(image source: Martin Parr)
The internet is filled with it – memes and GIFs of expectation versus reality. Each time you see one, you go, “Ah! Story of my life.” Why does it have to be so? Can’t life, for once, turn out the way we want?
This a subjective question.
How do we want life to be? Do we want everything to pan out in our favor? Must every wish be fulfilled? Must everyone fawn over us regardless of how we behave?
Studies show that humans are 96 percent animals. But, the layout of our brain separates us from them. One part of our brain – the prefrontal cortex – allows us to simulate experiences and day dream. In a stimulating TED Talk, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert said,
“Human beings have this marvelous adaptation that they can actually have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life. This is a trick that none of our ancestors could do, and that no other animal can do quite like we can. It’s right up there with opposable thumbs and standing upright and language as one of the things that got our species out of the trees and into the shopping mall.”
This experience simulator also enables us to imagine things. And imagination can make us irrational. The thoughts that emerge in our heads can alter our perception. Our imagination lures us to overestimate ourselves, our abilities, our ideas and skills, and formulate expectations. And when things don’t go as they did in our heads, our mood turns sour.
Are Expectations Bad?
As living beings, we are bound to harbor expectations, regardless of whether we walk on four legs or two.
Is it bad? On paper, yes. But we don’t live on paper.
Without expectations you will live like a saint, disconnected from everything happening around. If that’s what you want, this blog won’t help.
You will have expectations from family members, friends, and colleagues at work. As a leader, you will have expectations from your team members.
The pressing question is, how do you strike the balance between expectations and reality? Where does the realm of expectation end and that of reality begin?
The answer lies in two words that can make any person appear smart: it depends. It depends on how you perceive things, on how you can reduce the boundaries between the two opposite poles. More expectations lead to more misery, grief and anger. Curbing expectations lets you face the brutal facts, and be more pragmatic. It enables you to take things in your stride, and stay focused on your final aim.
It’s not easy to reduce expectations from others. But it hands the reins of your life back to you. The horses that pull your chariot obey your command. And eventually, you cross the finish line of your goal.
How You Can Lower Expectations
Here are five ways in which you can lower expectations from others and, equally importantly, from yourself.
1. Choose How You Respond
Remember, no one can control how you feel. Handing power in a situation or a relationship to external factors is the biggest blunder that you can commit. What happens to you is beyond your control. But how you choose to feel about it, that’s a different story altogether. Successful people know, and accept, this philosophy.
Yes, there are (many) instances when circumstances don’t pan out the way you expected. It’s okay to feel bad. But do not wallow in that feeling for long. Quickly return to yourself, advices Marcus Aurelius.
This harmony blurs the line between expectation and reality and paves way for a better life.
2. Accept How People Behave
Expecting people to treat you well because you are good to others is like expecting a lion not to eat you because you didn’t harm it. People don’t behave with you because of how you are, but because of how they are. Yes it sucks, but it’s true.
Animals are not complex. They simply want to know if the other is food, a mate or a threat. Humans, on the contrary, despite being 96 percent animals, are terribly complex. We are a bundle of emotions – fear, happiness, love, hatred and more.
If someone behaves badly with you, he probably isn’t equipped enough to return what you offer. Accommodate him. There are times when you have been a handful and people have been accommodative enough of you.
Don’t let how someone treats you dictate your mood. Steel your internal self. This way, you stay more in touch with reality and keep keep expectations at bay.
3. Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams
You love an idea, and are absolutely convinced about it. But guess what others think of it!
If you feel like your ideas fall in deaf ears, you are in elite company – that of J. K. Rowling and Jerry Seinfeld, among others.
When you pitch your ideas to others, you suffer from what Steven Pinker calls the ‘curse of knowledge’ i.e. a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. You’ve spent months, even years, thinking about a problem and refining the solution. In your head, it’s as clear as the air after the first rainfall. But you forget that people are not as sold on the idea as you. Because they haven’t thought about it as much as you, or the way in which you have.
Expectations will lead to you wanting people to accept your ideas instantly. Reality might turn out painfully different. But don’t give up on your dream. Instead, quickly return to yourself (and to reality). Explain to your audience what is wrong with the world the way it is now. Gradually, you will win them over. Once you succeed there, you will witness distinct progress on your path to your dream.
4. Give it Your Best
Don’t make ‘becoming sought after or popular’ your aim. Focus on adding value in everything you do, no matter how menial. Give it a hundred percent. If one hundred percent is not enough, make that one hundred twenty. And then accept that the results are beyond your control.
Go to bed happy that you gave more than your best, and that there was nothing more you could currently do. If you learn a lesson, focus on imbibing that skill. But don’t beat yourself up. If you have the action habit, you will have another chance to do better.
Don’t beat yourself up over people’s expectations either. They reflect their failure, not yours. Dhoni cannot finish all matches in the extravagant style that we are accustomed to. The media and common man (people who can’t hold a bat well) claim that he has lost his touch, that he must retire. But does he lose sleep? No. Because he knows he gave it his best; that only how he bats is in his control, and that he will have another chance to win a match for India.
5. Don’t Judge
Something that happens isn’t good or bad. It just is.
Say, someone close said something which you didn’t like. How do you feel? When people compliment us, we are delighted. But when they say something we don’t like, we think they judge us. But even when we are complimented, we are being judged. Selective acceptance messes our heads up.
I’m not asking you to listen to everyone. Surround yourself with positive people. But when they say something, don’t scrutinize it. Just take it the way it is. Learn from it, and move on. This is bloody tough to imbibe. But it’s also the only way to achieve inner peace.
Expectations lead to entitlement, a feeling that we deserve better. This is the biggest cause of misery today. You will get what you deserve. Yes, you must go out there and fight for it. But you cannot sit back and say, “I deserve something. Now I must get it.” Life is not black and white. There are shades of blue, green, grey, orange, red and other colors we don’t even know about.
Life isn’t a bitch. Maybe karma is, but not life. You might not agree, because things seem bleak now. But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Life isn’t about getting what you want. It’s about pursuing what you truly want until you get it. And then, it’s about pursuing something else. The only person who matters is your yester-self. Can you be better than you were yesterday? Can you free yourself from the need for validation from others? The answer for both questions is an emphatic “yes”! Simply accept the difference between expectation and reality. And work towards building a life where everything you expect becomes real. Get your act together. Life beckons.