Creating realistic expectations
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
An expectation is defined as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case”. We all have them, and there is nothing wrong with having expectations. In fact, it is very important to have them, and we will all experience expectations to varying degrees about everything that happens in our lives.
Types of expectations
In this world of chaos, we seem to be in desperate need for some peace and calm to help us re-energise ourselves so that we can carry on. This is even more important when we add children into the mix. The question is, how? Some expectations take place in the background of our minds and we are not even aware of them, while others can consume our thoughts at times and cause significant challenges in the relationships we have with others, as well as with ourselves. It is important to take time to become aware of the expectations that we engage with the world through. Below are some considerations that can help you begin creating greater awareness.
Front of mind - consciously aware of these expectations.
Back of mind - subconsciously sitting in the back of our minds.
Expectations of self
Expectation of others
Expectations of things
Expectations of things in our control vs out of our control.
The power of expectations
At the heart of all frustration and disappointment are unmet expectations. I challenge you to consider the most recent disappointment you experienced, can you recall what the cause of this was? If you are able to reflect on this you are most likely going to arrive at a realisation that you had an expectation of a person, yourself or a situation that did not unfold as you had hoped (or expected) it to. Expectations have the ability to make or break relationships as well as individuals, and we need to be conscious of the role that we allow them to play in our lives on a daily basis. Expectations can be extremely powerful, and it is critical that they remain within our control and awareness.
Cycle of negative expectations
Unmet expectations can and likely will lead to arguments/fights/frustrations for all of us in all of the contexts that we operate in. The interesting thing is that the reason for our frustrations is not often related to the fact that OUR expectations have not been met, but rather there is a tendency to seek reasons or excuses through others behaviours. By emphasising the other persons behaviour, we do bring to the surface our expectations and can often make others aware of these expectations (unfortunately this is often done in indirect ways). Through this engagement, the other person or people become aware of what behaviour or actions ‘should’ have taken place. There is then likely to be a change in the behaviour, but often this is short lived. The reason that the effect is short lived is often due to the following:
Frustrations / concerns are raised
Other person aware / forced to be aware of their action
Changes occur in others behaviour to meet expectation raised
Reason / understanding not internalised by other as reasoning behind change is for another, not self.
Over time, behaviour cycles back, creating an unmet expectation again.
It is critical to know and understand what expectations we hold for ourselves and of others. If we do not firstly know what our expectations are so that we can take steps to adjust them accordingly, we will be constantly disappointed. We need to bear in mind that we cannot (within reason) expect others to change their behaviour and the way that they engage with the world because we want it done differently. We do not have that amount of power or authority over other people, and when we assume we do, we often create situations that can become tense, frustrating and end in conflict.
We need to take ownership of our expectations, and understand why we hold them. As we gain insight into this, we become more empowered to make some changes. For example, we may hold an expectation of our partner that they should text a number of times through the course of a day. When this is not met, we may feel neglected and become frustrated or angry. In order to adjust my expectation, I need to understand that it is my need that leads me to feel neglected when I don’t receive the text messages. It is not my partners behaviour. If I understand this and am able to communicate this to my partner, we can engage in a conversation that can allow him/her to gain understanding regarding what is expected of them that can then be unpacked in terms of what is practical and realistic to expect. Thus, through this process we are able to understand our needs, adjust our expectations appropriately and communicate this to those concerned in order to avoid any misunderstandings.
Remember, adjusting expectations takes work and effort from you, but is necessary if we are to achieve a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and happiness in relationships and life.
Often there is a disconnect between what people expect and reality. Some considerations to close the gap between expectations and reality can be highlighted by asking why.
Question WHY you have certain expectations
Where does the need / desire to achieve something come from?
Who is it for?
What does my expectation actually look like?
Who am I expecting this from?
What is the context of this expectation (eg parents expecting their children to behave / experience life as they did as a child) ?
Ask yourself these questions in order to be quite critical of the expectations that you hold. If you can confidently and realistically answer the questions, then most likely your expectations are reasonable.
In order for any expectation to be achievable it needs to be communicated and understood by those that we expect it from. Some expectations may be common sense or in a similar ‘universal expectation’ group, and so these will likely not need to be communicated to some of those that we interact with (for example a shop assistant or a waiter). For the more specific expectations, however, we do need to communicate with those that we need the specific behaviour or engagement from. Critically though, we need to first and foremost communicate with ourselves as we need to know and understand what is expected and why.
We can then communicate with those that we have expectations of so that they can understand what is actually expected of them, and why. The communication process should allow for some discussion and possible negotiation of the expectations. We need to allow the other person / people to understand our motivation and allow them to discuss their understanding of achieving or meeting this expectation and the likelihood of it being continued. Through this communication process we are able to determine whether the expectations are realistically going to be achieved moving forward.
Take time to regularly review your expectations, of self and others. Review, change or discuss expectations which seem to be unrealistic or that have changed over time. We need to constantly consider alternatives to achieve our expectations so that we can most often achieve what we need.
It is important that we find balance between the expectations we hold and the reality of our situations. If we are unable to negotiate this balance, we are likely to feel frustrated with unmet expectations. We have the power to adjust and manage our expectations, not to change who people are, or how they engage with the world. Focus on what you can do, and often the ripples of change become quite noticeable.