There is a hidden source of power or pain that often goes unaddressed by many individuals. Truth is, Expectations can have a far-reaching impact on how people live their lives and the goodies they reap along the way. Expectations are assumptions about the future – what will occur or what should occur – and they can profoundly influence your relationships, your self-confidence, your happiness and your ability to navigate your path in life.

What a huge mistake it is to ignore, deny or simply cling to expectations that have little or nothing to do with how things really work. Expecting too little or too much, or expecting inappropriate things of ourselves, other people in our lives and the world in which we live, can cause utter chaos and confusion. Such a thorny maze!

Unrealistic expectations can set you up for disappointment, ineffective behavior and even depression. Expectation minus reality = frustration! Changing your expectations to those that are smart and adaptable will serve you well and is not as difficult as you might imagine. Doing so involves paying particular attention to reality and possibility, flexibly negotiating the two again and again. By choosing carefully, your expectations can lead to powerful plans and behavior.

What to Expect of Yourself

Do’s

• Do expect to have a wonderful future, to achieve many of your goals and dreams

Be an optimist! One of the key components of optimism is the belief in your own power to make your life and future better. Optimism is about positive, can-do beliefs, expectations, choices and strategies, about knowing you are responsible for your life and your dreams.

As a psychologist, I come across many individuals who do not have dreams or expectations that the future holds all kinds of possibilities. They might have had them once, but somewhere along the way the dreams were lost, defeated or forgotten. Such a sad surrender! There really is nothing quite like having dreams and believing in them. You must believe you have what it takes to succeed. Have confidence that you can achieve superlative things! Expect that your choices and actions will affect the outcomes in your life. You must also trust that you deserve to bring your goals and dreams to fruition.

Do expect trouble and that you can get up if you fall down

Turning troubles into growth, bouncing back from tragedy, trauma and failure, believing that life’s difficulties are surmountable and that the future holds the promise of renewal and opportunity, are the distinguishing marks of resilience. Resilient individuals believe they can get back up no matter how stinging the adversity, that they have the wherewithal to fight back and win when the going gets tough. They know that by facing the black clouds they will have the opportunity to become more confident, accomplished and powerful.

Robert Strauss, the influential American politician and diplomat, proposes an important guideline for persisting during tough times: “It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired.”

The resilient individual knows the three important realities of adversity:

Reality #1

Bad things happen to everyone. Really bad things happen to many people.

Reality #2

We often have little or no control over the occurrence of traumatic events and serious problems.

Reality #3

We have a choice about how we perceive, react to and utilize these situations. Some people expect to be overwhelmed by very stressful events to the point where they’re out of commission; others expect to react with a diminished ability to cope and enjoy life; and still others expect to return to pre-difficulty functioning or, even more amazingly, to a state of greater strength, wisdom, commitment and connection to life. When it comes to our ability to bounce back, we often perform to the level we have anticipated.

Understanding and accepting these realities are important steps on the path to becoming resilient. People who are resilient, who handle trouble deftly, are not lucky – they’re skilled. They have beliefs, expectations and behaviors that are adaptable and proactive. Expect that you can not only get up when you fall, but that you can turn your troubles into opportunities and growth.

• Do accept the things that cannot be changed; expecting otherwise is a waste of your time and energy

It’s important when determining appropriate expectations to distinguish between what can be changed and what cannot be changed. Some folks spend entirely too much time and energy attempting to change the unchangeable. Sometimes people are not even aware that they’re pursuing the preposterous. To delude yourself into believing you can change someone or something that is immovable is a dead-end endeavor.

Accepting those things that are unyielding is entirely different from not caring or not trying to make difficult situations better or even seeking possibilities that are a stretch. By identifying and accepting what truly is unchangeable, you will conserve your energy to direct toward all the possibilities.

• Do expect that negative events won’t last forever

Optimism has been researched extensively, and the findings are quite heartening. Optimism bolsters mental and physical health, supports performance excellence and success in general, and engenders a positive internal world. In other words, being an optimist makes it more likely that many of life’s gifts will be available to you. Fortunately, optimism can be learned by anyone, even those folks who’ve been pessimists for a long time!

One of the signature marks of optimism is the belief that when adversity occurs, it is not a permanent condition, that the fallout and its aftermath won’t go on indefinitely. This expectation, that the effects of negative events have a statute of limitations, offers the beleaguered person hope and confidence and reinforces action.

If something negative happens to you, check your internal dialogue about the effects that the event had on you. Do you tell yourself that the consequences of this occurrence will go on and on? If so, dispute this kind of thinking and replace it with more reasonable, adaptive estimates of how long you expect the fallout to last. It makes a huge difference to move your thinking from a permanent to a limited time frame.

• Do expect that negative events will not affect other aspects of your life

Understandably, when adversity occurs, people often think that the storm will cast a very broad shadow. Another element of optimism is the belief that the effects of the negative situation are by no means pervasive, that they do not have to go beyond the specific event or challenge. If the havoc does spread, it is most likely because you expected it to do so.

When trouble comes, what do you tell yourself about collateral damage? Do you believe that other facets of your life are going to be affected by the black cloud? Assess your internal dialogue because it can be a real action stopper. Spend your mental energy focused on restricting the spread and rebounding to get back in your stride.

And Hubert Humphrey, the Vice President of the United States under Lyndon Johnson, thunders, “Oh my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.”

• Do expect that your positive accomplishments, and the gifts you possess, will influence your future; be alert to unexpected gifts and opportunities

Some people race past their positive accomplishments as if they’re being chased by a lion. It’s a big mistake not to savor your victories and embrace them as fuel for your ongoing journey! Another facet of optimism involves paying special attention to the things that you have accomplished, the things that are currently going well and the gifts and opportunities that come your way.

The optimist has the expectation that personal achievements and positive events will increase the likelihood that the future will be bright, that they will have lasting value, that they are due to one’s efforts and abilities and that they will bring abounding sunshine.

• Do expect that you will have to change your assumptions and approach if something is truly not working

Many of the clients I’ve seen over the years have had this difficulty. For whatever reason it just hasn’t dawned on them that repeating the same behavior with a consistently undesirable outcome makes no sense at all. Or in some cases it has dawned on them, but they just don’t know what to do about it. Changing their minds and their behaviors is uncomfortable. They want things to work a certain way. “If I do this, I expect the world or the other person to do that.” When that outcome does not occur, frustration and anger often ensue.

If your thinking and behavior are not leading to the conclusions you wish, try something else! It may take a number of attempts to find a more effective approach, or you may simply be barking up the wrong tree. Oh well… cut your losses!

Author's Bio: 

She has served as a hospital staff psychologist and has lectured on topics ranging from stress management, meditation and relaxation training to assertiveness and sleep management. Today, her private practice in San Diego is dedicated exclusively to Positive Psychology Coaching.

Her first book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon… 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life," was Dr. Esonis’ initial contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and personally-defined happiness.

In "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life -- Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person," Dr. Esonis identifies eight “Thematic Belief Systems” that, in her experience as a psychologist and life coach for over 30 years, prevent individuals from building healthy, long-lasting relationships and extracting maximum happiness from life. She examines these “crazy beliefs” with all their negative implications and offers practical, persuasive arguments for why – and how – they can be replaced with healthy alternatives.

Dr. Esonis is a member of the San Diego Professionals Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) and is a Founding Member of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).