Expectations: What You Can Change

There were two ways to be happy: Improve your reality, or lower your expectations.Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

To manage happiness/expectations successfully, you must understand what’s in—and out—of your control. Some of my clients are successful people. But because of this, they often think things are under their control more than they actually are. Most people don’t understand how much happens that is random.

For example, if you’re looking for a job, you may assume it’s impossible to find a position right now and that there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation. You may have unreasonable expectations at two extremes: that you’ll be hired right away or that you’ll never work again.

One choice is to focus on what you can control. Research the job market thoroughly. Make contacts, and apply for positions for which you qualify. Then, expect something in the middle: You’ll find a job at some point.

We need to differentiate between having low expectations for uncontrollable factors (like the weather) and those we can control (our personal standards), according to Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

“Having low expectations for yourself is a recipe for feeling good about yourself at any particular moment, but not getting anywhere,” she writes. “A good teacher sets really high expectations, but lets a student think he can reach them. That’s most motivating for students.”

A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations. ― Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal

Acknowledge Progress

The same principle applies at work. Managers are most effective when people are appropriately challenged. They must set goals that are difficult, but not out of reach.

It is important to acknowledge small victories and signs of progress, according to Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle. You will then become motivated to give maximum effort. Managers can work with their teams to set and manage expectations.

Unmanaged expectations can provoke disturbing emotions: anxiety, depression, confusion and stress. We often ignore their destructive potential and may not realize we’ve set ourselves up for failure where we could have had choices.

When your expectations are realized, you’re undoubtedly happier. When they’re not, you’re bound to be unhappy. Carefully identify and assess your expectations. If they’re unrealistic, adjust them so you can enjoy greater personal and professional satisfaction. A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ― Jonathan Lockwood Huie

What do you think about expectations and how they affect you? I’d love to hear from you.


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