Managing your expectations is important, primarily because the extent to which your work and your life match your expectations greatly influences your mood, your attitude, and your feelings of satisfaction and success.
Experience shows that managing your expectations also impacts the objective reality of your work and your life.
It’ll all become clear to you in the next few minutes:
Expectations Set the Anchor
Marketers and sales people recognize, and social scientists have repeatedly shown, that expectations have a great influence on how people judge reality. They’re talking about the phenomenon of “anchoring.”
Here’s an example:
An early piece of information about a product or service, such as a price of $1000, establishes a psychological “anchor.” People then evaluate later statements, such as a discounted price of $900, in comparison to that anchor. In this example, the new price seems to many people like a real bargain.
In practice, the anchoring process can influence most experiences. Once you get used to a nice house, a nice car, a good income, and so forth, they become the anchors against which you measure other houses, cars, and incomes.
This helps explain why people rarely feel satisfied. They become used to their current situation, however wonderful it may be, and care greatly that it continues. They likely also want it to improve.
You can’t avoid anchoring, in many situations. But you can become aware of it, which automatically reduces its power over you.
Expectations Set the Effort
Another area where expectations are important is your performance. If you expect to do well on a task, project, or goal, you’ll try your best to deliver a top-notch performance. If you expect to do poorly, you may hardly try.
Here, the primary expectation that sets your effort is your own. That’s why it’s important you cultivate a positive self-image and high expectations whenever and wherever you can, particularly when the stakes are high.
In all fairness, however, it’s not only your own expectations that are important. To some extent, it’s also the expectations of significant others. That’s why teachers routinely motivate or de-motivate their students, depending on their expectations of each learner.
Regarding many groups of other people, including coaches, teammates, co-workers, loved ones, and even onlookers, we too often live up or down to what we perceive to be their expectations of us.
Expectations Set the Stage
Have you ever gone to a party, read a book, or watched a movie and enjoyed it way more – or less – than you expected? It happens to all of us, but not very often.
More times than you probably realize, your expectations set the stage for your subsequent experiences. This is why first impressions count so heavily, and why people like Tony Robbins and countless Zen Masters encourage people to live without expectations. It’s the best way to avoid most disappointments.
It’s hard to wipe away all expectations, however. It’s much easier to set your expectations relatively low. Doing so helps you gain more satisfaction from the normal flow of events that most of us experience.
This strategy is so powerful that, in many cases, the lower your expectations – provided you retain a willingness to see the best in people, things, and events – the happier you’re likely to be.
Expectations Must Align
As you know, I write often about working with other people. Expectations figure importantly in this area, too, because differing expectations lead to conflicts, working at cross purposes, and even conscious or unconscious sabotage.
Fortunately, it’s much easier to align expectations than you may think. It requires only that you:
- Make your expectations clear to others from the very beginning. While you’re at it, delineate which are super-important to you and which may still be negotiable.
- Ask about, probe, and infer other people’s expectations as much as you can. Remember to expect that others are just as well-intentioned as you are. Maybe more so.
- Recognize that expectations – including your own – can and do change.
- Engage people who have different expectations in good-natured discussions to understand why they hold those expectations and how to reconcile any differences from yours.
In some ways, expectations are the scaffolding on which we construct our world, and the bases on which we judge it. By managing your expectations, you gain greater control over what happens to you, what you do, how hard you try, how well you get along with others, and how you feel about all of it.
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