Expectations, and when not to have them

I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard people–myself included–use the word “expectation.”  And I believe it’s one of the most overused and misused words in our modern vocabulary.

“Expectation,” as defined by dictionary.com, is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” Having expectations for ourselves, our relationships and our life endeavors is important. These are long-term and have deep personal meaning.  

The misuse of the word happens when it is used to describe things that are more temporary or fleeting such as vacations, events, performing in a sport or hobby, etc.  Using the word this way can create more negative feelings than positive ones. 

Let me explain.

We all know people who routinely express low expectations. These people are negative and no fun to be around.  Also, it’s been proven that we feel the way we talk. If we talk negatively we will feel down and sad. It’s also likely that we will have fewer friends and the ones we have are probably also negative.  So I don’t advise having low expectations.

Setting high expectations is also not advised. How many times have you had high expectations for future events, only to be disappointed when they finally reach the moment?  Unless you’re very lucky, it is highly unlikely that future events will live up to your high expectations. Plans will change, surprises will occur, and so on.  

This is why I advise people to not set expectations.  It is ok to look forward to things. However, by not assigning expectations or investing emotional energy, we won’t be as disappointed when things do not work out as hoped and we will be elated when things do. 

Despite having preached this for years, I admit that I have not followed my own advice all the time. For vacations and trips, I’ve always tried to set myself up for success by not mentally preparing for the trip until the day before. But recently I realized I was not doing this consistently.

A personal example – 

I love ski jumping.  I would have to in order to be so horrible at it and still do it! However, for years I dreaded practice. Then I realized that the problem was that I was regularly setting high expectations for my jumps.  

When I had a practice in which no discernible improvement occurred, I would be filled with disappointment.  This happened a lot, which explains why I would come to dread practice. And when I did have a good practice, I only left feeling satisfied, not particularly happy, or joyful or proud.  Why? Because I had set up the expectation in advance, I was mentally celebrating before I took a single jump. Consequently, the happiness was watered down by the time it actually happened. 

So, lesson learned. Instead of thinking about that awesome takeoff and skillful landing, I just walk up and go.  Muscle memory takes over an voila! Even a mediocre jump, which would have ruined my day before, was ok. And what I found is that instead of feeling satisfied on good days and in the dumps on bad ones, I am nearly always proud of the workout and simply enjoyed the flight.

So, to recap, expectations are going to be part of our lives. Whether we allow them to positively or negatively affect our self-esteem, self-worth and happiness depends on how we treat them.  Have a bunch of expectations for your life and happiness. But avoid the urge to set them for anything else.

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