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The Power of Positive Expectations: Questioned!


I am a big fan of positive expectations being a healthy powerful mindset that helps us plan and achieve so many aspirations. Many leaders, theorists, and researchers advocate and assert the idea (e.g. Churchill, Spalding, Goethe and Rosenthal to name a few). There is even a rule about it (The law of expectations) that dictates that whatever we expect, be it positive or negative, becomes a reality. If we are totally confident and believe whole-heartedly that things will happen, they will. To us, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy; and with other people, it’s like drawing them directly or indirectly (through our language, voice, or even body language) to behave in a way to confirm our expectations. The “law of expectations” compliments the “law of attraction” which advocates that we attract what we constantly think about. Together, the two laws ensure that both our minds and the universe conspire to serve our deepest wishes. Our beliefs, assumptions, presuppositions, suggestions, elicited multiple cues, and cosmic energy all work together to have an impact on the course of whatever happens.

Very appealing laws for someone with a positive psychology orientation like mine. I do believe the law of positive expectations works and even preach about it all the time with my students and clients alike. The counter argument was always: “what if we expect something good to happen, but it doesn’t” (Like not scoring well on an exam, or not getting that dream job one had hoped for?) My reply was too often the same: setting high expectations makes one work harder and if things don’t work out as well as we wished, the outcomes may have been worse. It’s just feedback that we need to change the strategy we adopted the first time and keep trying harder. That second trial can make all the difference. I constantly had faith that things will inevitably change to the better if we kept our positive expectations. I am having second thoughts now. Seriously, what if these repeatedly don’t….

I’m revisiting the power of positive expectations lately due to experiencing a series of unmet expectations. Could it be that I was not confident enough that the expected would happen? That’s possible. After all, I couldn’t ignore my internal sensors. It felt like it is one disappointment after another; and everybody knows that repeated disappointment exerts a heavy toll on our feelings. It can knock us down so hard that we lose faith in ourselves or others – even for a short while. I am having my moments of doubt now. It is easy to talk myself out of it when matters rotate around myself. We can always do that: capitalize on our strengths and remember our successes. It becomes much more difficult if things involve maintaining faith in other people. We can never have control over the unpredictability of others’ responses. So many times we expect others to treat us in a good way, help us when we ask, and rely on them to carry out their promises. And then it’s an “epic fail”….. The law of positive expectations doesn’t always hold.

 How can we maintain a positive attitude when reality tells us otherwise? This is when a healthy dose of skepticism may be a good idea. Let me get clearer about the concept of “expectations” and redefine that “law” in general and in more specific terms just a bit further. I am seeking a buffer for future disappointments.

  1. Set realistic expectations: Extremely high expectations can lead to graver disappointments; and these are harder to deal with. One way we learn is through experience; and one intense event that stirs us up emotionally can suffice to hold us back for a long time. Get a reality check of probable outcomes every time. You can’t expect sincerely to fly like a bird, can you? That’s biologically impossible. You may think of an alternative that takes you high up in the sky akin to that flying bird.  
  2. Be clear that expectations don’t have to mirror reality later: We can get very close to what we expect, but it doesn’t always have to measure exactly to what we envisioned. Expectations work like a framework or general guidelines that clarify our destination. Be open to accepting “less than a perfect” match. It could be your dream house, soul-mate, or child for example.
  3. Have no expectations when it comes to others: Alexander Pope said it beautifully: “Blessed is he who expects nothing as he shall never be disappointed”. I wouldn’t want to generalize his statement to all sorts of expectations. It would be like depriving ourselves of fuel to strive and achieve. But since we can’t control others, nor their circumstances or whims, we’re better off lowering just that threshold to its minimum. I find this dictum only applicable to our relationship with others. Low or no expectations of what others can do to you is the best strategy. They are all fighting their own battles. Rely on yourself. You can still, however, impact them directly or indirectly in their being masters in their own territories. That’s when the law would still hold.
  4. Spread your focus and diversify: We sometimes confine ourselves to one primary source to get life-satisfaction; hence, have the same one expectation (e.g. expecting a higher pay-check). We may, also, rely so heavily on one source to get things done (e.g. expecting that exercise alone will help you reduce your weight). Both don’t work. The common adage is true: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This way if one thing doesn’t work, there’s still probability in other things meeting your expectations. Who in his/her sane mind would want to build walls of confinement around “more”? That’s very limiting.
  5. Reframe any disappointed expectation: Ultimate expectations will be served. Let’s remember that. The baby steps to be there can be thwarted for a variety of reasons. Examine alternative explanations or justifications for why a prospect failed (e.g. there may be many hidden reasons that you don’t know). Shift your focus, then, to the brighter side of unmet expectations. Dig it out (e.g. what doesn’t break me makes me stronger; or everything happens for a reason; here’s my chance to exercise my persistence; something like that).
  6. Consider unmet expectations as chances to grow: It’s fascinating to aspire high. It keeps us going. Still, more emphasis ought to rotate around the learning experience and enjoying the ride as you wade your way through (e.g. we really get tempted by quick results when it is the trials that keep us mostly healthy). Furthermore, many times, it is small consecutive disappointments that lead us to much bigger results. Unmet expectations can be used as a catalyst for change, or a shift in direction. Find out where you can go next.
  7. Keep a bird’s eye view: Every now and then, take your distance and dissociate. We have the tendency to become too myopic when we get excessively involved. Reconsider, re-examine, and re-asses your expectations. Things evolve and change as you go about inventing your life. Keep alert to pointers down on earth. Change your expectations if need be. Opportunities may come in disguise. Fish these out.

 

The power of positive expectations? ….hmmmm…. How many times do you actually equip yourself with, but get disappointed. That’s why you hear so many arguing that you’re better off lowering your expectations (and save yourself the frustration). By no means am I totally debunking the law herein; rather, just fine-tuning it a bit. I find it somewhat unrealistic to completely accept that our expectations will be met at all times. Setbacks and disappointments are to be expected along the way as well. To view life in rosy glasses is certainly a desirable empowering attitude that serves us well many times. To overstretch it and claim that things will turn out as we please always is a bit over-rated, don’t you think? The above were a few laws for the “Law of expectations” 🙂  I am sure you can think of more….

 PS. I expect only a few to read this post upon publishing it (no more than 5 readers) and I guess this will be what I get. Please leave a comment if you’ve read so far. I’m putting that law of expectations to the test now 🙂

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