Expectations can be good. You expect to be treated with respect by a friend, family member or partner. You expect employees to arrive at work on time. You expect to reach your financial goals. Expectations can be self-motivating, and help you set limits. The trick here is in managing those expectations. It’s okay to aim high, as long as you’re being realistic and flexible.
Then there’s the downside to expectations. I know a couple, at least I think they’re still a couple, they’re very on-again, off-again. She is controlling and has high expectation of him. He’s a wild child and resists authority. She’s angry, hurt and disappointed in the things he does. He doesn’t set out to intentionally hurt her. It has been said that expectations are just pre-meditated resentments. While that’s not always the case, when you set unrealistic expectations, you will be disappointed. Realizing that you can’t control a situation or another person is what mindfulness is all about.
So how do you manage those expectations without becoming stressed or resentful? Here are some thoughts:
Let go of whatever happened in the past. Most expectations are based on what has happened in the past, so it’s time to assess your old habits and assumptions (another loaded word) and make mindful choices moving forward.
Challenge yourself … gradually. This applies to expectations of yourself. Don’t set the bar too high to begin with. Savor the small achievements as you build up to those that are more ambitious.
Be realistic. Whether it’s expectations of yourself or others, keeping your goals reasonable reduces the chance for disappointment.
Realize that you can’t control an outcome, or another person. Things happen, plans change, people change. If you’re flexible and realistic, you’re able to roll with the unexpected.
Communicate early and clearly. Hidden assumptions (there’s that word again) can make it complicated to figure out the true expectations of others, as well as our own thoughts. Listen closely and ask probing questions.
Get buy-in. Don’t expect everyone to think the same way as you or to agree with you. It’s easier to agree on expectations at the start rather than trying to resolve conflicts after someone feels let down.
Establish priorities. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the expectations you may have. Decide what is most important in your life and let the rest go.
Set your boundaries. If someone else is setting unrealistic expectations of you, that doesn’t mean you have to stress out over it. Communicate to them, in a caring way, that this isn’t okay with you. Have a dialog where you can both agree on what will work.
Continue to assess. Take an honest look at your expectations. Are they in need of updating? Are any of them controlling or unrealistic? Again, be flexible and open to change.
Expectations can be good, provided they are realistic, discussed and agreed upon. And while they can motivate you to reach goals, change happens, so flexibility is key. Being open to a change in circumstances will help you learn and grow. You have a bright future, even if it turns out differently from the vision you hold today.