Are your expectations ruining your life?

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By Delna Mistry Anand

Published: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 7:44 PM

Have you ever ordered sweet-chilli sauce with your nuggets and realised that they packed barbecue sauce instead?

Have you gone to pick up a cake from your favourite bakery only to be told that it’s out of stock?

Have you regularly exercised and consistently stayed off sweets, but weighed exactly the same as before?

Or have you started a business thinking it would take off like a rocket, only to find out that it’s off to a damp start?

Expectations are a part of life. They are stories we create in our minds about our specifically-desired outcome. When our expectations are met, a beautiful thing happens — the neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’ is released in our brain, making us feel generally happy and positive. But anything outside of this mental story becomes a disruption and the brain rejects it.

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work explains: “If we expect to get x and we get x, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and we get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we get a much bigger drop. When we don’t hit our expectations.” He adds, “Our brain doesn’t just get slightly unhappy, it sends out a message of danger or threat.”

There are three sides of expectations — what we expect from ourselves, from life and from others. And our manner of handling them determines how we perceive our life experiences and goals. Here are some ways to deal with it:

1 Separate your self-worth from outcomes:

There is nothing worse than attaching your self-worth to a number on your scale or your exam results. You deserve love, respect and happiness whether you have achieved your goal or not. If no one else is giving it, you need to lead by example. Be kind to yourself. Shame and disappointment are incredibly low energetic vibrations and nothing positive comes out of it. Start with kindness.

2 Be realistic:

Set realistic targets for yourself, know your strengths and limitations and work accordingly. Also be aware of the unrealistic standards that have been promoted on social media. Not everything is how it seems. Appreciate the small milestones.

3 Recalibrate:

When you don’t meet your expectations, step back and without engaging emotionally, become aware of what needs to change in order to have a different result. We humans are blessed with behavioural flexibility. With a shift in mindset and behaviour, we can create expectations which push and inspire us. Coming from a place of worthiness and confidence allows us to move forward with our expectations as our valuable companion, instead of an unattainable stranger.

4 With others:

Expectations are most harmful when you push them onto those you love. When you expect people to showcase certain thoughts, beliefs or behaviours, without actually asking for what they want or need, then you’re inviting trouble. Psychotherapist Anita Narayan says, “Expectations bring heartache — this is something I have learnt. It’s because we don’t usually express our expectations to others, and especially not to our loved ones. We assume that the other person knows what we have in our mind. Can we read someone’s mind to perfection no matter how close we are to them?”

The best way to manage relationships, personal or professional is :

1 Express your expectations;

2 Manage them — this can be done through self awareness;

3 And be willing to let go of control.

We can’t control the world around us. But what we can control is our own mind and behaviour. Too many of us are living in “effect” mode (the ‘blame-everyone-else-and-the-world’ syndrome) and hence aren’t happy. The key is to adapt your mindset, there’s more power in that.

Connect with Delna Mistry Anand across social media @DelnaAnand

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