Expectations are thoughts we have about the future and a projection of how we expect things to be.
We can have good expectations and bad expectations, I want to talk about why I think neither are useful.
Before we start I would like to add a HUGE disclaimer to this so I am not misunderstood.
Now, this is not to say that having positive hopes for the future is a bad thing, of course it isn’t. I would like to draw a difference between hope and expectation.
To me expectations involve a lot of judgement, judgement on how you expect to be treated by others, how you expect others to treat you, how you expect your career to pan out and how you might hope your life to turn out. When we expect, we judge.
Hopes, like expectations, are an internal construct but the difference is, with hope there is no judgement. When you hope to achieve something you place less judgement on it because you do not cause the pressure that expectations create. Hope allows you to go after your goals and to be able to do so in a productive and positive way.
What Expectations Do To Us
Quite simply, expectations lead us to see a perfect scenario. Life doesn’t often turn out exactly how you want it to. When we have an idea of the perfect situation and it is not achieved or it seems we are off track, it can cause us to be unhappy with the present.
We can put ourselves under unnecessary pressure. When our attention is removed from the present we are unable to fully appreciate life and what’s worse we can’t dedicate our thought to how we may affect the future in the present.
How Can We Have Less Expectations?
Having no expectations is difficult. Expectations can arise from so many things, from our own wants and from the expectations of others.
Being present and thinking about what we can do right now to achieve goals and hopes helps us to loosen the grip expectations can have on us. If we are anchored in the now we will not have a million and one thoughts about what if this happens, what if my parents, spouse or whoever thinks about me not meeting their expectations. It takes practice but being present really is the answer.
What we can more easily do, with some practice, is to manage our expectations.
Expectations often involve outside circumstances. In everything we do there will always be things out of our control.
So to manage our expectations we can use a handy technique cited by the great Stoic philosophers, which is to internalise our goals.
An example which I’ll borrow from William B. Irvine, which I read in his great book A Guide to the Good Life, is a game of tennis.
When we play tennis we may expect to win. There are many factors that could stop us from winning, for example, we may not play well, the other person may play a lot better on the day than we do or, even that our opponent is more skillful than we are.
So to internalise our goal we can shift the goal from expecting to win to ensuring that we try to play our best. So with this new goal we can hope to win but know that we control our ultimate goal, which is to do the best we can.
Guess what, when we are trying our best we are focused on what is happening right now so this helps us to be in the present. So in managing our expectations we can also work on not having them!
Basically expectations will lead us to resentment when things don’t turn out the way we hoped. Expectations can ruin our journey to where we want to get to as we can put big pressure on ourselves which can stop us being fully aware of what is going on.
For most of us it is difficult to completely remove expectations but managing them can help to make the journey and the destination happier places.
Whilst we employ this useful technique we can continue our practice of being aware and anchored in the present which will help us to not have so many expectations.
Of course, all you can do is to try your best and hope for it to be easier, don’t start having any expectations…
How do you manage expectations?
How do you differentiate between hopes and expectations?
What have you learned from circumstances not meeting your expectations?
William B. Irvine – A Guide to the Good Life – www.williambirvine.com