The trap of expectations

The trap of expectations

“No expectations – no disappointment” is one of my favorite sayings. Pretty blunt but true. Lately more and more people get disappointed with their current life situation/employer/manager/career/partner that they start changing them. They go on a mission to find the perfect one = fully meeting all expectations.

The level of consciousness and the effort put in the assessment of situation determine whether the change will last or not. Quite often it doesn’t. Sooner or later people start noticing that somehow the same pattern repeats leading to yet another disappointment. But why?

How do we create expectations?

Expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case” = it is something that we choose to have. It’s up to us to decide (consciously or not) to believe that certain things should happen in a particular way or certain people should behave in a particular manner.

Quite often people believe that there are sets of universal rules and characteristics applicable to everything and everyone. We know that the manager should be supporting, understanding, inspiring, etc. Colleagues/employees should be helping, caring, fun, etc. Organization should be supportive, encouraging, full of opportunities… And all this should be demonstrated in a particular manner. We know how we want people and things to be in our lives. The ideal picture is very clear to us and therefore we start comparing everything and everyone with it. Pretty soon we notice that there is quite a difference between how things should be and how they really are.

The society that we live in, our family and friends contribute to the creation of our expectations. Out of a sudden we start comparing ourselves with others. The ones who, according to us, are more successful. And then we sort of notice that they are surrounded by “better” people and opportunities. Their manager is more supportive/employer is better organized/career development opportunities are clearer… And then in a blink of an eye we start expecting the same behavior from our manager/organization/colleagues.

Our beliefs and past experiences contribute immensely as well. E.g. there’s still a belief that “only those who work hard achieve great results”. Thus we expect our employees or peers to be hard workers in order to produce great achievements. Because if success comes easily “it doesn’t count”.

Why are expectations useful to us?

If you think about it expectations are useful to us in many instances. Mainly they help us to have excuses and share responsibility. Just think about it: if someone appeared to be different than you expected (of course, your list of expectations was very reasonable and known to you only) you feel you have a legitimate excuse to leave (the job/company) or replace the person (switch to a different manager/let someone go). You have a justifiable reason not to try harder and move forward.

By having expectations we sort of transfer part of our responsibility onto others. It’s something like: “if you be/behave the way I want/need we will succeed. Otherwise the responsibility for failure is 50%/50%”. Hence it brings some sort of a relief because the failure is not entirely on you – other person/organization is obviously to blame too.

Why don’t we benefit from expectations?

Expectations as such are not a bad thing. However the disappointment that derives from them can be pretty damaging. The thing is that too often in case of disappointment we concentrate on escaping the situation instead of fixing it. We fall into frustration, regret and even self-pity and from it is very hard to see bright future with those particular people/organization. Escape seems to be the easiest way forward.

If only we realized that 9/10 times we are trying to escape our own feelings and emotions, not the people around us… If only we knew that we ourselves created the environment (probably unconsciously) for disappointment… If only we remembered that easiest ways do not lead us to growth…

Mindfulness – expectations’ antidote

Expectations are not something that we deliberately create. In most of the cases we don’t even realise we have them. And that’s where the trouble starts. We forget that life is a set of real time events which happen for us, encouraging our growth, strengthening our responsibility and adaptability to changing circumstances and directions. There is no pre-written script that we must perform. On the contrary! We create the script as we go.

Therefore we need to look at people on an individual level. We need to see who they really are (not should be). We need to start looking beyond roles or positions at work, because they do not describe the personality behind it.

We complain that managers support/encourage us in a different manner compared to our colleagues. But that’s exactly what managers should do! They need to give us different challenges and opportunities because we are different and the same behavior that works for our colleagues would not work for us. If we want people to treat us in the exactly the same way as others we need to behave in the exact same way as others. That’s the rule. But do we? I think we all know the answer.

The same goes for the situations. Instead of getting disappointed that things do not go as planned – see new opportunities. Assess, create and proceed. Remember, our brain thrives when it is creative – solves problems, designs solutions, generates ideas. Then it’s active, alive and working. Instead of being in passive existence of “standard” scenarios.

How to escape expectation trap?

Firstly, be here and now (mindful). Become aware of your thoughts and beliefs. Notice whether you have any preconceptions or assumptions about people or situations. If you do – let them go. Concentrate your attention on what is happening in the present moment: what is the exact situation, who is the person in front of you remembering that he/she is just a human too.

Secondly, take responsibility. Yes, you read it right. Take responsibility for your thoughts and choices. Realise that expectation is something that you (and you only) create in your mind. Choose to be open-minded, free from any preconceptions, take people and situations the way they are, not as they should be.

Lastly, be open. If you have certain expectations – share them with those involved. Let people know how you see the world and what your “normal” reality is. Ask them about theirs – you might be surprised. The world has become so small. We work with people who come from different continents and countries with different cultures and backgrounds which impact the way we behave and operate.

I remember one conversation with my manager. We were discussing my personal development plan and she said that in certain situations she wanted me to show more initiative and be more active instead of waiting for instructions. I was so surprised… Because I thought that in those situations I was behaving as a respectful employee. I saw the same situations from completely different angle. In my world it would have been considered disrespectful and even rude to jump onto something without my manager’s instructions. It was an eye-opener to both of us. We learned that lesson there and then.

In conclusion, expectations are not bad per se. It’s only when they become an obstacle to see and adequately assess our reality and make decisions. Disappointment will never be a good advisor when you need to make a decision as it tends to add more negativity to the situation than there really is. Be mindful, be open and, most importantly take responsibility for your actions and thoughts.

"Being yourself is the highway to success".

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