Avoid the Expectation Trap

Craig Harper, a coach and motivational speaker in Australia, explores the many ways you can be let down by others and  how changing your expectations can change your reality.

Do people let you down? Have they let you down in the past? Do you think they will in the future? Did you (do you) have particular expectations about how people should treat you or react when certain things do or don’t happen in your world? Like when you get a new job? Or lose some weight? Make a personal breakthrough? Get some good news? Or bad news?

Some Stories…

More Money… More Resentment

You tell one of your best friends that you’ve just been given a big raise at work and for some reason, he doesn’t seem happy for you. At all. Your heart sinks, your enthusiasm turns to embarrassment and you immediately wish you could take back your excited words. You’re confused and hurt. Your friend fakes a smile and offers some pseudo-enthusiasm but behind the un-convincing charade, you sense he’s not happy at all. He might even be resentful.

The Weight-Loss Critic

You’ve been following a new fitness and nutrition program for a month and you’ve been super-good. You’re in the zone and quite proud of yourself. You step on the scales for the first time since you started and to your overwhelming delight, you’ve lost seven kilos. In a moment of euphoria, you phone your friend who is on the weight-loss journey with you. ‘She’ll be so excited for me’, you think. You share your amazing news with your normally-chatty, upbeat friend and for some reason, the chatty and upbeat elements are nowhere to be seen. Er, heard. You expect reciprocal excitement and happiness, you get neither. You hope for support but what you get is judgement and criticism for “being obsessed and losing weight too fast”.

The Young Fool

In a rare moment of clarity and certainty, your directionless life becomes directed. Meaningful. Purposeful. You have an experience which brings you to the realisation that you want work for a charity in a far-away land to impact lives and help people who don’t have what you do. You want to live a life of service and contribution. You’re only twenty-two and although you’re scared, you’re also completely sure about your mission. You ponder it for a couple of weeks to consider the practical commitment and cost of it all and even then, you’ve never been surer. You visit your mum and dad to tell them the great news and they look at you like you’re an idealistic, misguided moron who’s lost their grip on reality. Your dad, who’s perched in his comfy chair and only half interested, laughs and looks back at the TV without even commenting on your life-changing revelation. You mum tells you’re “being silly” and to sit down for dinner. You’re shattered.

And You?

Have you ever had a similar experience? A moment when you didn’t get the response you thought you would? Or should? Maybe you’ve had many of those moments?

So the smart question here is..

Who or what was the cause of your ‘let down’ experience? Was your hurt, disappointment, embarrassment and emotional pain caused by the person’s response or was it caused by your expectation of what their response would be?

To be honest, this could almost turn into a ‘chicken or egg’ type of discussion but what I can tell you is that, in each of the three examples given, if the expectation of the individual (the one sharing the news) had been different (not expecting a positive response, for example), then they would have avoided most, if not all, of the pain. After all, if I don’t expect my over-weight friend to be happy when I tell her about my weight loss, then I won’t be surprised, offended or hurt when she isn’t.

Reasonable and Unreasonable Expectations

Life is the best teacher and when we pay attention, it will educate us about realistic and unrealistic expectations. Expecting certain reactions from certain people can be irrational and unreasonable when we take into account their track record and our previous experiences with them. If dad hasn’t paid you a compliment for the last twenty years then there’s very little chance he’ll do it today, even though you just discovered a cure for cancer, ran your first marathon and saved three children from a burning building.

Do you deserve praise? Yes.
Should you expect it? No.

And while it’s understandable that we still look for positive re-enforcement and approval from those who matter to us (because we’re human), it can also be an unreasonable, unhealthy and disempowering expectation.

So, do people let you down?
Only if you let them.

Change your expectations, change your reality.