A happy life requires proper management of expectations in order not to sink into disappointment or so-called magical thinking. Developing a more adapted (and realistic) outlook on life is the secret to well-being, but how to achieve it?
Last update: January 11, 2022
Managing expectations means knowing how to adapt goals and beliefs to invest in happiness. It is not an easy task.
After all, we tend to expect too much from others, from ourselves, and even from life. This common tendency often leads us to suffering, because the good is reduced when only the best is expected.
Psychologist Jean Piaget pointed out that children often find it difficult to differentiate what happens in their inner universe from what happens outside. At age 6 or 7, we are all going through a period marked by so-called magical thinking and the classic idea that what you want will happen.
Some people reach adulthood convinced of this pattern. This leads them to believe that the world must adapt to their vision, their desires and their expectations. What Piaget called magical reasoning in his day is now called the "law of attraction" and sells millions of books around the world.
Now, we must be clear: life is not always what you want, people (sometimes) are not what you expect and it happens to set completely impossible goals. The antidote to disappointment is to cultivate more realistic expectations.
"If you don't expect anything from anyone, you will never be disappointed."
Strategies for managing expectations and not being disappointed in the attempt
An expectation is the firm belief that something will happen. This view applies to events as well as to people.
In other words, the human being builds expectations about his own future and also about his relationship with others. Does this mean that these psychological constructs are negative or counterproductive? Absolutely no.
We all need security when we think about the future. Having the hope that certain events will happen as we expect gives us security, calm and well-being.
The same goes for emotional bonds. We assume that partner, family and friends will support us at any time because there is a social bond based on trust.
The same happens in our decision-making processes. Research work conducted by the University of Trento shows that expectations mediate many daily decisions. Knowing how to regulate them, be realistic and deprive them of any fragment of magical thought it will be practical and rewarding.
1. Disable certain ideas
Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotional Therapy (ERT), described how irrational ideas mediate our distress. Much of these mental biases stem from unrealistic expectations that boycott any attempt to be happy.
We must therefore become aware of those thoughts that only cause us frustration constant. Are the following:
- Life has to be fair.
- I have to please everyone.
- People I appreciate must always act as I expect.
- Those around me must always agree with me.
- I have to achieve everything I set out to do.
- People must always understand me.
- I have to do everything right.
- If I try hard enough, what I want will happen.
- When I have what I want I will be happy.
- People can change if I ask.
2. Expecting things that are out of control is the prelude to disappointment
To manage expectations, we need to focus on what we can control. If we expect to win the lottery, we are using magical thinking. If we wait for a promotion without fighting and working for it, we are applying magical thinking.
The same happens when we expect certain people to behave as we wish. None of these events depend on us, so we need to change our strategy.
A realistic expectation is what we set ourselves knowing we have the right resources to make it happen. Yet, sometimes, what we fight for does not always happen, but the probability of success will always be greater than when we rely on luck or a third party.
3. Stick to what really matters, be realistic and cautious about managing expectations
Christen Dalsgaard was a XNUMXth-century Danish painter who portrayed a woman on the threshold of a door looking anxiously, as if waiting for the arrival of her loved one. This is the vivid representation of expectations: almost assume that something will happen.
To manage expectations, you need to be realistic and cautious. It's not nice to have high expectations of a film that hasn't been seen just because we love the director. Nor should we bet our entire life on one person. Sometimes we can be disappointed.
The girl in Dalsgaard's painting may have had high expectations in her mind about someone who ultimately didn't show up. Better be cautious, cultivate a positive and confident attitude, but with a little tinge of realism and prudence.
4. Reduce expectations to be surprised
Life can hold wonderful surprises for us, but sometimes by keeping expectations high, the impact is diluted. We could expect, for example, that the partner gives us a trip to Paris and instead gives us a weekend by the sea. But what difference does it make if we are together?
Lower expectations to stick to what really matters it requires being aware of where we are looking. It's okay to always turn it towards the stars, above our heads. However, life happens right under our noses. Right in front.
Reducing expectations does not mean diminishing ourselves, but rather adapting to that more accurate and realistic level in which to let ourselves be surprised by what destiny offers us.