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You Get What You Expect

Back when I was dating, a friend of mine and I got into an argument over what to expect from men. She argued that it was better to expect men to be jerks and be surprised when they turned out to be sweet so that she wasn't disappointed. I argued that it was better to expect them to be kind and to be unpleasantly surprised when they were jerks.

And for years, I went out with really sweet guys and she dated jerk after jerk after jerk.

Now, was this because she had a penchant for bad boys and I had a soft spot for nice ones? Possibly. But it's also possible that we were projecting out into the world an expectation that then drew the people who fit that expectation into our orbits.

I generally think expectations are risky -- they're the sole reason we are disappointed. Without expecting something to go a certain way, it's a lot harder to be let down when it doesn't. But I also think that expectations are sneaky -- we can have them without even knowing we have them.

And if you're drawing things into your orbit based on your expectations and you don't know what those expectations are, wouldn't it be good to figure them out so you can at least be at choice?

Here are five tips to help with that process.

1) Fill in the blank

Think about the different aspects of your life and then complete this sentence: "I expect that [my kids/spouse/job/home/parents/neighbors/boss/mass transit system/etc.] will ______________________"

For example, I expect that my daughter's camp will help the kids keep their masks on all day. I'm disappointed when I go there and see kids with masks around their necks. Part of the reason I expect this is that my daughter's preschool was exceptionally good with safe mask protocols. And another part of the reason is that I expect others to have the same Covid fears and concerns that I do.

Bam! Two expectations uncovered.

2) Pay attention to your disappointment

A few months ago, I was up for a fairly big job at a recognizable company. After I found out they were moving in another direction, I was so disappointed -- angry at them for not seeing how terrific I am, sad that I didn't get the chance to be part of that brand, and surprised because I thought we were such a good fit.

At times like this, disappointment comes loud and clear. Anger, sadness, and surprise are my clearest signs of disappointment (other than the generalized feeling of disappointment). But sometimes it comes to me quietly, with worry, a sigh, or a small proclamation of "booooooo." Then it's not quite as easy to recognize that I came up against an expectation.

As you do the work of uncovering your expectations, keep track of what other emotions show up when you're disappointed.

3) Listen to your "shoulds"

"I should go to the gym," "I should get a promotion," "She should be working harder at school," "He should know what I want for my birthday," etc., etc., etc.

A "should" is a surefire sign of an expectation, either one you have of yourself or one you have of others. Surface your expectations of yourself first, before talking to others about the expectations you have of them.

(And remember that just because you have an expectation of someone else, it doesn't mean it's their job to meet it. But that's a topic for another post.)

4) Watch who, what, when, and how you judge others (or yourself)

When you're shocked by the family with fourteen bags of chips in their Costco cart, you've found your expectation about how many chips a family should eat. When you're appalled by how short that nanny's skirt is, you've found another one. When you think the fat guy in the elevator should go to the gym, you've found another (or two!).

Don't go down the rabbit hole of judging yourself for having judgments -- that's a trap. Instead, focus on identifying your expectations, holding them up to the light, and then either letting them go or working with them.

5) Ask those close to you what they think your expectations are

This is an advanced ninja move, so only do it when you have a clear head, a clear heart, and some real curiosity. Then be ready to have the difficult conversation(s) about your expectations that aren't being met, and whether or not you can let go of them.

What made me think of this in the first place is a great podcast called Choiceology. It's put out by Charles Schwab (yes, the bank!) and looks at all of the tricky biases we have that impact the way we see things. This episode, in particular, is all about how our mindset and what we expect impact the way we see things (and what we get).

I hope you'll enjoy it. (But I don't expect you to.)

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