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How to Expect Less and Get More by Lauren Christiansen

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

Photo credit: Pexels

We all have dreams, aspirations and goals that motivate us to work hard and push through challenges. Having a set of desired goals that we work towards by methodically taking steps to achieve them is what sets us apart as human beings. Goals can be financial, spiritual, or psychological. Each of us is unique in our hopes and dreams, and how we decide to get there.

Unfortunately, sometimes the word “hope” can be conflated with the word “expectation.” Hope is defined as “a desire for a certain thing to happen.” The word “expectation” refers to “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” The key difference between the two terms are the words “desire” and “belief”. A desire is a dream of encountering the most optimal outcome. A belief is a faith, or trust that it will happen. And, like so many things in life, what we expect to happen, doesn’t usually happen. What we hope to happen can often happen, if we take certain steps to achieve it. Neither hope nor expectations promise anything, but having too high of expectations can create a bigger sense of despair. As the old adage says, “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” Here’s why:

Expectations Involve Magical Thinking

When we expect people to act a certain way, for things to go as planned, to get the job, or have a certain number of children, it involves the use of “magical thinking.” Magical thinking is the belief that unrelated events are causally connected, or that some external force will turn our wishes into reality. This can be tricky because many of us have a strong belief in God, and there does tend to be a “magical” element intertwined with metaphysical concepts. However, even strong believers can agree that God rarely acts like a genie, making our subconscious whims a reality, moving the chess pieces to fit our agenda. In other words, life doesn’t usually follow our plans, we follow life’s.

Life isn’t Fair

When we fail to understand how unfair life can be, we experience a lot of heartbreak. Not everyone is going to like you. Sometimes you are born into less money than your neighbor. Sometimes, you don’t get the job that you deserved. Maybe a close non-smoker friend was diagnosed with lung-cancer while you, who smoked for years, weren’t. When we can accept that life isn’t fair and it never will be, we can begin to accept the bad along with the good. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to good people, and good things can happen to bad people. It’s just the way life is.

Lowering Expectations Doesn’t Make You Negative

There is sometimes a mistaken belief that having low expectations makes you a negative person, or an underachiever. Having low expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t have goals, dreams, or aspirations. It also doesn’t mean that you don’t expect a certain level of behavior from your spouse or loved ones. Setting boundaries and creating realistic goals is an important part of finding happiness. The idea is to take unrealistic, unachievable ideals and make them more realistic. Some examples of “lower” expectation statements include:

  • “I’ve done everything I can to get this job that I want. It’s out of my control now. If I get it, that’s great. But if I don’t, I’ll find another one. I’ll be ok.”

  • “I’ve had infertility problems in the past but we really want children. I’m going to do all of the necessary treatments to get pregnant, but if it doesn’t work, we will look into other options like adoption. Things will be fine.”

  • “I am really upset that I received this diagnosis. That being said, I am going to continue going to doctor’s appointments, eating healthily, going to church, and live life to the fullest. I might have some sad days, but I’m going to try and do the best I can.”

  • “It’s my wedding day and it’s raining. I’m a little disappointed but we will make the best of it. Either way, it will be a great time.”

  • “I’m going to stop expecting my emotionally abusive husband to change. He isn’t going to change, so I think it’s time to do the right thing and leave him. This is the best course of action for me and my children.”

As you can see, lowering your expectations doesn’t make you a low achiever, or a negative person. It also doesn’t mean that you aren’t upset about an unfortunate incident in your life. One can be justifiably angry and saddened by an unfair diagnosis, rain on their wedding day, abusive husband, or infertility problems. It’s how we react to these unfair life circumstances. Just remember, “life is 10 percent what happens to us, and 90 percent how we react to it.” We can choose to lower our expectations, work hard to achieve goals, and let go of what we can’t control.

Do you struggle with anxiety and unrealistic expectations? Are you frequently disappointed with life? If so, please contact Straight Talk Clinic at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional therapists would be happy to speak with you.

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