Hope is pouting in advance.Frankie, Community 2015
Even though this line is from a comedy, there’s a good amount of truth there. It certainly depends on what we put our hope in, but if it’s placed in something unpredictable or unrealistic, it really is pouting in advance.
It’s interesting to think about how many completely different situations can lead to frustration and disappointment. In every one of these situations, an expectation isn’t met, which leads to those emotions. That’s all it is.
With this line of thinking, we should just get rid of expectations so we’re never let down. Psychology doesn’t make it that easy. Our brains are very orderly (whether that seems true to us or not). We compartmentalize what we think, feel, and experience. We also hierarchically rank thoughts, subjects, and people by default. If our brain tags something as important, thoughts about that subject will stand out amongst the 500,000 other thoughts we have each day.
Expectations are the result of our brains’ orderly processing of experiences. We learn to expect what repeatedly occurs from the events that happen to us and the people we interact with. Expectations expand with increased repetition of events because we learn more about the possibilities of what could occur. How calmly we handle abnormalities from our expectations depends on the individual.
We have expectations for a reason. They provide necessary internal order and security. When they’re unrealistic, though, they end up causing distress rather than the security they were intended for.
Expectations with People
Disappointment with people is one of the worst kinds, and it always results from thinking you know more about the other person than you do.
This is clear by how easily disappointed we can be by strangers. We take a snarky comment, sour glance, or rude driving maneuver very personally. In all of those situations, the other person is hardly thinking of you. They’re wrapped up in an internal thought dialogue of their own where you’re just a passer-by.
With the people we’re acquainted with, there’s a general sense of understanding and predictability. It’s likely that comes from their personality and our interactions with them. Personality is misleading, though. It’s a protective shell with enough relatability to connect with other people. It’s just the surface of who a person truly is. Some understanding can be derived from it, mainly what a person wants to protect themselves from and their strengths and weaknesses. Still, this isn’t enough basis for laying down expectations for people.
Always assume you know little to nothing about the person you’re interacting with, then seek to understand. Regardless of what you’ve seen, there’s always more hidden. Compartmentalizing does us no favors when what we’re defining is a dynamic individual. Both parties end up being limited in the process. You, being the only party you control, have the option to observe rather than be affected, and to communicate rather than jump to conclusions. Handle other people’s emotions as logically as you can.
With the people closest to us, we’ve spent enough time with them to have more intricate expectations, which means the letdowns matter more. Even after years of interaction, though, our understanding of the other person isn’t complete. People are dynamic and change. With change always comes the possibility of conflict, but with communication always comes the possibility of resolution.
The key here is to not weigh failed expectations of a stranger or acquaintance with the same severity as failed expectations from a friend or loved one. This isn’t logical. The span of your interactions is so different that they should not affect you the same. So don’t let a lack of care and concern from someone who barely knows you keep you down.
Most people aren’t concerned with you, they’re concerned with themselves. Use this knowledge to your advantage.
Expectations of Self
Most people are quicker to forgive another person’s wrongdoing than forgive wrongdoing they caused themselves. We rationalize this by acknowledging that misunderstanding caused the other person to wrong us. But we understand ourselves all too well.
Unrealistic expectations apply to self just like they apply to people and experiences. We know better than anyone else what we can do better in. Failed expectations happen when we expect significant betterment from insufficient action, or during unrealistic spans of time.
The weight of letting yourself down is similar to that of being let down by a close friend. But if a friend frequently disappointed you without a change in behavior, you’d at least have the option of distancing yourself from them. You don’t have that option for yourself. The good news is you’re ultimately in control of yourself, which is not the case with your friend. It’s up to you to remedy the relationship you have with yourself.
The easiest way to do this is to strive to be a bit better each day. This starts with the uncomfortable process of acknowledging flaws. A good excerpt from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie talks about how Benjamin Franklin did this.
[Ben Franklin] gave himself a severe going-over every night. He discovered that he had thirteen serious faults. Here are three of them: wasting time, stewing around over trifles, arguing and contradicting people. Wise old Ben Franklin realized that, unless he eliminated these handicaps, he wasn’t going to get very far. So he battled with one of his shortcomings every day for a week, and kept record of who had won each day’s slugging match. The next week, he would pick out another bad habit, put on the gloves, and when the bell rang he would come out of his corner fighting. Franklin kept up this battle with his faults every week for more than two years.Dale Carnegie
Use your knowledge of yourself to your advantage. Understand your faults and the situations they arise in. Then go about your day with the expectation that you will do better than you did the day before. Keep an open eye and understand further through awareness and reflection. Failure isn’t a loss if you learn.
You have to treat yourself as someone worth helping. You are. You will likely be the most important person you ever help. Only then will the care you extend to other people come from a genuine appreciation of them and not the need for something you fail to provide for yourself.
Similar to what you expect from others, always expect there to be more to understand about yourself. With knowledge of faults comes knowledge of strengths when those faults are properly dealt with. Only expect to be better than you were yesterday.
On a final note, “love your neighbor as yourself” is a proportion. With that in mind, give yourself and others grace when expectations aren’t met. Seek to understand, because it’s likely you don’t fully. As long as you expect to improve, you will.
Until next time,