents, siblings, other family members, boss, colleagues, friends and so on.
- To get the most out of this exercise, examine any problematic relationship you have. Having friction is usually a sign of a conflict between your expectations and the other person’s behavior. Write down what you expect of them and how they do not fit your expectation.
- Write a list of your expectations from the government.
- Add to your list expectations you have of “a friend”, “a family”, “a parent”, “a partner”, “a doctor” and anyone else who gives you service (dentist, your kids’ teacher, your telephone company, your Internet service provider, etc). Notice that these expectations are rules that you have about how they should treat you.
- Add to the list expectations of yourself. You may find you have lots of expectations of yourself and they may be a big source of frustration for you. Do you know how many women expect themselves to look like Barbie and how much frustration is associated with this expectation?
When you have 100 expectations on your list, go over them and try to answer these questions:
- Is there a match between this expectation and what really happens to me? It is very important to find out the relationship between our expectations and what actually happens in your life, because then you can see where you need to spend your energy.
If you expect something to happen and it does not, the tendency is to blame circumstances and others for not matching your expectations when in fact, you have full responsibility over your expectations and may have expected too much or too little. Say you expected to finish 10 items on your “to do list” by the end of the day and you did not. You may feel upset because your daughter got sick and you had to go to school to pick her up and go to the doctor, so you could not complete your tasks on time, but one time is OK, so you relax. However, if you cannot finish your tasks on time often because of unplanned events, you can see your expectations are not “in touch” with reality and you can adjust your expectations based on what actually happens repeatedly.
- Does this expectation make me happy? As you may suspect, when you get less than what you expect, the result is disappointment and when reality matches your expectations, this gives you a sense of certainty and satisfaction and makes you happy. But what happens when you expect little and get more? When reality meets or exceeds your expectations, you feel good. If you are happy, cool, just keep this expectation, because it makes you happy and builds your confidence in what life has in store for you. After all, life happens just the way you expect it or better. What a wonderful state of mind. If not, consider changing your expectation. Remember, being happy or unhappy about the outcome is your choice and yours only.
- Do I expect too much or too little? Some people think that expecting too little will save them from heartache when things do not go their way. Others think that expecting too much will challenge them and push them forward.
Both approaches can work, as long as you adjust your expectations based on what actually happens around you. Expecting little will not always protect you from disappointment, while expecting a lot might frustrate and demoralize you. My rule of thumb is “Expect more of yourself, because when you are frustrated, you are not in any conflict with anyone else, and expect less from others, because they do the best they can anyway”.
- What made me expect this in the first place? [Do this for every expectation that is often unfulfilled] Many times, we expect things to happen just because they have happened in the past, when in fact, we are not the same people anymore and our circumstances have changed. Outdated expectations can bring lots of misery to your life. A good and common example is the expectation to feel as you did in your youth or to relive a moment that is long gone. You may find expectations you hold because “That’s the way of the world”, “That’s the right thing to do” or even “That’s the law”. Expectations like these are presented by grownups to kids as universal rules when the kids cannot question them yet. In fact, your expectations have been given to you by people who held them, but they were subjective. If you want evidence, take a look at reality and feel your pain when such an expectation of your is not met. If you can see the expectation as something you can decide to keep or to change, you will be able to reduce your pain and disappointment. Another common reason for holding an expectation is that “most people” or even “everyone” lives like this. Well, the fact that other people believe in something does not make it good for you. Obviously, it is not good for you, because it brings you frustration and unhappiness. Finally, you may expect things from others because you expect them from yourself. For example, I may expect others to be very good with gadgets, because I am very good with gadgets, or I may expect everyone to love seafood because I love seafood. Expecting others to be like you is not going to benefit anyone, because no one in the world is exactly like you and there is a very good chance you will not get what you expect.
- If it does not happen the way I expect it and it brings me grief, why do I still expect it? If it happens to you once, you have at least one example that something has gone wrong with your expectation. Why keep expecting if it does not work?
You see, if you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always got. It is as simple as that. Many times, we think that our expectations are part of who we are and without them, we will lose part of our identity, but consider the cost of repeated heartache and pain or losing valuable relationships. Holding onto an expectation that makes you unhappy is like holding a hot coal and pretending not to feel the heat.
- Do I expect other people to do things I cannot do myself? A very problematic situation happens when you cannot do something and still have the expectation that others will do it. For example, expecting kids to avoid alcohol when their parents drink or expecting kids to avoid smoking when their parents smoke. It is not helpful to expect people to do something you have proven to be too hard for you to do. It is also not helpful to expect others to do something you can do just because you can do it. Give up on using yourself as a point of reference for the way others should behave. You are a unique being and there is no person on earth that has experienced what you have and that has the same beliefs, thoughts and attitudes like you.
- How can I make this work for me? An expectation may be unrealistic right now, but when it is viewed as a long-term goal, it can make sense. You do not have to give up on big expectations. Instead, you can break them down into smaller chunks and focus on making continuous progress toward the bigger goal. For example, I may expect my kids to be successful at school. If they keep failing, reality does not match my expectation. In that case, I can focus on moving them forward, say from a “D” average to a “C” average. I can teach them myself, get them things that will help them study, hire tutors and so on. They may first get to a “D+”, which is far from my final goal, but indicates improvement, and I can choose to be happy about that. This way, I help reality come closer to my expectations. However, my kids may not be able to get an “A” average. Most kids do not. At some stage, I may see that improvement has stopped, despite my best efforts and my kids’. Then, I must adapt my expectations to reality and get used to the idea that my kids only get a “B” (or whatever).
- Who is responsible for meeting this expectation? If your expectations are irresponsible, meaning others need to fulfill your needs, change them to something that is within your control. Controlling others with your expectations is a formula for trouble. For example, I want my husband to bring me flowers every Friday afternoon, because flowers make me happy. I can change this expectation to “I love flowers, so I will buy myself flowers every Friday”.
Good luck making this list. I think that in a way, it is “heart surgery” and may be painful. However, to leave you on a happy note, recognize that responsible expectations are goals or objectives that can help you move forward and motivate you.
Try to come alive after this “heart surgery”. If you have too many unhappy or irresponsible expectations, persist through this exercise. It may be painful at first, but it will free you from living a life of frustration.
Happy list making (I think this one is a bit tough, therefore you need my “happy” blessing) and join me next week for making the list of 100 beliefs about travelling,
This post is part of the series Make a List:
- Make a list: List Making
- Make a list: About Myself
- Make a list: Friends and Friendships
- Make a list: My Lifetime
- Make a list: Things I am Happy about
- Make a list: Childhood Memories
- Make a list: 100 Ways to Say “I love you!”
- Make a list: What I like about me
- Make a list: Birthday Presents to Ask for
- Make a list: Improve My Life
- Make a list: Things to tell my parents
- Make a list: Beliefs about Money
- Make a list: Feelings I Want to Feel
- Make a list: If I Could Live Forever
- Make a list: Beliefs about Kids
- Make a list: Beliefs about Kids cont.
- Make a list: Events that Have Shaped Your Life
- Make a list: Ways to be kind
- Make a list: Be More Productive
- Make a list: Mistakes (and what I can learn from them)
- Make a list: Expectations
- Make a list: Beliefs about Traveling
- Make a list: Rules I Follow
- Make a list: Good Parenting Qualities
- Make a list: Excuses
- Make a list: Quotes to live by
- Make a list: How to use my time better
- Make a list: If I were Santa Claus
- Make a list: If I had one year to live
- Make a list: Things that Make Me Happy
- Make a list: Movies I loved
- Make a List: My Fears
- Make a List: Find your Happy-ism
- Make a List: Inspiring People
- Make a List: Books that have changed my life
- Make a list: Inspiring Movies
- How to Make a List of Things to Be Grateful for
- Make a List: Ronit’s Gratitude Examples List
- Make a list: Life Lessons Learned
- Make a List: Self-Kindness
- Make a List: 100 Ways to Be Kind to Myself
- Make a List: 100 Things I Want People to Think of Me
- Make a List: Judgment of Right from Wrong
- Make a List: 100 Reasons to Be Wealthy
- 100 Great Insights I Got from the Coronavirus
- How to Make Every Relationship You Want Good
- If I Only Knew: How to Learn from the Past
- How to Clean Away Resentment and Be Happy