“Expectations are predictions bathed in unreasonable certainty” – me.
I first started exploring the concept of managing expectations on a whim, when I ran the Confident Mindset Inner Circle for the first time. I had no idea how important this concept would turn out to be.
I bought the conversation to the boys at Brojo, asking them some key questions and getting their feedback. Today I’m going to share those notes with you (usually reserved for the Brojo Online Forum). Let’s explore together.
KEY QUESTIONS WE EXPLORED
What are expectations?
How are they created?
How do they affect our ability to enjoy life; how do they reduce our satisfaction?
What would be required to live without expectations yet still remain motivated to achieve?
WHAT ARE EXPECTATIONS?
They are results and outcomes we believe “should” or “should not” happen. We imagine a future scenario, which is part of normal healthy planning, but then we attach a certainty to it that has no basis in reality. An expectation is therefore a plan that we have come to believe is guaranteed to go the way we predicted.
It’s like the difference between saying “It might rain tomorrow” versus “It will definitely rain tomorrow”. Expectations are often identified through their link to ‘fictional language’, like should, could, must, guarantee, trust, and promise. These are all words that exist in a fictional alternative future reality; they cannot be applied to the current real moment and still make sense.
Expectations often take the form of fantasies and worries that are not based on valid and reliable evidence; they are illogical and emotive. We do not always expect positive things, and often we become pessimistic by constantly predicting negative outcomes and believing in them before they have happened. Remember, any time you believe in something that has not happened yet, it is by definition 100% fictional.
Expectations are based on cause and effect assumptions around reward/punishment. Cause and effect bias is your brain’s lazy way of predicting the future, without having to bother with assessing each individual situation as a unique thing (which it always is because of the range of constantly changing variables). Expectations represent an inflexible certainty without proof; basically expectations are a result of ‘lazy’ brain processes.
Expectations are something we are conditioned to rely on. Our schooling and parenting culture has us believing that you need expectations to get things done, or to achieve highly. But what if it’s all just a lazy way to control people? Which leads us to ask…
WHERE DO EXPECTATIONS COME FROM?
One of the key factors underlying the creation of expectations is an irrational belief that the Universe should be fair and just. Despite overwhelming evidence that the Universe is unconcerned with a human definition of fairness and balance, we continue to believe in the idea that everything will even out (which usually just translates to “it will work out for ME”).
The only way a human can even conceptualize fairness is through believing that there is more than one reality e.g. “I should have done that”, as if that’s an option still available. This is a crucial point for you to investigate within yourself. Whenever you use fictional language you are asserting the belief that somehow reality could have gone down a different way to how it did. This is lunacy! There is only one reality.
Expectations often derive from entitlement; the idea that “points” can be added up so that you can cash in and be rewarded later, despite lack of evidence that this is true. The word karma comes to mind. We are taught as we grow up that ‘good’ behaviour is always rewarded, and ‘bad’ behaviour is always punished. This can be a helpful methodology to train children away from harmful behaviour, but it is also totally bullshit. There is a tonne of evidence supporting the concept that ‘bad’ behaviour can be rewarded (e.g. the untouchable power of Mexican drug cartels) and that people doing ‘good’ things can suffer (e.g. Robin Williams).
An emotional attachment to outcomes we’ve predicted will lead us to want it so bad we start to believe it ‘should’ happen; we feel an entitlement to rewards through our neediness. This neediness is at the core of the process that leads to expectations. If you think your prediction about the future is true, it’s probably because you want it to be true, even when you are having negative expectations. For example, thinking that your public speaking event will fail will lead you to sabotage it with poor effort and allow yourself to create ‘evidence’ that you never have to do it again. Ultimately, your negative expectation showed that deep down you wanted to fail.
Expectations are based on a skewed memory of past experiences and biases. Through lazy brain processes we can categorise similar events and just call them “the same thing”. It’s all about trying to reduce the amount of effort and discomfort we have to go through, so we see a link between expectations and the desire to remain comfortable. If I ask someone on a date and they say “No”, I can use these processes to convince myself that all future women will say No, and therefore cowardly opt out of the uncomfortable situation of being honest with women I’m attracted to.
Pressure from others based on their beliefs will sometimes create our expectations for us. Most people are probably in jobs and relationships right now based on the idea that society said they should be. We are too often unquestioning in our following, allowing people we deem to be authority to tell us how to live. Governments, parenting, religious organisations, and office management hierarchies are all great examples of leadership systems which manipulate others through expectation-setting.
HOW DO THEY AFFECT US?
We become emotionally attached to outcomes which have not happened yet, and then we refuse to accept reality. Anything below an expected outcome is deemed a ‘failure’, while anything above is thought to be a ‘success’ or considered to be good luck. This fiction-based reward/punishment process facilitates our creation of irrational attachment to uncontrollable outcomes. Think of the times where you feel upset or happy about something that hasn’t even happened yet! More lunacy from the human mind.
Let’s stop for a second to consider the emotional state of disappointment. It’s unique in the emotional spectrum in that it requires an expectation before you can experience it. It’s impossible to be upset, offended or disappointed without first having unreasonable expectations. As we discussed earlier, our ability to create a fictional alternative reality in our heads, and then want that reality so strongly that we refuse to accept it doesn’t exist, is the cause of all our disappointment.
Expectations can also lead to severe complacency, e.g. inaction due to “Law Of Attraction” beliefs. Because we are so convinced by our apparently supernatural powers of future-prediction, we start to sit back and just wait for things to happen for us. We develop the dreaded Victim Mentality; a belief in fate rather than the idea that we can proactively influence the future.
Feeling pressured is often a warning sign of expectations. You cannot feel pressured when you are focused on the present moment, it is only future planning that can create pressure.
Entitlement – “I’ve earned this” type thinking – will often follow expectations, and is based on no evidence whatsoever. As we said earlier, there is no equality system in the Universe that matches your morals and ethics. Just because you think you should be rewarded for your good behaviour doesn’t mean it will happen. You’ll find that if you view the Universe as random and beyond human understanding, it will make a lot more sense. We don’t yet know exactly why the Universe works the way it does, but already it’s clear that it’s not based on a human model of balance. It probably has more to do with matter vs antimatter than it does with our subjective beliefs, don’t you agree?
Expectations lead us towards feelings of sacrifice and loss, due to the unfairness of it all. We almost always create expectations based on comparisons to others, so when we don’t get what they got we feel like we’ve been shafted. Again, without the misguided belief that the Universe should be ‘fair’, we wouldn’t even bother comparing to others. I know I don’t do this much anymore, and taking that weight off my shoulders is one of the most valuable changes I’ve ever made in my life.
HOW DO WE MANAGE EXPECTATIONS?
Expectations are managing through Valued Living. Rather than trying to not have expectations, which is almost impossible because they’re primarily caused by a subconscious system of thinking, we can learn to recognise them and intervene actively when they arise. At Brojo we looked at which values assist with managing expectations the most.
Expectations cannot exist in the present moment, as they are essentially future-fictions, so focusing on the Value of PRESENCE helps remove them. When you bring your attention to the present moment you immediately eliminate your expectations. The more you do this, they quieter they become. You can achieve this by simply asking yourself “What is real right now?” and then look for hard evidence.
They are eliminated by ACCEPTANCE of reality, which is the polar opposite of an expectation. Once your focus has been bought to the present moment, start to register the difference between the reality you can see, touch, hear, smell and taste, versus the alternative reality you made up inside your head. Notice that despite any emotional fears or hopes you might be feeling, these have no influence on reality. Learning to accept what is real leaves you better prepared to deal with the world (i.e. increases your confidence) and trains you to avoid pointless expectation-setting.
GRATITUDE helps to track evidence of what is real over time. You can reduce your harmful entitlement by learning to look at what is happening and picking out the good bits that you’re lucky to have been a part of. Expectations are linked to fear of missing out, so eliminate that fear by tracking how much abundance of good stuff you have in your life. For starters, you’ve alive, which is about the most improbable thing that can happen, so lucky you!
When it comes to managing expectations that other people try to impose on us, we can avoid others manipulating us with their expectations through exploring their irrational beliefs. We do this with CURIOSITY. When someone tells you what you “should” or “should not” be doing, ask them why they believe that. Recognise that their expectation has nothing to do with you, it’s all about their own misguided beliefs and predictions, so help them explore that.
If they refuse to explore, that’s OK, it just means that it’s time to use COURAGE to draw boundaries with them. They do not have the right to tell you how to live, no matter who they are. Make sure they know this. There’s a difference between your boss respectfully asking you to complete a task and expecting it to be done a certain way. If your boss wants you to do it, then the result is up to you, not her. If she wants it done a certain way, then she can do it herself. Those are her only options in reality.
Check out the Inner Circle session on Expectations
Video on Managing Resistance from Others