What are expectations?

“The best things in life are unexpected because we had no expectations ,” Eli Khamarov said, and he was right. Happiness is usually proportional to our level of acceptance and inversely proportional to our expectations.

Expectations are present in our daily lives, haunting us with their load of illusions and demands. But when they don’t come to fruition – which they often do – we sink into the well of frustration, disappointment and disillusionment. That’s why it’s essential to understand the mental pitfalls that expectations represent.

What are expectations? their meaning

Expectations are personal beliefs about events that may or may not happen. They are hypotheses about the future, anticipations based on subjective and objective aspects. Expectations develop from a complex combination of our experiences, desires, and knowledge of the environment or people around us.

Expectations range from a small chance that something will occur to an almost certain event. Some expectations have an automatic character since they are basically fueled by our desires, illusions and beliefs, which is why we feed them without being fully aware of their origin and without opposing how realistic they are. Other expectations have a more reflective character since they are based on a process of analysis of the various factors involved, being more realistic.

What are the functions of expectations?

The main function of expectations is to prepare us for action. If we mentally anticipate what might happen, we can prepare a plan of action so that life doesn’t take us by surprise. Expectations, therefore, help us prepare ourselves mentally for the future.

Indeed, most of our decisions are not based only on objective data – as we like to believe – but on the expectations we have about the results of these decisions. This means that every decision is, in some way, a leap of faith. Behind every decision is the confidence that our expectations about the consequences of our choice will be realized.

Thus, expectations become a kind of inner compass. The problem is that expecting something to happen won’t make it happen, so when expectations aren’t realistic they can end up playing tricks on us and, instead of helping us mentally prepare, lead to frustration.

5 examples of unrealistic expectations that fuel magical thinking

Jean Piaget observed that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the subjective world they create in their minds and the external, objective world. Piaget discovered that children tend to believe that their thoughts can make things happen. For example, if they get angry at their sibling, they may think their sibling got sick because of them, even though that’s not the case.

Piaget called this phenomenon “magical thinking” and suggested that we all pass it by the age of 7. However, the truth is that into adulthood we continue to have different forms of magical thinking. Many people find it difficult to give up on the idea that waiting for something to happen will make it happen, an idea to which theories such as the famous ‘law of attraction’ lend themselves.

We also tend to pin our hopes for happiness on fulfilled expectations. In other words, we believe that we will be happy if what we expect or want is fulfilled. And if it doesn’t, we think we will be deeply unhappy. This type of thinking postpones happiness, mortgaging it to a probability.

But expectations aren’t necessarily bad, as long as we have good reason to believe that fulfilling an expectation will make us happy, and we make sure we take the necessary steps to make those wishes come true.

The real problem with expectations is waiting for something to happen for no good reason. If we believe that simply harboring certain desires will make them come true, we are fueling magical thinking and setting the stage for delusion.

This kind of expectation may seem delusional. And it is, but we’ve all fueled it under certain circumstances whenever we have unrealistic expectations like:

  1. Life should be fair. Life isn’t fair, bad things happen to “good people”. Expecting that we can get rid of problems and difficulties just because we are “good” is an example of an unrealistic expectation that we often harbor.
  2. People have to understand me. We all suffer to some extent from the False Consensus Effect, a psychological phenomenon whereby we tend to think that a large number of people think the same as we do and that we are right. It’s not always like this, everyone has her point of view and it doesn’t have to coincide with ours.
  3. Everything will be fine. It’s a phrase we often say to ourselves to instill confidence, but the truth is that if we don’t make sure things go right by putting in work, our plans could go wrong at any moment.
  4. People should be nice to me. We expect people to be kind and willing to help us, but that won’t always be the case. Some people don’t like us and some just don’t care about us. We have to accept it.
  5. Can I change it. We tend to think that we can change others, a fairly common expectation in relationships. But the truth is, personal change has to come from within, from an intrinsic motivation. We can help a person change, but we cannot change or “improve” them.

The consequences of unrealistic expectations

Expectations are not in themselves harmful since they help us form a general picture of what could happen in the more or less near future. The problem begins when we expect life to go according to our wishes, which sooner or later will lead us to disappointment, because as the writer Margaret Mitchell said: “life is not obliged to give us what we expect”.

The problem arises when we forget that our expectations reflect only a desire or a probability – often quite remote – that something will happen. When we lose sight of that perspective, expectations become a real happiness killer.

Furthermore, when unmet expectations lead to other people’s “failure” to behave as we expect, the disappointment is compounded by resentment, which will end up deeply affecting the relationship, causing us to lose trust in those people.

Getting rid of expectations is tricky. The good news is that we don’t need to banish them from our psychological world, but we do need to learn to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations.

The benefits of mastering your expectations

  1. You take responsibility for your decisions

Expectations are not facts, they are mere probabilities, understanding this difference, which is not merely terminological, will allow us to take control of our lives. This means that if you want something to happen, you have to be proactive and take all the necessary steps to make that desire come true, without patiently waiting for others to guess what you want or expect from them.

Paradoxically, expecting less and doing more allows us to regain control without feeling overwhelmed, as it implies greater confidence in our potential and greater knowledge of ourselves. People who don’t sit around waiting for others to meet their expectations, but fight for what they want, usually don’t take on the role of victim or martyr, but take responsibility for making things happen.

  1. Separate your wants from your duties

Most of the time we operate on autopilot in a “herd mentality”; that is, we are dedicated to the fulfillment of our duties. However, duties are nothing more than the expectations that others have imposed on us, be it family or society.

When we don’t fulfill our duties, we feel guilty. But if we respect them we expect a reward and when it doesn’t come we get angry and disappointed. In any case, we always lose because we are immersed in a permanent negative emotional state. Letting go of our expectations also means realizing that we don’t need to meet the expectations of others. And it’s a liberating process through which you get in touch with your true desires and passions, which are two vital ingredients in achieving what you set out to do in life.

  1. Enjoy the present more

“Don’t cross the bridge until you reach it ,” advises an English saying. We must understand that expectations are made up of fragments of the past, which have served us to make predictions and wishes for the future, but they don’t even contain a hint of the present, which is the only thing we really have. Expectations without action serve only to lock us into the trap of the future, limiting us to the role of the chess player who sits waiting for the opponent’s move, while all the possible moves to counterattack pass through his mind. Except that in life, taking on the role of chess player for too long means letting the present slip away.

Furthermore, expectations often become blurred lenses that prevent us from seeing the world clearly. By waiting for something, we can lose other opportunities, as if we were on a station platform waiting for a train that never arrives and, in the meantime, we let others go. On the contrary, having realistic expectations allows us to live in the present, build it and take advantage of the opportunities it offers us.

How to adjust expectations?

  • Check the waiting mind. In Buddhism, the “waiting mind” is referred to to refer to those people who expect something, but don’t put in the work to make it happen. From this point of view, expectations would be as useless as dancing to bring about rain. They are, in fact, counterproductive because when they are not realized they only serve to generate pain and suffering , irritation and sadness. The solution? Controlling the waiting mind. We can do this by opening ourselves more to uncertainty and the course of life, experiencing situations without anticipating an outcome.
  • Let go of the need to control. Many expectations come from our need to control and the idea that there is a linear relationship between cause and effect. We expect that if we do something for someone, for example, sooner or later they will return the favor. But life doesn’t work like that, or at least not always. Therefore, to adjust expectations you need to let go of the need to control everything and become more open to change, the unknown or even the improbable. You need to stop taking certain outcomes or behaviors of others for granted, especially when they are not entirely up to you.
  • Distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations. Expectations help us prepare for the future, so we can use them to our advantage, we just need to learn to differentiate realistic expectations, those that have a high probability of coming true, from unrealistic ones that are based almost exclusively on our wishes. We must keep in mind that “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments,”as Steve Lynch said, since there is a good chance they will not be met. Expecting a person to do something for us that goes against his or her best interests is unrealistic. On the other hand, expecting that person to do something for us that also benefits them is a more realistic expectation.
  • Use expectations to open your mind. We tend to use expectations as a tunnel that leads to only one destination, with little chance of detours along the way. Instead, since expectations are just guesses about the future, you can use them as a tool to expand your mind. Use them to broaden your thinking by evaluating all possible options, even the least likely ones. This will give you the opportunity to discover new paths and embrace uncertainty, while also freeing you from the pain caused by things not going according to plan.
  • Communicate your expectations. Believing that an unspoken expectation will get us what we want is magical and unrealistic thinking. In reality, an unspoken expectation is very likely not to be met. Therefore, if we expect something from others, we should not expect them to read our thoughts, the best thing is to communicate our expectations, explain what we want and know their willingness to help us.
  • Prepare a planB. Communicating our expectations is not always enough to achieve them. There are many factors beyond our control between our plans and their attainment, so the smartest thing is to have a Plan B in place. As writer Denis Waitley said: “ Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and prepare for to be surprised”. That’s the attitude.

How to deal with the expectations of others?

Managing your own expectations is complex, but it can be even more difficult to deal with the expectations of others because, in a certain way, we are hardwired to abide by social norms and do what is expected of us. In this way we get the approval and acceptance of the different groups to which we belong. However, there are times when the expectations of others become chains that limit us and we need to get rid of them.

If so, it’s important to be clear. If you’ve detected that others have expectations you can’t or won’t meet, the best coping strategy is to address them directly. Talk about those expectations and clarify what you are willing to do and the red lines you will never cross.

Many times people have expectations unconsciously or because they are guided by social patterns and roles that you may not be willing to follow. If you want to maintain a healthy and respectful relationship in which neither of you feels compelled to make decisions by the pressure of each other’s expectations, it’s essential that you address these issues honestly.

It is also important that you prepare yourself for conflicts, reproaches or recriminations because you cannot expect the other person to always understand your point of view. A shattered expectation hurts, so people will try to keep that hope. Assume that everyone has their own expectations and it is not always possible to make them coincide with ours or satisfy them. Once you’ve made your position clear, the other person is entirely responsible for their expectations.

In any case, keep in mind that you do not need to justify your life decisions. You will not always be able to adjust to the expectations of others. Your parents may still hope you have kids or your friend may still hope he doesn’t move you to the other side of the world, but you don’t have to make those decisions to please them. The key is finding a balance between what you want and what makes you happy and what doesn’t harm the people around you. After all, those who love you will understand you.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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