Dealing with your great expectations

Things are going great.

He/she is smiling, laughing. Plenty of eye contact. Body language is positive. You both share the same interests. The flirting is subtle, yet unmistakable. The vibes you get are on a completely insane level.

He asks you out/you ask her out on a date. You’re overjoyed when he/she says yes. Excitedly you agree a time, date and place. Everything feels so natural and smooth, you get the feeling this could really lead somewhere.

A day before the date –*ping* You jump at your phone as their name pops up on screen. They text you to reconfirm everything is still as planned. All good signs and the excitement builds.

 You read it immediately, but at the same time, hold off for a period of time before replying so you don’t come across too keen.

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You confirm.

A few hours before the date, you’re wondering what to wear, checking logistics. How am I supposed to get to the venue, what is it going to be like, other random thoughts race through your mind.

*ping* …”really sorry, something’s come up. Can we rearrange?” 

“no problem”

A day goes by. A few days go by. You send a friendly text as a gentle reminder you’re still there.

*silence*

hmmm…you’re undoubtedly gutted and disappointed..

Or say you’re at work, and your boss has been talking about this promotion they know you’re really keen for. You know you’ve gone above and beyond what you’re expected to do, working those extra hours, taking on those additional responsibilities all to get this promotion. Your boss recognizes it, has been super positive to you, taken you out for drinks, constantly singing your praises to senior management and said, you are most likely to get a promotion this year for all your good work.

Annual review comes along- you walk in, head held high, wondering what the team will think once your boss announces you’ve made it. What are you going to do with that extra money now you’ve been promoted. How are you going to celebrate- good meal with the family ? Big night out with friends – obviously your treat…

“I know you’ve worked you’re a** off this year and you’ve done a great job, thanks so much for your hard work it’s really appreciated. But this year the company as a whole hasn’t performed well so we’re not in a position to offer you the promotion this year. But next year for sure I’ll do everything I can…”

Again, you’d have to be pretty mentally strong not to feel hard done by.

With anything and everything, we most likely have expectations. If we hire a cleaner to clean our apartment, we don’t expect them to miss the dirtiest stain on the carpet. If we order a steak at a restaurant and Chicken Katsu Curry is placed in front of you, you’re going to be somewhat bewildered. Made plans for a picnic and the weather forecasts its bright glorious sunshine, and the following day it’s raining, it’s undoubtedly disappointing.

So what can we do about our expectations?

Well if expectations can only bring grief, then the logical answer would be to say, let’s not have any expectations. In the case of the promotion you were expecting earlier, I’m sure you would feel a lot better if you thought to yourself, the company is going through some really tough times, I could have done even more work… but thankfully my boss likes me and isn’t firing me so I’m very lucky to have a job.
If you don’t have any expectations you can’t be disappointed because your best case was already so low…!

I disagree with this approach.

 If you hire a piano teacher for a 1 hour lesson, and he cuts it off by half an hour because something comes up – are you still going to pay him for the full hour because you got half an hour more than him not turning up at all ? Highly unlikely, no. You’ve booked that time in your day for that 1 hour lesson and adjusted your plans and agreed a price for 1 hour.

If you order a pizza and half a pizza comes out , do you accept it and thank your lucky stars you can afford to eat out and order pizza and won’t go hungry…

So expectations will always be part of life. If I buy an iPhone, and the following turns up inside an iPhone box:

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My reaction won’t be of zen and peace…

However, not all expectations are created equal. The myriad of anger, disappointment and confusion the toy Ferrari is likely to bring compared to say, me checking whether I had won the lottery jackpot is going to be completely different.

Likewise with the poor person who was cancelled on for the date, had the other person not even asked them out, or simply said “no sorry let’s just be friends” – the disappointment is a lot less rather than saying yes, going through the motions of setting up a time and date, before ultimately cancelling in the most brutal way.

Therefore time and investment raises the stakes of expectation.

If in the case of the promotion, you didn’t do anything at all extra throughout the year, coasting along by getting to work slightly late, not too late but always just a few minutes, and always leaving exactly on time. Had the boss not got your hopes up  -all in all you probably don’t care whether you get the promotion or not.

Is the answer then not to put the effort in to avoid being so invested, so that you don’t raise your expectations and could be disappointed?

Arguably not . By doing all the extra work for the boss, there is the chance of promotion. Without all the extras there is 0. The same with the date, rejecting the date would mean 0 chance.

Yes it is greatly disappointing if things don’t turn out the way we hoped, and we would be wise not to let our minds run away with really faraway outcomes. In the before examples the prospect of a date eventually resulting in marriage, or the promotion eventually resulting in becoming the CEO of the entire company – while possible, is many steps ahead in front and far off into the future.

So if the answer is not to have 0 expectations or decreasing our expectations, and not to put our all in to what we do actually want simply to avoid the disappointment of having expectations being met. What is the solution?

The answer is in how we react to whether our expectations are being met or not.

Expectations are ultimately based on a certain result, creating firm boundaries that mean if they are not met, we will be unhappy, and we should instead see them as possibilities.

It is rather a case of not being defined to the expectations or becoming attached to the outcome and perspective needs to be shifted.

Rather than be disappointed at not being promoted, feeling hurt/angry at your company boss for building up your expectations before delivering the bad news that you weren’t expecting – yes you may feel bitter for a period of time but it would be unproductive to hold on to this feeling. The company and your boss won’t change their decision (unless you threatened them that you’re leaving in which case they may counter-offer but that’s a different story…). In this case, focus on how much your CV has improved from taking on the additional responsibilities and how you can better leverage them to perhaps move to a different company for that higher position and pay. The extra work has already been done and is in the past- nothing you can do about it unless you can time travel..!

Likewise with the date, it is unfortunate and maybe a bit of time has been wasted, but at least you know for sure where you stand with that person and it was never going to work anyway so actually, you saved a huge amount of time for the future, and you leave yourself the possibility of meeting someone even better right now in the present.


The concept of expectations also features in my book Understanding Loneliness – if you are feeling lonely and want to do learn how to overcome loneliness, read more here !

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