We’re wired to expect the world to be brighter and more meaningful and more obviously interesting than it actually is. And when we realize that it isn’t, we start looking around for the real world. – Lev Grossman, The Magicians
A recent New York Times article points out that the way we manage our expectations heavily influences our ability to experience happiness in life and work. Several examples of medical interventions demonstrate how patient expectations can affect health outcomes.
We set expectations all the time: for ourselves, coworkers, family members, items we buy and even the movies we see. Our internal mindset relentlessly measures performance against our assumptions and expectations.
Expectations have a profound effect on our energy and drive. There are two variables in the equation: what we expect from others and what we expect from ourselves. How we view our experiences is critical to the way we pursue our goals and achieve success.
Happiness cannot be achieved without expectations, but our beliefs must be based on an achievable reality. Your daily happiness level can ultimately be measured by the number of expectations you meet.
Having no expectations is an unrealistic and pessimistic approach, not to mention impossibly difficult to achieve. It creates a void. Along with disappointment, you avoid joy and pleasure.
Things are. People are. You are. What you expect of them – and yourself – makes all the difference in your personal level of happiness. You can’t change people, things or events. You can, however, adjust your expectations.
What You Can Change
To manage expectations successfully, you must understand what’s in – and out – of your control. For example, if you’re looking for a job, you may assume it’s impossible to find a position right now and that there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation. You may have unreasonable expectations at two extremes: that you’ll be hired quickly or that you’ll never work again.
The better choice is to focus on what you can control. Research the job market thoroughly. Make contacts, and apply for positions for which you qualify. Then, expect something in the middle: You’ll find a job at some point.
We need to differentiate between having low expectations for uncontrollable factors (like the weather) and those we can control (our personal standards).
Having low expectations for yourself is a recipe for feeling good about yourself at any particular moment, but not getting anywhere. A good teacher sets really high expectations, but lets a student think he can reach them. That’s most motivating for students.
The same principle applies at work. Managers are most effective when people are appropriately challenged. They must set goals that are difficult, but not out of reach.
You must learn to recognize small victories and signs of progress, according to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle. You will then become motivated to give maximum effort. Managers can work with their teams to set and manage expectations.
Unmanaged expectations can provoke disturbing emotions: anxiety, depression, confusion and stress. We often ignore their destructive potential and may not realize we’ve set ourselves up for failure.
When your expectations are realized, you’re undoubtedly happier. When they’re not, you’re bound to be unhappy. Carefully identify and assess your expectations. If they’re unrealistic, adjust them so you can enjoy greater personal and professional satisfaction.
Changing deeply entrenched habits invariably requires help, information, and real support from others. Get a coach, and you’ll make change far more likely.
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