High Expectations Negatively Impact Your Emotional Landscape

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The relationship between your expectations and your emotions is direct; for this reason, it’s wise to cultivate the skill of managing your expectations.

The difference between your expectations and reality, sometimes chasmic, determines how often you experience hurt, disappointment, anger, stress, happiness, or satisfaction. Imagine the rollercoaster of emotions generated by waking up on a sunny morning, expecting to start your day with a cup of coffee, and then finding out your coffee machine isn’t working.

We’re creative at creating narratives to soothe ourselves, especially regarding how our choices today will influence our tomorrows. When we set out to do something, we always expect everything to turn out exactly how we want. Does this sound familiar?

  • “After I graduate, companies will line up to hire me, offering me a great salary so I can live comfortably.”
  • “Tessa is the love of my life. We’ll date for a few months, move in together, get married, buy a house in the suburbs with a big backyard and a two-car garage, and have kids. BOOM! Happy life.”
  • “My business idea is fail-proof. Venture capitalists will be clamouring to invest in my startup. I’ll hire some awesome talent to build my product and business. In five years, I’ll sell the company for $300 million.”
  • “I’ll make videos of me doing something daring and upload them on Instagram. My videos will go viral, and voila, I’ll be a social media celebrity, inundated with endorsement offers.”

Do these scenarios have a chance of becoming reality? I can’t say exactly, but I’d wager it’s close to zero.

Reality check:

  • A degree doesn’t guarantee a successful career. Most people underestimate the effort and sacrifices required to achieve the career success they claim to want.
  • The odds of finding your soulmate, let alone having a long-term relationship with them, is slim, especially as we live increasingly online, choosing to build relationships through the Internet rather than investing in personal interactions, which require venturing out. Finding your soulmate is less likely if you’re not physically “out there.”
  • According to the website Failory, up to 90% of startups fail. 
  • Becoming a social media celebrity… really?

I’m not trying to discourage dreams; however, pragmatism never hurts. It’s impractical to have high expectations (aka. unrealistic expectations) because they’re more likely not to come true and do more emotional harm than good. This is certainly true when it comes to what we expect from our purchases.

Until recently, my consumerism was driven by the narratives I kept telling myself about expected outcomes. A few years ago, I said to myself that when I buy a new laptop and subscribe to a writing app, I’ll write more. So, after I Googled “What’s the best laptop for writers,” I bought XYZ laptop and subscribed to a recommended writing app. The result: my writing output remained the same. 

Here’s what I noticed about my consumerism, which likely applies to you. When buying with an “expected outcome” narrative running in my head, I’m happy. When the expected outcome doesn’t materialize, I become unhappy, frustrated, and angry. To get the happy endorphin rush again, I create a new expected outcome narrative. For example, I’ll say to myself if I wear an Omega watch, I’ll be viewed as a James Bond-type guy. Expected outcomes are how I ended up with an ’82 Corvette, several leather jackets, countless self-help books and As Seen On TV products (If it’s too good to be true…) and taking expensive vitamin supplements. 

Marketers leverage our never-ending quest to find and/or create happiness by weaving into their product promises, either explicitly or implied, that their product is what you need to be happy, desirable, respected, and, most importantly, accepted. Buying stuff with the expectation that it’ll make us happy or that people will perceive us differently and, therefore, treat us differently defines Western consumerism. A good deal of our unhappiness is the result of our stuff not meeting our expectations.   

Divorcing myself from high expectations has taken me a long time. Actually, my divorce has yet to be finalized. Having high standards, being driven, and aiming high is a good thing; just don’t let your imagination, or worse, your sense of entitlement, create expected outcome narratives that determine your purchases, reasons to pursue, timelines and expected outcomes.

I’m not sharing some earth-shattering lifehack. We all know through repeated experience that our expectations influence our emotions. Aside from “our product will change your life!” marketing propaganda and seeking shortcuts to happiness, recognition, and respect, what else influences our expectations?

  • People posting their filtered lives on social media.
  • Seeing those around you driving a new automobile, living in a beautiful home, vacationing twice a year, and raving about the restaurants they frequent. (Never said: Their debt burden to support their projected lifestyle.

Thanks to easy access to credit and social media, fake success is everywhere, which subconsciously makes us want more than we already have, which is probably enough. The key to lowering your expectations is to reduce your desire for attention and recognition, to be seen as successful, and to have your beliefs, values, and culture universally accepted. Set your expectations based on what’s most important—what you’ve probably been neglecting—your best interests.

The most manageable lever you can pull that’ll help you achieve happiness and raze down your stress isn’t your reality; it’s your expectations. 

In a world that seems spiralling downward, lowering your expectations is a form of self-kindness you probably need right now. 


Nick Kossovan is the Customer Service Professionals Network’s Social Media Director (Executive Board Member). Feel free to send your social media questions to nick.kossovan@gmail.com. On Twitter and Instagram, follow @NKossovan.

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