ABYM #25 Always Manage Expectations

Posted: May 1, 2012 in ABYM Rules
Tags: , , , ,

Expectations are tricky.

Sometimes, high expectations can be just what you need to push yourself that extra mile. Whether it be a musical performance in front of thousands of people, or wowing a boss with a great presentation. However, high expectations tend to only leave room to either meet the expectations or fall short of them. Considering that exceeding expectations is one of the most enjoyable experiences that people can have, only having the bottom 2 of the 3 options available is highly undesirable.
How many times have you gone to see a movie you thought was going to be awful only to leave the theatre elated when it far surpassed your expectations? I honestly find this type of movie going experience far superior to a heavily hyped movie simply leaving me moderately satisfied. Anyone who lived anywhere on Earth when Avatar was in theatres is duly familiar with this concept.

High expectations have such a consistent detrimental effect on experiences that we even have an entire word dedicated to it: letdown. People love surprises, but more than they like being surprised they hate being letdown. This is part of the reasoning behind the psychological concept of loss aversion. Time and again, people for the most part will choose a safe choice (food, entertainment, etc) over a risky new one because they would rather be satisfied than possibly disappointed.

This is seriously all they eat here...ever


No matter what job you have, everything is centered around balancing expectations. The key is not to set low expectations, but rather to understand all of the existing expectations around you and your job and correctly manage them to a productive but reasonable level.

For instance, say you get a job and immediately bust yourself to the bone, every minute of every day, taking freetime to do extra work so that you can impress your bosses. It will probably work, and they will be happy and impressed. However if that level of intensity, time commitment and sacrifice was not expected of you, your attempt to impress has set and unreasonable and unsustainable precedent that now has created an artificially high expectation for future performance.

dang....I shouldn't have volunteered to climb this everyday


When you naturally settle into a more reasonable work mode, you look lazy by comparison. Your once impressed bosses now say: “What happened to the intensity and hard working attitude we saw before?” Had you instead taken the time to understand their expectations beforehand, you could’ve gauged those expectations and exceeded them by an amount that is both productive and sustainable. This insures that your bosses are consistently pleased by your work, you are a valuable employee, yet you don’t set yourself up for a burnout.

New Years Eve and Valentine’s day are 2 days that consistently disappoint most people only because they have arbitrarily high and unrealistic expectations. Americans especially have been conditioned by movies, popular culture and personal experiences to expect grand (often times uncharacteristic) romantic gestures on VD, and a crazy, upscale (also usually uncharacteristic) NYE.

"The One Night anything is possible? Nothing high about those expectations..."


Both these days are infinitely more enjoyable if you remove all expectations from each day and simply enjoy whatever happens. I would go so far as to say limit your expectations for most of your personal choices for entertainment, vacations, etc. An unmanaged expectation can ruin a trip, and the resulting stress of the letdown can make you miss an even better experience.

This beach was supposed to be a white sand beach! Not cream!


An extremely important example of when to manage expectations is with children. Managing expectations is a huge part of parenting. However this pales in comparison to the far more grave responsibility of managing the expectations of the much larger equivalents of children…..adults. Everyone at every age is susceptible to all of these effects, however ignorant, scared or maladjusted people can have these effects magnified. Unfortunately to many Americans, hearing the word ignorant has the automatic connotation of willful ignorance, usually based on prejudice. This differs greatly from many places in the 3rd world where you encounter more generalized ignorance, usually based on poor education and lack of resources. This type of ignorance (like other types) is often accompanied by fear. People are scared of the unknown, and a looming unknown invites any number of elevated expectations in all directions. If it is part of your job (Peace Corps volunteer, community relations ex-pat etc) to deal with ignorant populations, it becomes imperative to preemptively assuage any fear or confusion and ground expectations. Something I have learned from living down here is that the smaller the community, the worse they transmit information. I am obligated to communicate something to either the entire community, or no one. If I only tell a small group of people a plan, wage, or any other type of job specification, by the time it reaches the other members of the community it is distorted and corrupted beyond belief.

This might be the Nicaraguan currency.....not quite sure


A former Peace Corps volunteer I know told me about his experience in Africa. He was expected by the local population to build TV’s and iPods with his bare hands because the local Africans simply thought that all Americans possess this skill. The administrative branch of the Peace Corps clearly did an atrocious job preparing the community’s expectations for the arrival of a volunteer. After he arrived, the fact that he wasn’t a combination of Jesus and Dumbledore actually caused immediate friction and resentment as the locals felt he was simply “holding out.” This of course completely decimated the odds of any semblance of success. They felt it to be pointless to learn how to make a product to sell out of a very useful local root when the American could just build them a TV and give them money from his pocket.

So what can you do to help manage expectations? The easiest way is to simply think before you speak. Before you set yourself up with an artificial expectation, think about all the parameters involved. Don’t volunteer to work Saturday before checking your calendar, thereby needing to back out of something that wasn’t necessarily expected in the first place. Don’t tell someone what you can pay them before knowing what you can actually pay them. Don’t say you can build a deck, make a website, or make any time dependent expectation without properly evaluating all of the important variables. If someone approaches you to build a website that will take you 2 weeks, offering $1000 for the finished product, and you hastily tell them you can do it in a week, you have set up an artificial expectation that you now need to honor. It’s more than likely had you simply said 2 or 3 weeks, they would have had no problem with the time frame and you could have comfortably worked at a manageable pace.

All of these suggestions lead to allowing yourself not to be letdown. Especially if it is you setting the expectations. Goals are important and helpful. Unrealistic goals are harmful and pointless. At every level, your brain (conscious and subconscious) enjoys and celebrates success in any task, no matter what the scale.

Success is like crack....so be careful


Conversely, failures of any size can produce a negative effect on self esteem or confidence. Don’t get me wrong, failures are an essential part of personal growth, and serve as realistic reminders of the world we live in. Artificial and self implemented failures are almost always unnecessary and detrimental. A little more critical thinking and expectation management can be the difference between celebrating the 1lb that you lost this week instead of lamenting the failure to lose 10.

By allowing elevated expectations to preempt your experiences, you limit the amount of positive outcomes. If you always manage expectations, you will have more new and exciting experiences, and be pleasantly surprised at how often you are pleasantly surprised.


Actually didn't taste that bad.




P.S. I didn’t eat the lizard….



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