Expectation Setting Redefined

Every day we’re faced with situations where things don’t go according to plans.  Maybe you have to deal with a difficult customer at work, or you get your new shoes covered in mud on the way to lunch, or your friends don’t text you back about your plans to meet up this weekend.  As annoying as it is when things don’t play out perfectly, a large part of the reason we get SO FRUSTRATED by these incidents is our own unrealistic expectations.

Look, we all have an idea of how things are “supposed” to go throughout our day.  We’re supposed to wake up to birds chirping gently in the sun outside our window, and stroll into the kitchen where our loving partner has prepared breakfast, then leisurely proceed to work where we’re immediately promoted to our dream job (with an ample raise and vacation time, of course!)

Ok, maybe you don’t expect that, or even anything close.  But you might expect your customers to be understanding when *they feel* like they’re paying you too much for a job that’s taking too long (especially if you’re in food service, and they’re hangry.)  You might expect to be able to show off your new shoes at lunch today, when you know you’re going to head to that burrito place with the *always* muddy parking lot.  You might even expect your friends to actually commit to a time and place to meet up so you can plan accordingly, when they’re just wanting to wing it the day of.

We all have expectations like this, and it’s not entirely our fault.  People naturally prefer when things work out for them.  However, it’s easier to notice the things that go *wrong* and take the good parts for granted.  Additionally, it’s human nature to think that the most suitable situations for us is the best for everyone around us, but that’s just not the case.  Both these biases can be managed by first acknowledging that they exist, and then managing your expectations accordingly.

***This is not to say that you should always be expecting the worst!*** However, a general rule is that more variables (locations, people, weather, etc.) at play, the more mindful you have to be about what you can and can’t control, and set your expectations accordingly.

A quick guide for how to mindfully set expectations:

1)About Yourself

You should definitely hold yourself to high standards, and be ambitious in your goals!  However, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to always have perfect days.  When you’re feeling less than on point, remember to be compassionate with yourself.  You’ll get back on top soon enough.

To reduce unrealistic expectations of yourself, focus on the process rather than end results.  Feel proud of yourself for moving towards a goal, even with something as minor as two minutes of journalling every morning, or doing a short workout before bed.

This shifts your focus away from expecting a certain outcome (like a constantly positive outlook or a perfect body) and admonishing yourself for not being where you want, and refocuses towards the small improvements that it takes to achieve these goals.

Focus on consistently completing small steps forward and you’ll be reaching greater heights than you ever thought possible!

2)About Relationships

Even if it’s only dealing with one other person, relationships (whether romantic, friendly, work-based, or familial) are quite possibly the area of our lives where expectations get us into the most trouble.  We simply expect most people (especially people close to us) to be “thoughtful” by understanding what we need and acting accordingly.  THIS IS INSANE, but nearly everyone is guilty of this thinking!

We expect our significant other to know how much we want to go to that concert and feel the same.  We expect our friends to want to meet up this weekend and participate in the planning accordingly.  We expect our boss to notice how much work we put into our presentation and acknowledge it appropriately.  We expect our family to not be crazy (event though we should really know better by now.)

In general, we expect people to know what we’re thinking, agree, and act accordingly.  Again: this is insane.  People can’t know what we’re thinking unless we tell them, they may or may not agree, and even if they do, there’s a good chance they don’t care enough to take action unless it will benefit them directly!  However, this leads us to the key for reducing unrealistic expectations in relationships: communication.

Stating your thoughts is the only way for others to understand them.  Similarly, listening is the only way to understand someone else.  By clearly discussing what you actually want (and don’t want), and understanding what others want (and don’t want), you remove the assumptions that created your expectations in the first place.

While communicating directly can be difficult in a lot of situations (it’s easier to tell your friends you need them to decide if they’re going to be free this weekend than it is to discuss your work efforts and results with your boss), it’s absolutely necessary to ground your expectations of others (and their expectations of you!) in reality rather than assumption.

3)About Situations

While expectations of yourself and expectations in relationship hold tons of variables, you have a certain amount of control over most of them.  Situations are different in that they generally include yourself (obviously), other people (with whom you either have or are looking to establish a relationship), and any number of other variables that you either have little or no control over.  This could include anything from the weather, traffic, various resources being unavailable, and random interactions with people around you.

Despite situations involving the largest amount of variables (most of which are uncontrollable), we tend to have the highest expectations about situations because we generally expect that things will go our way.  This is why we get SO MAD when it rains the day we planned to go hiking with some new friends from work, or get trapped in gameday traffic the evening we were supposed to meet for a double date at the movies, or flub our order when speaking to the waitress during a lunch interview.

While good preparation and communication can take care of most issues (dressing for the weather, calling your friends to tell them where you are, rehearsing your order beforehand if possible), a two strategies to massively reducing unrealistic expectations about situations are: 1. to be willing to be flexible and 2. to actively notice the good parts.

Being flexible could include suggesting an indoor activity instead of the hike, or agreeing to try for it some other time.  Actively noticing the good parts could include being grateful for your relationship and the companionship while enduring the traffic (after notifying the other party, of course!), or being proud of yourself for landing the interview in the first place.


In general, when things don’t go according to plan, the best thing you can do is to manage your expectations.  Whether it’s relationships, situations, or just your expectations of yourself, small improvements, communication, and noticing the good all around you can make all the difference.

Don’t forget: 5 Days of S-mas starts Monday!  Like “Mindcrusch” on Facebook for daily updates, and get excited to explore each component of this amazing mental engineering system over the course of the week 🙂





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *