“Expectation is an agreement you make with yourself to suffer unless you get what you want.”
— AUBREY MARCUS
This is a HUGE topic that impacts us all. You may have heard the phrase, ‘Expectations lead to disappointment’. This really struck me when I first heard it and has stayed with me ever since. Human potential guru Aubrey Marcus shared a similar sentiment the other day with his post that stated “Expectation is an agreement with yourself to suffer unless you get what you want.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
SO MUCH of our suffering comes from expectations not being met. This includes the expectations we place on others, the expectations we place on ourselves, the expectations others place on us and the expectations we place on LIFE itself!
That’s a lot of expectations!
When we find ourselves in a place of unsatisfied expectations, the inner baby comes out, and we have an adult version of a tantrum. We want our toy and we want it NOW!! Cue suffering.
How do we release our expectations and therefore release ourselves from suffering??
Good question. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’m going to break it down into the four sections mentioned above.
The Expectations We Place On Others
We all have an individual way of being. A personal credo we live by, actions we do or don’t take, and lines we won’t cross. This is a product of our upbringing, our community, and all of our individual experiences and learning. This ‘way of being and doing’ is fluid, and changes as we change and grow, it may even change from day to day depending on our mood and circumstances!
The point of all this, is that this personal code shapes our expectations of others. We EXPECT that others will behave as we behave, that they will return to us the same courtesy we give them. When they don’t, we take it as a personal affront, because we would NEVER treat someone that way.
The thing is, everyone has a different credo. Everyone’s life has shaped them in a unique way and something that is very important to you, may bear no importance to them.
Unfortunately, when you find yourself let down by someone, there is NOTHING you can do to change their behaviour. You can try to express the impact they’ve had on you, but what with they do with that information is out of your control. All YOU can do, is change your reaction.
When you feel disappointed by someone not living up to your expectations, ask yourself what are you making it mean? Are you applying YOUR code to THEIR actions? What is the impact that has on you? Do you feel disrespected, unloved, not worthy?
First of all, recognize that THEIR behaviour does not change YOUR worth.
Secondly, your choices at this point are to 1. Change your expectations of this person. 2. Change the nature of your relationship with this person. 3. Change how you let their actions impact you.
You can choose to change one or all of the above options, but you can’t change other people. You only have control over yourself.
This may sound like hard work, and it’s worth it. Loosening your grip on your expectations leads to a life of acceptance of what is, and releases you from suffering.
The Expectations We Place On Ourselves
This is a toughie, because the expectations we place on ourselves can be very difficult to notice. They are often so ingrained in us, that we don’t even see them as expectations, we just see it as the ‘way it should be.’
We have these rules for ourselves, how we ‘should’ look, eat, move, speak, parent, and work.
WHO MADE THESE RULES??? Do we ever question them?? Why do we torture ourselves if we don’t measure up?
Sure it’s good to practice discipline when it comes to taking care of your overall well-being. I’m not saying you don’t have to go to work or take care of your health.
And yes it’s important to set goals for yourself, measurable results that push you to move forward in life.
I’m talking about the pressure we put on ourselves to be the ‘Perfect Mom’ or the ‘Perfect Boss’ or the ‘Perfect Fill-in-the-blank-here’. Having the perfect house/body/car/family etc, is not possible. Life has ups and downs and despite our best intentions curveballs are constantly being thrown at us, and nothing is perfect all the time.
Holding ourselves to these expectations is a trap we set for ourselves. If we don’t measure up to this impossible standard we’ve created, we get down on ourselves. We suffer.
That suffering can show up as frustration, disappointment, or anxiety. You get down on yourself for not ‘being or doing’ this specific way you expect of yourself. When you’re in this headspace, you are only seeing what is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, and you are unable to see any other perspective on the matter.
The next time you find yourself in this place, ask yourself, what is the expectation I set for myself here? Is it worth this suffering? Take a deep breath and tune into the truth of this moment. Are you REALLY ‘bad’ or ‘lazy’ or whatever it is you are telling yourself? Berating yourself will not get you any closer to your desires. It only drains you of your power, diminishes your energy and leaves you feeling small.
Look at the big picture and recognize if this moment will truly impact your future. Have compassion for yourself, and your process. Let this moment go, and try again. Your goals are still there in front of you.
The Expectations Others Place On Us
This one can pretty much be summed up in one word.
Just kidding. While boundaries are a huge part of this piece, there is also the matter of managing people’s expectations.
Whether it’s your work, family, friends or others, the expectations others have of you can always be managed with a conversation.
What is most important here is for you to get clear on what you are able and willing to offer to others. Whether it’s your time or resources, what are you able to give? Be honest with yourself here. It starts with you.
Once that’s been clarified, it’s important to stand your ground. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be clear with others on what is possible. Manage their expectations AND STICK TO IT.
Here’s the thing, people will take whatever is on offer. The more you give, the more they’ll take, and the higher the expectations become. It’s up to you to decide what you are able to give. It’s no one else’s responsibility to decide that for you.
Sure you can pull an all nighter to get the job done. Or you can sacrifice something you were looking forward to, to help a friend instead. That choice lies with you, and if you choose to do that, do it WILLINGLY. Ask yourself, what is the cost of this to myself, my time, and my resources, and am I entering into this willingly. NOT begrudgingly.
When we spread ourselves too thin, make sacrifices and promise too much, it drains us. Resentment can grow, and expectations become too much of a burden. This leaves you unable offer ANYTHING of value, because there is nothing left to give.
This is why it is so important to know your capacity, and stick to it. If you have clear boundaries around what you can offer, you won’t end up drained and resentful.
The Expectations We Place On Our Life
These Expectations refer to the Big Picture. Our Life, with a capital L. We all know the formula: go to school, get a job, find a partner, married by 26, 3 kids by 30 etc.
Maybe you expected to feel a certain way when you finally landed that position at work, or bought the house, or got the ring, or had the children.
As a society, we’ve been sold a dream, ‘do A, B and C and you will be HAPPY!’
The point I’m illustrating here is that living your life strictly adhering to a societally prescribed formula is a giant recipe for suffering if things don’t go according to the script.
So what happens when you follow the steps to the letter, and you’re still not happy? OR circumstances beyond your control have led to you not following the steps as prescribed. The result is that you end up thinking there is something wrong with YOU.
You end up suffering because you expected life to be a certain way and it’s not happening that way and now you are disappointed.
This comes back to the idea of expectations vs. goals.
Goals are consciously set and worked towards. When set using the SMART goals system, (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) any goal can be achieved with enough focus and hard work. SMART goals are specific to your life and desires, are within your control and can be adjusted as needed.
Expectations are unconsciously developed in us by our society or community. They are often grown from comparison to others around us and it’s felt that they will ‘just happen’ with minimal effort involved.
When you find your life unfolding in a way that disappoints you, you can 1. See if there is a SMART goal you can set to bring more intention to achieving your desires, or 2. Explore other possibilities.
Once again you are suffering because you’ve deemed yourself or your situation to be ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ in some way. If the circumstances are out of your control, and no amount of goal setting can change it, then it’s time to look at shifting your perspective.
Maybe it’s not in the cards for you to have children by 30, or own a business by 35. What are the other options? How else might you be happy and fulfilled? It’s a big wide world out there of people living rich and fulfilling lives in a myriad of unique ways that don’t subscribe to a formula. Let go of your expectations, take a look at your life objectively, find gratitude, explore your options, set some goals.
Phew! There you have it! A (semi) quick rundown on the various ways we let expectations bring us down. I hope there was something in there for you and I’d love to hear your comments or critiques!