The Effects of Expectations

How expectations bring future events into the present

I have a rule when it comes to watching movies. Always go in with low expectations.

I remember the day I went to go watch The Dark Knight. My friends and I were excited because Batman Begins was really good and we had high hopes for the sequel. We were all huge comic nerds and it was surreal to see Batman come to life in such a realistic and gritty way.

But at the end of the movie, I was underwhelmed. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it just didn’t meet my expectations and I was disappointed.

The thing that confused me the most though was that my friends were raving about how amazing it was. How it blew their expectations out of the water. How it was even better than the first. I didn’t get it and wondered if I was missing something.

Later on I realized that my expectations prevented me from truly appreciating the movie for what it was. You see for Batman Begins, I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what kind of movie I was getting myself into. That’s why I was blown away. But for the Dark Knight, I had high expectations of what I wanted the movie to be. This is why I was let down.

What is an Expectation?

An expectation is a belief or desire for something in the future.

I expect to do well on my exam tomorrow.

  • This conveys the belief that you will ace your test that is coming up.

I have high expectations of myself when it comes to my work.

  • This conveys that not only do you believe that you do your at a high level, but that you will continue to do it in the future.

I have high expectations for your presentation today.

  • This conveys the belief that you anticipate great things when you hear the presentation.

Now the thing with expectations are that they take something in the future and bring it into the present. What I mean by that is that the future event starts affecting you in the present emotionally, physically, and mentally. It can even become your present reality. How?

Expectations take a future event and assign an emotional payout that builds up until the future event is realized. And what happens with that payout depends on the result of the event. If it meets your expectations, you’re satisfied. If it doesn’t, you’re disappointed. If it exceeds it, you’re impressed.

In this way, expectations are like lenses that we put on when we go through life. They influence and can even distort what you see because it’s no longer just about the event. It’s about your emotional investment in them.

This is why it is important to foster and set healthy expectations. Otherwise, you are only setting yourself up to be disappointed.


Healthy Expectations vs. Unhealthy Expectations

So far, we’ve broken down how there are 2 elements of expectations we need to be aware of:

  1. The belief or desire for something in the future

  2. Your emotional investment in them

Healthy Expectations

Healthy expectations depend on the level of your emotional investment. If it is high, then the expectation should be realistic, achievable, and attainable. But if the emotional investment is low, then you can aim high and not get too disappointed if your expectations aren’t met.

Unhealthy Expectations

Unhealthy expectations depend both on what you specifically believe about the future as well as your your emotional investment. If you’re emotional investment is high, your expectations unrealistic, and then they’re not met, then you will be severely disappointed.

Manage the Expectations

Learning to manage my expectations has been one of the most helpful preventative tools I’ve learned in my iterative approach to paying down Emotional Debt through PAALP. In the past, my expectations have created cycles of negativity, criticism, and disappointment with myself and others. Although managing the expectations was difficult at times because it required that I challenge certain beliefs I held, I was able appreciate life a lot more afterwards.

Next week we’ll dive into how to manage expectations in different areas of life so stay tuned!

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