How to manage your expectations

“The quality of our expectations determines the quality of our action.
– A. Godin

We always hold onto conscious and unconscious expectations when it comes to our friends, coworkers, superiors or subordinates, or from other personal or professional relationships . These expectations we all tend to hold onto, about ourselves, others and about the situations we find ourselves in directly influence us. As these expectations become targets or plans for the future. They not only influence what you are going to attempt and your confidence but also your attitude, decisions, behaviours, perspectives and your interactions with others. So, when we hold onto realistic expectations, they direct us in positive ways and towards our goals. However, many of us have a habit of often holding onto unrealistic, negative or sometimes to failed expectations that not only distort our perception of reality but they also lead us away from the goals and objectives we want to achieve.

In general, expectations are required for us to function. It is a good thing to set standards and expect for them to be met in our personal or professional endeavours. But problems arise when we fail to give the right balance to expectation, such as expecting more or less from others or ourselves, than we ought to. It is then that we set ourselves up for disappointment. There is a difference between having realistic standards for behaviour or performance and expectations. Because sometimes our expectations might be based upon strongly held assumptions.

Downside of having unrealistic expectations:

Some of our expectations are may be unrealistic or unreasonable because of the unjustified assumptions and conclusions we make. Such expectations make you think that things will go your way and create unnecessary stress and disappointment when things don’t work out. Sometimes they drive deception because of your past perceptions. For example, your worries are often built upon a set of unrealistic expectations and beliefs that end up influencing your behaviour negatively. Also living up to others unreasonable expectations creates stress and frustration. Expecting others to do what is in your interest also leads to resentment when the outcome is less likely than what you imagined it would be. Also when you try to live up to others’ expectations, the gap that arises between what people expect from you and who you are leads to frustration of yours and others as well.

Low expectations vs high expectations

Setting our expectations high or low generally has objective consequences. Many think one way to avoid disappointment and unhappiness is to have low expectations. This gives rise to a notion that you should lower your expectations to increase your well-being. But this may not hold true factually. Research shows that people with higher expectations are generally happier, whether they succeed or fail. Their findings were based on the result of three cognitive processes.

First, what matters for your well-being is how you interpret the events you encounter. For instance, a student with low expectations who got an A might attribute to his luck and not to his effort. But another who expected an A but got C might put in more effort next time and even turn hopeful that he would eventually get an A. But a student with higher expectations who succeeds, he attributes it to his personal potential. Second, adjusting people’s expectations upward led to bettering their performance. For instance, most of the times it is enough to encourage students with the word ‘clever’ to make them score higher. And the third, having high expectations about the future made them happier in present.

So, the key to increase our productivity and well-being is not to lower our expectations but is the ability to identify and release unrealistic or unreasonable expectations or assumptions of ours and others. It has more to do with the ability to interpret negative outcomes in a positive way. setting high expectations for yourself and working hard towards achieve them proves to be more productive. Setting high expectations not only improves your productivity but also makes you more inclined towards learning from your mistakes. On the contrary, if someone is basing his/her performance on low expectations or on unhelpful or unrealistic expectations, then he/she will be more likely to fail, less productive and will be less inclined to learn from their errors.

We cannot get rid of our own and others’ expectations as they play an important role in our everyday interactions and in achieving our objectives. Be it an individual or as an organisation’s expectations, they play a crucial part in our planning and productivity. This is because many times optimism bias tends to influence our future success. To achieve your goals, you should be able to effectively manage your own expectations and of others. Handling failed, unrealistic and negative expectations in positive ways can help you achieve your goals and objectives. Here are some ways to manage your own expectations and others’ expectations of you.

Managing your own expectations

unrealistic expectations. At times, we hold onto unreasonable expectations about ourselves both personal and professional situations we find ourselves in. This is mostly because of inaccurate information we have or due to our unjustified conclusions or preconceived notions. Such expectations may distort our perception of reality and lead us down the wrong path. Asking right kind of questions can make you aware of the conclusions we are drawing at any moment and helps you to handle your expectations. It is important to challenge such expectations by asking yourself what your expectations are, are you basing them on assumptions or facts and whether or not it is reasonable to hold onto such expectations in the first place. Check as to what set of expectations would be more helpful for you in that situation. Challenge your unreasonable expectations to set realistic and helpful expectations in a specific situation.

Negative expectations. Sometimes certain negative expectations manifest from self-doubt and pessimism creating failure scenarios. Recognising the possible consequences of such expectations can help you handle them positively. In order to handle your doubts, challenge your limiting beliefs. What do you expect will happen? How do you know for sure that things will turn out this way? What if the way you are thinking about is flawed? Look for more empowering ways to think and handle such negative expectations. The more you challenge your doubts and limiting beliefs, the more confident you will be to develop more realistic and positive expectations that align with your goals.

Failed expectations At times, you might have set a goal that you believed that you would achieve but didn’t quite turned out that way. In such situations, instead of giving into limiting emotions like fear of failure and disappointment, or thinking that you are inadequate or incapable, look for what you can learn from them. The result is not what you expected but it doesn’t change what you are capable of. Treat it as a failed attempt that you must learn and grow from. In order to deal with failed expectations, check whether your expectations are flexible or are you expecting very specific results based on preset conditions. When your expectations are not flexible, there won’t be enough margin left to allow you to make changes when conditions change. Check how your expectations turn out if conditions change and how you need to adapt to these changing conditions.

It is good to set goals and achieve them. But it is important to note that expectations aren’t the same as targets and you should ignore brain’s need to expect the same thing over and over. Identify where your expectations are coming from and look for any confirmation bias. Do not let your past experiences dictate your expectations. Instead of seeking evidence to confirm your perspective of how things are same, make an effort to look for what is different in a situation the second time you come across it.

Managing other’s expectations

Sometimes, we make certain decisions based on how others expect us to perform. Others can help us raise or lower our productivity levels. However, when we fail to live up to others’ expectations or when their expectations don’t align with our goals, we experience disappointment and it gives rise to frustration and resentment. Here are ways to manage others’ expectations.

Communicate with others to clarify. Expectations if not clearly defined or expressed can lead to failure and frustration. Communicate with the person setting the expectations for you. A person who is setting unreasonable expectations might be unaware that he or she is putting unfair pressure on you. When in doubt ask whether it is your friends, coworkers or children as to what it is that they want or need in that particular situation. Talk to the person and be clear about what’s expected, how it might be accomplished and make them aware of your boundaries are. For instance, what your limitations are, your flexibility, or your availability and so on. Let others know about your preferences and your plans so that they don’t expect anything that is unreasonable or unrealistic. Communicate with everyone involved in a frequent basis to avoid any assumptions they have of you.

Anticipate worst-case scenarios We are aware of the expectations others have of us, but in an effort to impress them, we forget to take into account setbacks, obstacles or other interferences that come in our way. Do not assume that things will go as you expect. For bigger tasks or projects, anticipating every possible outcome and being prepared for worst-case scenarios will help you in making your expectations more realistic.

Be aware of biases and perspectives of others. Expectations from your relationships, both personal and professional might lead to unhappiness if they are based on preconceptions and other biases. Having a clear understanding of others expectations gives you an opportunity to improve or correct your decisions and choices. Make sure you understand the context and avoid falling into the trap of their biases and preconceptions. Do not assume that others have the same understanding of a situation as you do. Gain awareness of others’ assumptions, biases and perspectives if there are any. This gives you a proper perspective of what they are expecting of you.

Finally, Manage your expectations of others

Sometimes, our expectations of others can also be unreasonable. Such expectations also put pressure on people to meet those expectations. Challenging and pushing them to raise their personal standards can be very empowering. But the key is to avoid putting unreasonable and unnecessary expectations onto others. When you place unreasonable expectations on others, you place yourself at a high risk of getting disappointed. Such disappointments can lead to an increased anger toward the person causing the disappointment. Be mindful of what is it that you are truly expecting from others. Think of what’s unreasonable to expect of other person given their ability and their current circumstances. Ask yourself whether would you expect the same of yourself if you are in that particular situation. This will help you to make your expectations of others more reasonable and realistic.

To conclude,

So, what expectations are you holding onto? Are your current expectations helpful and realistic? Are your expectations too low or too high? Are you being reasonable in your expectations of others? Do you communicate clearly to others what you expect and about your limitations? Are your expectations flexible? Do you focus on communicating who you are or Are your conversations full of expectations of who you should be? Do you strive to fulfil others’ expectations at the expense of your needs? Ask yourself the above questions to be more aware and mindful of your expectations.

Our success and failure can be largely defined through how we manage our expectations of ourselves and of others. At the same time, managing your expectations of others is also important to navigate yourself through your work situations and in your personal relationships. Instead of getting bogged down by various expectations, use the above strategies to change your expectations to ones that are more in line with your goals and to manage them effectively.