Your Expectations: Are They Reasonable?

How often do you stop to think about your expectations? Do you tend to act or react on them without considering if they are realistic? Have you thought about where your expectations come from?

There are several ways to look at expectations, and the literature reflects different views—some are positive, and some are negative. Here are a couple of quotes that reflect the ways to think about this concept:

High expectations are the key to everything. – Sam Walton
Expectation is the root of all heartache. – William Shakespeare (attributed to him but not verified)

The first question to ask yourself: What purpose(s) do my expectations serve?
• Are they related to the goals you set for yourself?
• Are they related to the goals you set for others?
• Are they a way for you to feel a sense of control, to achieve a desired outcome?
• Are they a way for you to create predictability of events?
• Are they based on your hopes for creating the kind of world you want for yourself?
• What might be some other purposes you can think of?


In my September blog, I addressed Assumptions, why we make them and what are the results. Expectations are often the result of the assumptions we make. For example, if we assume a
co-worker, family member, or friend is capable of a given task, we will likely expect them to be willing to do the task and to do it well. When this doesn’t happen, we are at least confused or frustrated, maybe even upset.

Have you ever been asked to do something that you could do, and do well, but just didn’t want to do it because you didn’t enjoy doing it, or weren’t in the mood? Maybe you didn’t see yourself as capable as the person who asked you did? How often and in what situations do you think this happens? For you? For others?

Think for a moment—or two or three, of what the consequences are when your expectations
don’t get met. (Pause–and think about one situation when this happened).

What did you come up with? Disappointment? Confusion? Frustration? Anger? Loss of control? What did you do with these feelings? How might it affect your relationship with the other person, even temporarily?

What do you hope to gain from the expectations you have? What is the likelihood those hopes will materialize in the ways you want them to? Can you see any benefit from having those expectations? What might those benefits be?

What might be different for you if you lowered your expectations—of yourself and/or others? (There can be both positive and negative outcomes).

Some of the literature tells us that expectations are good. It helps motivate others to act, when they think someone believes in them. This can be true—or not, depending on the circumstances and how you communicate your expectations. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is your expectation coming from an objective evaluation of the other person’s abilities?
2. Does your expectation take into account other factors such as their own evaluation of
their abilities, attitude, growth mindset, and the level of trust they have in their
relationship with you?
3. Do you assume if it’s something the person is able to do, he/she will feel the same?
4. Are there personality factors that might get in the way—yours or theirs?
5. Are your expectations based more on your need to accomplish your goals than a
thoughtful assessment of the first four questions?

When we have expectations of others, we are asking them to be who we want them to be.
We are not fully taking into account who they are (their free will).


What about the expectations you have for yourself? Where do they come from?

Are they based on what others have said you are capable of? If so, can you objectively
agree with them?

Do they come from your own experience? The literature indicates you develop your expectations early in life, learning them from your parents or other influential people.

Are they based on some ideas or conclusions you have reached that meeting these expectations will bring you satisfaction, get your needs met, or achieve a desired level of quality to your relationship with others? Are your expectations of yourself low, or non-existent, based on a lack of self-esteem? Your inner voice might be saying, “I can’t do anything right” “I wasn’t meant to achieve anything, have a good life, etc.”

Have you framed your expectations in a way that isn’t accurate? How many of your expectations are assumptions you’ve made that you haven’t checked out or tested?

One of the consequences I have noticed in the clients I have worked with: expectations that
are unrealistic (excessive, frequent, based on the person’s needs rather than objectivity) will often result in stress. This usually shows up as frustration, negative judgments of self and/or others, anger, lowered productivity, depression, and diminished rapport with the other person.

Perhaps you have very low expectations of yourself, coming from feelings of inadequacy.
You might have tapes like these running in your head: “I won’t apply for that job, pursue
that relationship, or attempt a new skill because I’m bound to fail.” Ask yourself where your
ideas about these low expectations came from. It may be time to challenge those ideas.
You will never be able to feel better about yourself if you avoid testing them out.

Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy. – Brian Tracy
[as long as we expect it of ourselves and not others]

So, take some time to develop a stronger awareness of your expectations and how they are
helping or hurting your relationships with others, your work performance, and your own well-being.

Pay attention to the feelings that are generated from those expectations, both in the creation of them and how they play out. Think about how you can replace the unrealistic expectations with other thoughts and ideas on how best to accomplish your goals.

The best way to do this is to write all of this down so you can look at it from a clear perspective. Here’s an example: Write down a sentence beginning with: “I’m not smart/strong enough to: _______________________________________________________________________

Evidence I have to support this:__________________________________________________

Evidence I have to dispute this:__________________________________________________

Actions I can take to change my expectation:______________________________________

If you’d like a free worksheet to help you do this, let me know.

If you know anyone who might be interested in this blog, feel free to pass it on.

P.S. With the holidays coming, please visit my website: and consider my
book, “Your Living Legacy: How Your Parenting Style Shapes the Future for You and Your Child” as a gift for the parents in your life. Also, if you go on my website, on the Home Page, you will find a free offer: Ten Top Parenting Tips. (Hint: These apply to more than just parents!)


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