My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast. Today we are talking about Resetting our Expectations.
So what are expectations? Well, to my mind, they are basically like paintings of the future WE want to come to pass. Many of us expend precious energy doing exquisite paintings, then rating the actual experiences (better, worse, as expected), and ultimately dealing with the inevitable disappointment when they don’t come to pass.
For some people, there is even a direct path from expectations to a sense of overwhelm – in terms of what they think they should be doing – what outcomes they should be achieving – even in preventing them from saying no because of their perception of other people’s expectations of them.
Almost every person has some level of expectation and if you listen carefully you will hear people share them throughout the day. They are sometimes rooted in an attempt to put certainty on the future – like saying to yourself “it will be like this so it is going to be OK”. So they are basically cousins to worry but more critically the parents of much disappointment.
Indeed, Alexander Pope, the 18th century English poet, went so far as to say:
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
“Blessed is she who expects nothing, for she shall never be disappointed.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher also put “no expectations” at the heart of his philosophy. When asked about the secret to a happy, contented life he replied:
“Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.”
He is essentially saying he doesn’t have any expectations – he isn’t attached to any outcomes – or as the song goes Que sera, sera. So whilst it may not be possible, or even desirable, for us all to jump to Krishnamurti’s state of being, a first step may be resetting expectations to a lower level so at least we get more upside, and then perhaps over time expect less and less of the world.
Just think about it:
- If you expect something to be good – and it is – well there is very little upside – “I expected this”.
- If you expect it to be good – and it is anything else – then this can trigger disappointment – “I expected better”.
- You only get an upside if it exceeds expectations – “That was better than I expected.” And how often does this happen?
Our expectations can be for the world or for ourselves. The expectations we set ourselves are perhaps a little more insidious because they can take so many forms, from how successful we should be, what sort of parents or partners we might be to how good we should be at our job or how much we should get done each day.
And yet, whatever control we may have over ourselves we have very little control over the world and the people and things in it. Our expectations of the world can never take account of all the potential variables so chances are the future will not play out as we had imagined it. When we do this, we are basically putting our happiness in the hands of fate.
Just imagine you are driving to a client meeting. There may be more traffic than expected. It may be harder to park. The client may be more distracted. The meeting may not end in the deal you expected so it feels like it was all for nothing.
None of this thinking arguably serves us – nothing we think can change the outside world, only our perception of it. So instead of creating expectations, which again is us fitting the future to how we want it to be, you could look ahead to the journey and the meeting and play out various scenarios – you may find some ways of mitigating potential negatives without being attached to any one scenario and that is the key. It is more planning for the worst, hoping for the best but expecting neither!
Let’s take that picture of the client meeting not going to expectations. The mental picture may have you arriving and the client is waiting for you in the lobby with a broad smile, followed by a leisurely coffee with the whole thing ending in a great deal. Instead, you may actually be met with a 20-minute wait and a busy and frazzled client coming down to meet you. The less you focus on what you would like to happen and more on what is actually happening in the moment the better your likely response and ultimately the outcome.
So, in closing, just consider keeping this question in your back pocket: “How can I expect less of myself and of others?”
Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.