I’ve been thinking about how important it is to manage our expectations because they have a profound effect on our energy and drive. In the work I do, so many times I see people who set themselves up to fail with unrealistic expectations of themselves, others, or events.
Sometimes I’ve heard people say they’ve given up on goal setting so they won’t be disappointed. Having no expectations is an unrealistic and pessimistic approach, not to mention impossibly difficult to achieve. It creates a void a life without hope. Along with avoiding disappointment, you also avoid the experience of joy and pleasure.
Things are. People are. You are. What you expect of them—and yourself—makes all the difference in your personal level of happiness. You can’t change people, things or events. You can, however, adjust your expectations.
The secret self knows the anguish of our attachments and assures us that letting go of what we think we must have to be happy is the same as letting go of our unhappiness. ― Guy Finley, Letting Go: A Little Bit at a Time
What Happens in the Brain
I don’t think people realize how easily emotions get triggered in the brain which causes faulty thinking.
There is a physiological response to disappointment when life fails to meet our expectations. When something positive happens, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the brain and makes us feel good.
With unmet expectations, our brain becomes more than slightly unhappy. It actually sends out a message of danger or threat. As dopamine levels fall, we experience real pain.
If we expect to get x and succeed, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we experience a much greater drop.
“Hope for the best, but expect the worst” would seem to protect us from this physiological phenomenon, but it doesn’t. The real solution is to be adaptive and rapidly flexible.
How do you adjust when your expectations fail to be met?