I expect the best. I expect that things should be good for me. I expect that I should get what I deserve. I expect that everything should work out perfectly. I expect that my kids will do well in school. I expect the Packers to win. I expect that you will not disappoint me. I expect that you will be on time for your appointments. I expect that you will have the patience of an angel if I screw up. I've got lots more expectations but I'll hold off for now.
Most of us have high expectations.
Don’t get me wrong. Having high expectations is often beneficial. Research has shown that the most highly effective teachers are those who maintain high expectations of their students. Teachers who have high expectations of themselves are also more effective.
In contrast, levels of expectations are also related to the degree of satisfaction that customers experience. When we expect something incredible and are provided with something far from that, the degree of discrepancy may be related to our level of dissatisfaction.
We believe in gold standards. If people don’t live up to what we believe to be a perfect response we feel unfulfilled; let down. If things don’t go the way that we think they should in an ideal world, someone must be at fault and therefore, to blame. Perhaps Plato is to blame if I can’t find a perfect circle.
While we may not actually believe that there exists a perfect job, a perfect friendship, a perfect marriage, and a perfect drive home, we tend to act in ways that suggest that we deserve to experience these things. As “perfect” does not exist outside of a game of bowling or a very rare pitching performance in baseball, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Where do unfulfilled expectations lead us? They take us down the path of dissatisfaction and blaming.
We need a balance between having high expectations and having unrealistic expectations. This is similar to the difference between being an optimalist and a perfectionist – as described by Tal Ben Shahar. Do we seek perfection – which is unattainable or the best with what is realistically possible? As an optimalist, I can self-motivate or motivate others with realistically high expectations. As a perfectionist with unrealistically high expectations, I will forever be let down, unfulfilled and disappointed.
There will be nothing motivating about this outlook.
If your expectations have not been met and you believe that the expectations are realistic, there must be a reason – a cause – someone or something to blame.
One solution would be to have no expectations. This would be not only extremely difficult in our society, but also not conducive to maintaining a productive industrialized nation.
Another solution, try to make your expectations realistic and if they are not met, search for explanations which may be legitimate excuses. In particular, look for reasons that can be addressed and perhaps modified to arrive at a better conclusion in the future.
I’m not advocating excusing bad behavior, intentional apathy, or poor performances. Rather, I’m suggesting that we look for extenuating circumstances and alternative explanations first, before jumping on the blame train.
The goal is to find a solution, to meet our realistic expectations, and most importantly, to feel satisfied and have a sense of well-being. If we can find a way to stop blaming – ourselves and others – we our one step closer to finding this sense of inner peace.
I hope this article meets your expectations.