"The best things in life are unexpected because we had no expectations," said Eli Khamarov, and he was right. Happiness is usually proportional to our level of acceptance and inversely proportional to our expectations.
Expectations are present in our daily life, haunting us with their load of illusions and claims. But when they are not realized - which often happens - we sink into frustration and disappointment. That is why it is essential to understand the mental limits that represent expectations.
What are expectations?
Expectations are personal beliefs about events that may or may not occur. They are hypotheses about the future, anticipations based on subjective and objective aspects. Indeed, expectations arise from a complex combination of our experiences, desires and knowledge of the environment or the people around us.
Expectations range from the small chance of their realization to almost certain realization. Some expectations have an automatic character because they are fed mainly by our desires, illusions and beliefs, so we feed them without being fully aware of their origin and without contradicting how realistic they are. Other expectations have a more reflective character since they start from a process of analyzing the various factors involved, being more realistic.
What are the functions of expectations?
The main function of expectations is to prepare us for action. If we mentally anticipate what may happen, we can prepare an action plan so that life does not catch us unprepared. Expectations, therefore, help us mentally prepare for the future.
In fact, most of our decisions are not based solely on objective data - as we like to believe - but on the expectations we have about the results of those decisions. This means that every decision is, in a sense, an act of faith. Behind every decision is the confidence that our expectations about the consequences of our choice will occur.
Therefore, expectations become a kind of inner compass. The problem is that expecting something to happen won't make it happen, so when expectations aren't realistic they can end up playing tricks on us and, instead of helping us prepare mentally, they lead us to frustration.
5 examples of unrealistic expectations that fuel magical thinking
Jean Piaget pointed out that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the subjective world they create in their mind and the external, objective world. Piaget found that children often believe that their thoughts can make things happen. For example, if they get angry with their brother, they may come to think that he got sick because of them, even if he didn't.
Piaget called this phenomenon "magical thinking" and suggested that we all get over it by the age of about 7. But the truth is, as adults we continue to have different forms of magical thinking. Many people find it difficult to abandon the idea that expecting something to happen makes it possible, an idea that theories such as the famous "law of attraction" rely on.
Furthermore, we tend to pin our hopes for happiness on fulfilled expectations. That is, we believe that we will be happy if what we expect or want is satisfied. And if that doesn't happen, we believe we will be deeply unhappy. This kind of thinking postpones happiness by mortgaging it to a probability.
However, expectations are not necessarily negative, always when we have good reason to believe that fulfilling an expectation will make us happy and we make sure we take the necessary steps to ensure that those wishes are met.
The real problem with expectations is waiting for something to happen without having good reasons for it to happen. If we believe that simply nurturing certain desires can make them come true, we are fueling a magical thought as we lay the groundwork for disappointment.
This type of thinking can seem delusional. And it is, but we've all fed it under certain circumstances whenever we've had unrealistic expectations like:
1. Life should be fair. Life is not fair, bad things happen to "good people". Hoping that we can eliminate problems and difficulties just because we are "good" is an example of an unrealistic expectation that we have all fed.
2. People have to understand me. We all suffer in part the Effect of False Consent, a psychological phenomenon whereby we usually think that a large number of people think like us and that we are right. But this is not always the case, everyone has their own point of view and this does not have to correspond to ours.
3. Everything will be fine. It's a phrase we repeat to ourselves often to build confidence, but the truth is that if we don't make sure things are going well by getting to work, our plans could go awry at any moment.
4. People should be nice to me. We hope people are kind and willing to help us, but that won't always be the case. Some people don't like us and others just don't care. We have to accept it.
5. I can change it. We tend to think that we can change others, a fairly common expectation in relationships. But the truth is that personal change has to come from within, from intrinsic motivation. We can help a person change, but we cannot change or "fix" them.
Consequences of unrealistic expectations
Expectations are not harmful in themselves as they help us to form a general picture of what could happen to us in the more or less near future. The problem begins when we expect life to proceed according to our wishes, something that sooner or later will lead us to disappointment, because as writer Margaret Mitchell said: "Life does not have to give us what we expect."
The problem arises when we forget that our expectations often reflect only a desire or probability - quite remote - that something will happen. When we lose that perspective, expectations become a real happiness killer.
Also, when unmet expectations involve other people's “failure” to behave as we expect, disappointment adds to resentment and ends up profoundly affecting the relationship, causing us to lose faith in those people.
Getting rid of expectations is complicated, but the good news is that we don't need to banish them from our mind, we need to learn to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations.
The benefits of dominating your expectations
1. Take responsibility for your decisions
Expectations are not facts, they are simple probabilities, understanding this difference, which is not simply terminological, will allow us to take responsibility for our life. This means that if you want something to happen, you need to take a proactive attitude and take the necessary steps to make that wish come true, don't wait patiently for others to guess what you want or expect from them.
Paradoxically, waiting less and acting more allows us to regain control without feeling overwhelmed as it implies greater confidence in our potential and greater knowledge of ourselves. People who don't sit and wait for others to meet their expectations, but fight for what they want, usually don't take on the role of victims or martyrs, but strive to make things happen.
2. Separate your desires from your duties
Most of the time we work with the automatic pilot inserted assuming the "mentality of the herd"; that is, we are committed to fulfilling our "duties". But duties are nothing more than the expectations that others have imposed on us, whether it is family or society.
When we fail to fulfill our duties, we feel guilty. But if we conform to them we expect a reward and when it doesn't come, we get angry and disappointed. In both cases we are losers, because we are immersed in a permanent negative emotional state. Getting rid of our expectations also means understanding that we don't need to meet the expectations of others. And it is a liberating process through which you come into contact with your true desires and passions, which are two fundamental ingredients to achieve what you have proposed.
3. Enjoy the present more
“Don't cross the bridge until you reach it,” advises an English saying. We need to understand that expectations are shaped by bits and pieces of the past, which helped us make the prediction, and by wishes for the future, but they don't even contain a hint of the present, which is the only thing we really have. Expectations without action only serve to lock us in the trap of the future, they limit us to the role of the chess player who sits waiting for his opponent's movement, while all possible moves pass through his mind to counterattack. Except that in life, taking on the role of the chess player for too long means letting the present escape us.
Furthermore, expectations often turn into lenses that prevent us from seeing the world clearly. When we expect something, we can miss other opportunities, as if we were on the platform of a station waiting for a train that never arrives and, in the meantime, we let the others go. On the contrary, having realistic expectations allows us to live in the present, build it and take advantage of the opportunities it offers us.
How to "adjust" expectations?
• Control the waiting mind. In Buddhism, we speak of the "waiting mind" in reference to those people who expect something, but do not go to work to achieve it. From this perspective, expectations are useless. In fact, they are counterproductive because when they are not satisfied, they only serve to generate pain and suffering, irritation and sadness. The solution? Control the waiting mind. You can do this by opening yourself more to uncertainty and the flow of life, experiencing situations without anticipating the outcome.
• Separate realistic expectations from those that are not. Expectations help us prepare for the future, so we can use them in our favor, we just have to learn to differentiate realistic expectations, those that are most likely to come true, from unrealistic ones that are almost exclusively based on our wishes. We must keep in mind that "unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments," as Steve Lynch put it, since there is a high probability that they will not be met. Expecting a person to do something in our favor that goes against his interests is unrealistic. Instead, expecting that person to do something in our favor that favors them too is a more realistic expectation.
• Communicate your expectations. Believing that an unspoken expectation will bring us what we want is an unrealistic magical thought and it is very likely that it will not be fulfilled. Therefore, when we are waiting for something from others, we should not expect them to read our thoughts, it is better that we communicate our expectations to them, explain what we want and are aware of their willingness to help us.
• Make a plan B. Communicating our expectations is not always enough to achieve them. There are many factors beyond our control to carry out our projects, so the smart thing to do is to prepare a plan B. As Denis Waitley said: "Expect the best, plan the worst and be prepared to be surprised." This is the right attitude.