On Oct 6, 1727, 39-year-old Alexander Pope wrote in a letter to John Gay, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Expecting nothing is one way of avoiding disappointment. But what a heavy price to pay, for when we expect nothing, we get nothing. Imagine a honeybee staying away from flowers to avoid the possible disappointment of encountering nectarless blossoms.
Just as the world gladly provides nectar to bees, it provides the vast riches of beauty, joy, and opportunity to those who have the right attitude. Those who expect good, look for good. And those who look for good, find it. But those who expect trouble, look for it and find it. And the good or unhappiness we find will be in direct proportion to our expectation. That’s why Ben Sweetland wrote, “The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car… a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little.”
So, the first lesson about expectations is to expect much and look for much. For when we do so, we shall discover our cups runneth over. Don’t expect problems, but expect solutions to every problem. Don’t expect difficulties, but expect to grow stronger with every difficulty you overcome. Don’t expect hard times, but expect every need to be met, for it is in expecting that we look, and in searching that we find.
Some people read their horoscope or consult an oracle with the hope of learning what to expect in the future. We don’t need a horoscope or oracle to know what to expect. All we need is some commonsense. If I enroll in a course, study hard, and do my assignments, I will pass the course. If I skip classes, don’t study, and don’t do my assignments, I will fail the course. Simple wasn’t it? Why would I need a horoscope or oracle to learn what to expect in the future? Each act I take, or fail to take, creates my future. What can I expect from the future? I can expect to reap the rewards for my right actions and suffer the consequences for my wrong actions!
The second lesson on expectations, then, is to remain aware of our actions. And to take actions that lead to bright expectations while avoiding actions that lead to undesirable expectations.
Will everything I work toward come about? Who knows? I can have positive expectations, but I cannot have full knowledge of what the future will bring. Why would I want to know the future? It’s supposed to be a surprise. Life is a party and the future is a present we receive. We open the present with anticipation, not knowing what to expect.. As Denis Waitley says, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
During the time you’ve been reading this article, the world has changed. Change is the stuff the world is made of. What can you expect in the future? Change! If you’re suffering now, cheer up, for life will change for the better. If you’re sitting on top of the world, get ready for a change of fortune. But don’t worry, you’ll be able to cope and learn from the experience.
How can I enjoy today’s good if I expect better tomorrow? Some people make the mistake of living in the future, looking forward to all their expectations. As they do so, they overlook the treasures of today. We only live in the present. The past is dead, the future is but a dream. So enjoy what you have today, and put off tomorrow until tomorrow.
Although I used Alexander Pope’s quotation in my opening to show that if we expect nothing, we will receive nothing, there is another interpretation. And that is, if we release our expectations for tomorrow, we focus on today. In fact, considering his keen insight, I’m sure that’s what he meant. No doubt he would have agreed with the genius Stephen Hawking, who wrote, “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” So it’s all a matter of balance. We want to have expectations, but we don’t want to dwell on them to the point that we ignore the present moment.
Some make the mistake of expecting a future calamity. But if it comes, they suffer twice. Once, worrying about it before it arrives, and second, they suffer after its arrival. And what if it doesn’t come? All of their worrying needlessly robbed them of their peace of mind. Besides, don’t we have enough to be concerned about for today? Why pile on top of that tomorrow’s possible problems? No wonder some people cannot cope!
Expectations are the bars we reach for, the goals we chase after. They can challenge, strengthen, and lift us. By setting high expectations, parents, teachers, and supervisors can play an important part in helping those they look after rise to new levels of achievement. After all, rarely do followers exceed the expectations of their leaders. But care must be taken to inspire and encourage, while avoiding pressure. As in other cases, balance is necessary. That is, while setting expectations for them, you must also teach those you look after to ignore the expectations of others and set their own! In other words, the greatest gift you can offer them is to awaken their own expectations. Share with them the words of Tiger Woods: “One of the things that my parents have taught me is never listen to other people’s expectations. You should live your own life and live up to your own expectations, and those are the only things I really care about it.” Stevie Wonder shares the same idea: “You can’t base your life on other people’s expectations.”
When setting expectations for ourselves, we should make sure they’re realistic. Going to medical school or becoming a Jesuit priest (which takes 13 years) may be reasonable expectations, but if I’m already 102 years old, they’re not realistic goals. Also, persistence has to be tempered with commonsense. Every time I ask Mary for a date she says, “No, Chucky, you’re too yucky!” Don’t you think that after a certain number of rejections my expectation becomes unrealistic? When we set a goal and fail to reach it, we can try again by following another path. It doesn’t make sense to repeat the same mistake over and over again. And since the future is uncertain, who knows, my expectation may be impossible to achieve. Therefore, it may make sense to have a backup plan ready, just in case. Persistence, relentless determination, unwavering focus, and flexibility. We need them all. It’s a matter of balance and knowing when to use the proper tool.
Our Expectations Forecast Our Future
What kind of day will you have today? How about this week? Will it be filled with excitement or tedium, problems or adventure, happiness or misery? I’m not a psychic, but I can predict your future by the answers you give to these questions. That’s because we create what happens to us with our expectations. In other words, our expectations are self-fulfilling prophesies.
What exactly is an expectation? It is a type of belief. We have two types of beliefs, core and moment-to-moment. Our moment-to-moment, or daily, beliefs flow from our core beliefs. For example, Tom believes the world is a hostile place, no one can be trusted, and suffering is inevitable. In other words, Tom is a pessimist. His belief that the world is unfriendly is an example of a core (foundational) belief.
Today, Tom has a job interview. But because of his pessimism he doesn’t think he will get the job. This is an example of his moment-to-moment belief, or what he believes will happen today. He expects to fail the interview. Most likely, he will because the interviewer will detect Tom’s negativity and consider him to be a liability for the company. Even if Tom were to get the job, he will later live up to his expectation of failing because his suspicion of others will make it impossible for him to become a team player.
So, our expectations, or moment-to-moment beliefs, forecast our future. But isn’t it possible that we can fail despite a positive attitude? Yes, of course, because there will always be things beyond our control. But such failures will occur in the short term only, for positive expectations always eventually lead to success.
Let’s look at an example. Mary is skillful, knowledgeable, and cheerful. She goes for a job interview and fails. How come? Well, we live in an imperfect world (not a hostile one, yet imperfect), and the job interviewer is prejudiced. The interviewer doesn’t like Mary’s gender, color, and religion, so Mary doesn’t get the job. Mary may not experience immediate success, but she isn’t alarmed by her temporary setback because of her core beliefs that she can do anything, that she deserves success, and that she has a valuable contribution to make. As a result, Mary remains unruffled and keeps going to interviews, which eventually leads to success.
Think of our expectations as a switch. Not an on-off switch, but a positive-negative switch. You see, the switch is always on, but it is set to either positive or negative expectations. When the switch is set to positive expectations, we experience, enthusiasm, excitement, passion, meaning, purpose, serenity, friendship, empowerment, confidence, happiness, and good health. Yet, when it is set to negative expectations, we experience fear, worry, anxiety, depression, unhappiness, failure, powerlessness, anger, resentment, loneliness, stress, and poor health.
Because we will always live up or down to our expectations, it is critical for our success and happiness that we keep the switch set to Positive. But you may have had to sail through stormy seas or been battered about by crushing circumstances and now find yourself with the switch stuck in the Negative position. If so, it is time to start cultivating positive expectations, and here are some steps you can take to do so.
1. Engage in positive talk. That is, say something positive to everyone you meet. There are three reasons to do so. First, it forces you to look for the good, and when you look for it, you will find it. And as you regularly find it, you will become positive. Second, everything you say to others, you’re also saying to yourself. So, whenever you speak to others, you are programming yourself to become more or less successful; therefore, watch what you say! Third, when you deal with everyone in a positive way, they will treat you likewise, and their behavior will then reinforce yours, making you even more positive.
2. Awaken to your true nature. Understand that you are a seed meant to grow and flourish. The same energy that radiates throughout the universe flows through your veins. You are meant to be magnificent. But it is not about you or your ego. Rather it is about your nature. Your nature is to adorn life. You are here not merely to experience life, but to add to it.
Paradoxically, when you think about how great you wish to become, you create a block, preventing your greatness from appearing. Why is that? Because we only wish for what we think we do not have. So, if you want to be great, you are denying what you already have, and, therefore, cannot use it. It is only when you unclench your teeth, loosen your grip, let go of your desires and allow your nature to shine through that you will discover your powers.
It’s okay to dream. In fact, I encourage you to do so. But once you create a dream, don’t thwart it by trying too hard. Once you make a plan and take whatever steps you feel are proper, let go of the reins and allow life to take you there.
3. So far, I haven’t completely revealed the Expectation Switch to you. I’ve only told you about two positions on the switch: Positive and Negative. But there is a third position, the most powerful of all, and it goes beyond Positive Expectations. The third position is called Infinite Possibility. We can use this position only after awakening to our true nature, which is one of unlimited potential, creativity, and power.
If we act from our sense of self or ego, we will see ourselves as puny. No wonder we will be filled with self-doubt and incapable of greatness. But after awakening to our true nature and sensing our power, we will finally dare to dream. At this time we will become a visionary, one who goes beyond positive expectations to search out new possibilities. The Japanese poet Ryunosuke Satoro is speaking about the third position when he says, “Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations.”
Dottie Walters (1924~2007) asked, “Anyone can cut an apple open and count the number of seeds. But, who can look at a single seed and count the trees and apples?” The answer to Dottie’s question is those who are working from the third position, the position of Infinite Possibility, can. They can see and count the number of trees and apples in each seed because they are visionaries; they can see beyond what is to what can be. Join them.
4. Feed yourself positive thoughts. If we eat a healthy diet we become healthy. Similarly, if we feed on positive thoughts, we grow positive. One powerful way to nurture yourself with positive thoughts is by watching inspirational videos. Since you are already sitting in front of a computer, why don’t you try one now? Just click here; pick a video, enjoy, grow positive, and discover what’s possible.
5. Don’t accept a life of mediocrity. Did you find Step 3 (Awaken to your true nature) difficult? Most people do. They find it hard to believe that we are so powerful. That’s why Step 4 is so important. You can easily become immersed in a video that has a mesmerizing melody and moving message. As you watch one video after another, some will resonate with you, pulling at your heart strings and awaken you to your true nature. You will suddenly realize that the acts of greatness that others are performing show what you, too, can do.
So, don’t believe you were meant to lead a mediocre life. Paul’s story will help explain what I mean. Paul, like many of us, found it difficult to awaken to his true nature. He was totally lacking in confidence, so he sought the help of a life coach. Shortly before meeting his coach, Paul bought a new car. Later in the same day he regretted his purchase and realized that he was talked into buying the car by an aggressive salesman. Even though the auto dealer gave a 60-day satisfaction guarantee, Paul was too timid to return the car and ask for his money back.
When his life coach heard about what happened, he explained to Paul that unless we are in control of our lives, we cannot consider ourselves to be successful. He then went on to ask Paul, “Who do you want to be in charge of your happiness, that auto salesman or yourself?” He persuaded Paul to return the car and ask for his money back. He joined Paul to provide moral support, but didn’t say a word. Before leaving for the auto dealer, however, the life coached explained to Paul that the car dealership was contractually legally bound to return his money if he asked for it. This buoyed Paul’s confidence, so he asked for his money back.
When the aggressive salesman couldn’t intimidate Paul into changing his mind, he excused himself and brought over the Sales Manager, who was equally unsuccessful. Finally, the Owner was called, but Paul stuck to his guns and refused to accept any offer other than the complete return of his money. The disgruntled Owner finally relented and agreed. They made Paul wait a week for his check, but he got what he wanted, thanks to the advice and encouragement of his life coach. After a couple of more sessions, Paul stopped seeing the coach.
A year later, they met by accident in the supermarket. After warmly greeting him, the coach said, “Well, Paul, after that episode at the car dealership you must be well in control of your life. I’m sure you don’t let others take advantage of you any longer.” Paul looked sheepish, and lowering his head said in a barely audible voice, “Well, I’m uncomfortable speaking up. It’s not my nature to speak up. That wasn’t really me at the car dealer. I’m not aggressive and I think it is important to be authentic. I don’t want to pretend be someone I am not.”
The life coach shot back, “It was not you at the car dealer? Who was it that received his money back a week later? Wasn’t that you? It is not your nature to allow others to take advantage of you, it is your weakness. And weaknesses can be overcome with practice. It is not your nature, but your fears that allow others to walk all over you, and you can learn how to be courageous. It is not your nature, but your lack of experience, and you can gain experience, as you did at the car dealer. Once you gain a successful experience, you have to keep repeating it until it becomes a new habit. You see, it is not your nature to be weak, but your nature to act out of habit. So, if your habit is working against you, change it. Once you develop the habit of standing up for yourself, that will become your nature. And your new nature will then be aligned with your true nature, which is one of unlimited potential and power.”
6. If you always do your best, you’ll always expect the best. It is only by raising our expectations and doing our best that we can tap into our true nature.
7. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, take baby steps. As each step brings you closer to your goal, enthusiasm, confidence, and high expectations develop. One success creates appreciation, many successes create positive expectations.
8. Expect the unexpected. Not only expect it, but welcome it because it is only by facing an unexpected turn of events that we can hone our skills and cultivate flexibility. In a rapidly evolving world, flexibility is a key to success.
9. Don’t allow your present problems to get you frozen in time. Look forward to future solutions. Or, as Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Focus on where you’re headed, not where you are.
10. Take advantage of the power of commitment. Don’t merely think about your goals, commit to them! To tap into this power, reach down, deep within yourself, within your true nature.
11. If you are a parent, teacher, coach, mentor, manager, or anyone else that shares responsibility for the well-being of others, remember “When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Managing Our Expectations
1. Not everyone sets high standards for themselves, so don’t lower your expectations to those of others. Also, you are not here to live up to the expectations of others. Neither are they here to live up to your expectations. Rather, we are all responsible for running our lives in the best way we can.
2. We should never lower our expectations, unless there is no other choice. When problems arise, such as a downturn in the economy, it is better to rely on flexibility than it is to rely on lower expectations. That is, when problems appear, rather than expecting less, expect to find solutions and alternative ways of reaching your goals. Because our expectations are almost always self-fulfilling prophecies, it is better to overreach than expect less. When in doubt, it is best to err on overreaching and correct later, if needed, than to set an overly modest goal.
3. Part of expecting the unexpected is expecting the worse. Not because you are pessimistic, but because you want to be prepared just in case things go awry.
4. Dare to dream big because we can’t succeed beyond our wildest expectations unless we start with a wild expectation.
5. Be patient. Don’t give up so quickly. As May Sarton wrote, “What is destructive is impatience, haste, expecting too much too fast.”
6. Expect to and be willing to work for your success.
7. Remain optimistic. Remember, an optimist expects his dreams to come true, but a pessimist expects his nightmares to come true.
George Bernard Shaw told the following story, “A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most’”
Which dog do you feed the most, your negative or positive expectations? Where do you choose to set your Expectation Switch, to Positive, Negative, or Infinite Possibility?
I’ll end by calling on three gentlemen to share their wisdom:
“If you expect nothing, you’re apt to be surprised. You’ll get it.” (Malcolm S. Forbes)
“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow.” (Orison Swett Marden)
“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” (Zig Ziglar)
Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and David Maxfield
Projections, Expectations, Separations, Judgments & Rejections by Gary Douglas
The Expectation Trap by Marge Powers
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at email@example.com. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.