Expectations: Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right

I had one of those days this week, the kind where disappointment sneaks in through the back door, usually followed by inconspicuous self-righteousness. They each grab an arm and pull me into their heist almost involuntarily. And their heist is no fun.

This happens all the time. To all of us. Something goes “wrong” whether that be a broken promise or a broken coffee maker, and before we know it, disappointment has taken over, pointing out other “wrong” things throughout the day until the whole day feels “wrong,” “unjust,” “unfair.”

How did disappointment find you in the first place? Expectations.

You had expectations (that others would keep promises, that the coffee maker would work), and those expectations were not met. The result was disappointment.

Like most things, expectations live on a spectrum of usefulness. That is, some are much more useful to your well being than are others.

To illustrate, think of your expectations as a game where you ask others to guess a number between 1 and 100. In this example, expecting them to guess a number at all represents expecting common decency, expecting them not to physically hurt you, financially manipulate you, emotionally degrade you, etc.

On the other side of the spectrum is expecting others to guess your exact number. This represents a belief that you know the best way to do things (even for yourself) and expect others (or even yourself) to do those things in precisely your way. When that doesn’t happen, you get disappointed.

This especially comes up with those who are close to us. We expect them to squeeze the toothpaste the “right” way, to load the dishwasher the “right” way, to discipline the kids the “right” way, especially if we’ve already voiced our preferences. Guess my number! Guess my number!

Some of us even want others to guess a number not just between 1 and 100 but between 1 and 1,000,000.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly where your expectations should lie. Maybe, in your situation, it’s reasonable to expect someone to at least guess a number below 50. Maybe not.

What I can tell you, though, is that getting your expectations right is a great path to well being.

Take a moment to ask yourself which of your expectations are most important. One hint here is to look at how specific your expectations are. I want my children to be kind. I also want them to rinse their dishes in the left sink and put them in the right sink (or even just to put them in the sink at all). One of these is more important than the other. One is also much more likely to leave me disappointed than the other.

Remember that all people are human. Expect them to display humanity. But don’t expect them to read your mind or to always agree with your methods and priorities. Remember that you are human. Expect yourself to display humanity, but give yourself leniency in some of the specifics. This is the path to greater well being.

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Thoughts. About Stuff. On purpose.

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