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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jonathan Hoffman

Great Expectations

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Expecting too much can make you miserable and be detrimental to you functioning. Here’s why and what you can do about it.

Let’s start with the word itself — expect. To expect connotes a sense of certainty about what will occur in the future. From the price of stocks and homes to the occurrence of hurricanes, from repairmen showing up on time to our children cleaning up their rooms when we ask them — is there anything about which we can really be certain?

If you expect too much of yourself or other people, you can also expect to feel bad. Those who expect too much of themselves often wind up being the kind of people who beat themselves up with self-criticism whenever they experience a setback. If you expect too much of other people, you will likely find yourself feeling angry or let down more often than not. You may also find that others do not want to be around you and your demandingness. Maybe this is why they say it’s lonely at the top.

Also, don’t expect to enjoy an expensive meal or hotel room or any luxury item if you expect perfection just because you’re paying for it. Think about this before you send a dinner back to the kitchen over a minor issue and wind up ruining your evening by sitting there fuming while watching your companies enjoy their meals.

You may ask, “Can’t one at least have expectations of their spouses or lovers?” Actually, this is a problem too. There are so many divorces, unhappy marriages and difficulties in relationships that are rooted in unrealistic expectations and lack of acceptance for each other’s inevitable flaws and mistakes. In fact, many therapists now believe that an essential skill in a happy relationship is lowering expectations and explaining away most of the minor undesirable qualities and behaviors of one’s mates.

Too-high expectations can also negatively affect performance in general. As a case in point, for baseball players, focusing on keeping their eye on the ball, or avoiding swinging at a bad pitch are helpful behaviors. However, expecting to get a hit in a sport where making outs far more often than getting hits is the norm can result in body tension. This actually interferes with performance and an increased likelihood of kicking the water cooler or throwing a bat out of frustration.

For all of us, unrealistic expectations actually reduce our attention to the task at hand, create unnecessary bodily and mental stress, increase sensitivity to minor issues and makes us less-effective problem solvers.

If you are suffering for making others suffer from “great expectations,” here are some suggestions:

  • Try substituting the word “hope” for “expect.” The word “hope” creates helpful optimism with a realistic appreciation for the lack of certainty about the vast majority of things in our lives.

  • Keep bearing in mind that unrealistic expectations will probably interfere with your own performance and the performance of those around you. This is the reason that one of my favorite quotes is from the work of Dr. Abraham Low: “Lower your expectations and your performance will rise.”

  • Try to reduce expectations in your everyday life. You can be just as assertive about your desires with lower expectations as you can be with higher ones. I predict that if you do this, you will see yourself becoming more cheerful, relaxed and appreciative of all the good things around you, and that’s a luxury you can truly enjoy.

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