COMMENTARY: One Way to Change Your Life – Change Your Expectations

Einstein said it’s a form of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. So, if you want something different, do something different, or change your expectations, or both.

In my own life, I’ve found that adjusting my expectations has made a big difference in my ability to enjoy my life.

Unmet expectations are frequent and potent sources of disappointment and resentment — both of which generate unhappiness. For a long time, however, I resisted the idea of changing my expectations because it seemed as if I was just lowering my standards so I could become more accepting of failure, mediocrity or a lack of follow-through.

Recently, I discovered I could comfortably adjust my perspective about expectations in a way that has dramatically reduced frustration without compromising my integrity.

I came to realize I have two very different sorts of expectations.

The first relates to my aspirational standards — what I want and hope for from myself, and what I often think I’m entitled to from others. In this sense of the word I think it is reasonable and proper to expect the people I deal with to be wise, prudent and genuinely grateful. Or, in another venue, I expect my teenage children to really want to spend time with me.

The second type of expectation is a prediction, not a standard. It is a reflection of what I realistically think will happen — how I truly expect people to act.

When I impose my aspirational expectations on others I am bound to be disappointed and often my judgmentalnesss is resented by those who have disappointed me. On the other hand, when I look at events through the lens of realistic expectations in the context of the way things really are rather than how I want them to be, it is more likely that I will be pleasantly surprised than frustrated.

I’ve come to realize that expecting people to meet my hopes and desires is not only unfair, it’s unrealistic. Human nature is such that expecting all people to be wise, prudent and grateful all the time is foolish, and when I put myself in the position of a teenager and realize how much more important it was to me to spend time with my friends than with my parents I realize my “expectations” had no basis in reality or common sense.

I find I still hope for the best, but expect much less.

So when the adults in my life are uninformed, careless or ungrateful, or my children seem neglectful, it just doesn’t annoy me as much.

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Comments 5

  1. You wrote, “I’ve come to realize that expecting people to meet my hopes and desires is not only unfair, it’s unrealistic.” I can understand that, measured against the standards of “wise, prudent & grateful.” But do you really think it “unfair” to expect people to do their jobs, at least diligently (& hopefully) capably? Especially people in positions of trust, like hospital staff?

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      No I think it is fair to expect people to do their jobs. I was speaking more about personal relationships like what you expect from your kids and friends. I spoke too broadly. Thanks.

  2. Dear Michael,

    Very wonderful thoughts, Sir 🙂

    I particularly liked these lines: “When I impose my aspirational expectations on others I am bound to be disappointed and often my judgmentalness is resented by those who have disappointed me. On the other hand, when I look at events through the lens of realistic expectations in the context of the way things really are rather than how I want them to be, it is more likely that I will be pleasantly surprised than frustrated.”

    Thank you for always very kindly sharing such lofty thoughts & realisations!

    Your humble servant,

    Radhakrishnan

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