Setting expectations is one of those double-edge swords that, while a logical thing to do at face value, it’s more often than not misused resulting in a lot of unnecessary pain.
We think that setting and then failing to meet our expectations can only result in disappointment, and not setting them will guarantee that we never reach our goals.
Neither statement is true. Let me explain...
The Source of Disappointment
Why do we experience disappointment?
Well, if you’re like most of us, we typically feel disappointed when we don’t get exactly what we thought we were going to get. We’re working on something with the expectation that we’d get a certain result and when we don’t get it, we experience disappointment.
It’s that sinking, deflating feeling that you get when your expectations aren’t fulfilled, which more often than not is followed by self-blame.
But while it may seem logical to blame yourself, perhaps you missed the “ding” the car made when you were about to run out of gas and now you’re stranded, the actual disappointment you feel has very little to do with the circumstance itself and a lot to do with something else.
Is it OK to Set Expectations?
So hear me out. Being stranded with an empty tank of gas is tremendously disappointing, and the self-blame will be inevitable because you failed to heed the warning signal from your car when you had the chance to do something about it.
But, the disappointment itself is much more tethered to your expectations than the bad circumstances you find yourself in.
This is a very important distinction because if you learn to reframe your expectations you’ll be able to eliminate the hurt associated with your disappointment and with it your self-blame.
See, the sinking feeling of disappointment is nothing but the “gap” between what you thought should have happened (i.e. your expectation) and what actually did.
If you ignore this expectation and simply deal with the simple reality that you’ve just run out of gas, instead of having to wait for roadside assistance in anger and frustration, you’ll be putting that time to much better use.
If you accept the fact that you can’t change your reality once it’s taken place, then you can just as easily stop judging it. Once you manage to do that, you’ll be able to move on with life and simply focus on what’s required to get you unstuck.
So, instead of wallowing in self-judgement and anger while you wait 30 minutes for roadside assistance, your mind and time will be freed up to, say, plan tomorrow’s activities or to come up with a creative solution for a problem you've been facing.
The Most Powerful Phrase Ever Invented: “It is What It is”
The best way to eliminate the gap between what you think should've happened and what has actually happened is to accept what “is” without judgement and then do the necessary work to correct the situation.
Let’s illustrate this with a business example. Say you’ve set an expectation that this quarter you’ll achieve a certain amount of revenue growth, and then you create a plan to get you there. Setting your expectations on the end result is a good thing because it’ll motivate you to get there.
Now, if you don’t get there at the end of the quarter, perhaps you get half way there, and then you use the original expectation to beat yourself up as a form of motivation, you’re in it for a whole world of pain. Yet, this pain, although real to you, is nothing but a fiction of your mind.
The fiction that you “should have” achieved revenues of $X, when in reality your growth was half that.
So instead, avoid “shoulding all over yourself” (as I once heard it so aptly said), readjust your expectations to match your new reality and use the newly gained freedom from pain to learn the necessary lessons needed to set a more accurate expectation in the future.
Perhaps, you underestimated the effectiveness of your latest sales plan and learned that for it to work you need to use it with a much larger prospect list.
Perhaps you’ve learned that it takes twice as long to close a lead as you initially thought, so you’ll need to add a new sales staff. Or perhaps you learned that you’ll have to add a new market vertical to the mix that you had not thought about before.
Simply get in the habit of accepting the end result at face value (“it is what it is”), don’t judge it and use the newly gained freedom from pain to make the necessary creative changes to adjust to your new reality.
And when you manage to do that, you’ll no longer feel the disappointment of “missing out” on your expectations, with the waste of energy and mental resources that comes with it, and instead you’ll use the recovered energy to help you get you closer to your original goal.