Expectations are one of the largest causes of unhappy lives. It’s a bold statement to make, but one that becomes increasingly clear when you consider the inherent disappointment that unmet expectations can bring.

Expectations are defined (by The Oxford English Dictionary) as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future” and “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.”

Many times throughout my writings, I have mentioned the danger that can be found in the word “should.”
“something should be this way! I should have gotten that promotion! That shouldn’t have happened to me!”

The word “should” is the medium through which disappointments (due to failed expectations) are expressed. The keys to our own happiness (or the awareness of things that make us miserable) are made clear through the language we use to express ourselves.

How Disappointments are Expressed

The word “should” can, in fact, be used in different ways relevant to time itself. For example, saying that you “should” do something is likely a result of the belief that what you are currently doing is not as beneficial to you as something you could be doing. Think of procrastination: In this case, often the only thing that needs to be changed is your willingness to perform a different activity! Instead of asking “I should go to the gym,” say “I will go to the gym.” This further enforces the ability for you to take action and avoid a victim mentality.

For more on the word “should” in this sense, visit my related article titled Rockstars for insight on how to avoid what I call the “stagnancy principles!”

Another way to become a victim is by stating that your present situation should be different than it is. This is often a result of expectations formed around your past actions. We justify that things shouldn’t be the way they are based on the way we wanted them to be when we took action.

Oftentimes, expectations are the result of assumed social (or personal) contracts. These contracts are assumed in the sense that there is no definitive relationship of “give and take” that is made clear before the expectation is formed.

As an example, I may have the expectation that by going to the gym, I will become thinner. I form this expectation without explicitly (and realistically) considering the results I wish to achieve. Due to this assumed expectation, I will become disappointed when the results are not immediately noticeable! Even though exercise takes constant and relentless effort.

The point is this, expectations are unavoidable. The goal of this post is to explain the vast difference between unrealistic and realistic expectations. Only when we can control these factors can we begin to form expectations that become viable (and achievable) goals rather than disappointments in disguise.

How to Cure Unrealistic Expectations

The following tips present great ways to avoid unrealistic expectations, manage realistic ones, and create buy-in from team members!
The following tips present great ways to avoid unrealistic expectations, manage realistic ones, and create buy-in from team members!

Unrealistic expectations are often a result of a deluded vision of what must be sacrificed to gain something else. We often overemphasize the importance of what we give in relation to what we believe we will receive. Consider the gym example again. We often think that a 30-minute walk is worth the shedding of multiple pounds of weight when in reality, our perceptions of proportional results are merely misconstrued.

I argue that any expectation can become more or less realistic merely by adjusting the give and take scale. To do so, we must always focus on the importance of asking proper questions with the goal of defining what our expectations are in a more concrete way.

For example, let’s say that I expect my significant other to do one thing, but they do another. I have a few options here. 1) I can become livid in the light of my unmet expectations and allow that to ruin my mood, and likely the health of the relationship, or 2) I can become curious and begin to ask questions regarding why I felt I expected a certain outcome.

The latter begins to concretely define what my expectations were, and why my significant other may not share them. Doing so often strengthens the relationship, keeps my emotions in check, and considers the feelings and actions of others which leads to a greater common understanding.

The words of Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) ring true, “Seek First to Understand, then be Understood.”

The same concept follows with children. Studies have shown that children have a hard time defining the boundaries between their internal environment (thoughts and beliefs) and the real world around them. They have a more difficult time realizing that their expectations and thoughts do not necessarily cause something to occur.

The Law of Attraction may say something about this. I’d like to make clear the difference between believing that your thoughts influence events in your life, and having a mental focus that influences your actions.

Believing that your expectations cause things to occur may be the nature of disappointment, but do not confuse it with the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking is often a good way to increase the focus you have towards positive outcomes. The difference is in your perceptions.

An unmet expectation is often upsetting, but an expectation born with the focus of positivity allows you to control your perceptions and continue to focus on the positives of any situation. In this case, The Law of Attraction, which states that positive or negative thought brings positive or negative experiences, is absolutely true. The trick is to manage our own perceptions of a situation in a way that can make a positive difference.

Steps Towards Managing Expectations

Avoid Assumptions

Assumptions are the cause of our justifications. In essence, assumptions are the reason our balance of give and take is mismanaged. Assuming that other people know what you know, or have the same expectations that you have, is a result of faulty assumptions and often leads to disappointment.

The best way to avoid assumptions is to continue to ask questions, and in the case of leaders or managers, to allow everyone a chance to get clear on objectives, goals, and potential issues. Doing so will increase understanding, employee buy-in, and overall company performance.

Avoid Immediate Gratification

Immediate gratification is another reason that our give and get balance is disproportional. People often set high expectations when it comes to things like personal sacrifice, whether that sacrifice was time, money, energy, etc.

In general, people want what they want when they want and how they want it. Often, it is our immediate gratification that causes us to believe that our actions deserve immediate results.

Consider this; learning all you can about the dedication and sacrifice necessary to achieve a goal will sort out only those goals that you feel are most fulfilling to you. You will begin to consider the effort necessary to achieve a vision in a way that matters most. Doing so is a cure for immediate gratification because the knowledge of the realistic give and get balance becomes the benchmark for your actions.

Focus on Communication

Communication is absolutely necessary for managing expectations when you are in a group setting. Often times, group leaders, managers, and team members lack the communication skills (or even the willingness) to discuss options, issues, or results with others.

Consider this example; A manager who berates or belittles employees whenever they bring in work-related issues often discourage their employees from communicating in ways that may be beneficial. Another reason for the benefits of communication is proper goal setting and purpose-building exercises that make the ideals and goals of the group commonly understood.

Communication is beneficial for more than just work teams. Communication is necessary for solving personal conflicts, expectations, or issues. Only when we can communicate without blame, and with the sense that we all have expectations that can become rooted issues, can we practice resolving problems.


Ultimately, the best way to deal with expectations is to become aware of the proper give and get balance, and to define what your expectations are based on what you are willing to give.

For expectations that have already become disappointments, the best remedy is to focus on altering the current situation for the better and to focus on the positives of a given situation. The Law of Attraction is beneficial in this way, but not when considering the unrealistic belief that our thoughts alone can affect the outcomes of our lives, it is the way that we act that creates a lasting difference.

For an awesome article on using mindfulness to manage expectations, click HERE!

For another blog on the power of positivity, click HERE!

-Austin Denison