Managing Expectations Great and Small

 What did you expect? 

Expectations. We all have them. Some we fashion for ourselves. Others may be foisted on us and can be a burden or a joy. 

To achieve success in meeting our ambitions, we need to tap into understanding WHY we are pursuing a particular path, map out the HOW and determine the WHAT and WHO required. 

 Expectation is the wonderful anticipation of reward. 

If you’ve overdone it down at the gym and wonder if you’ll ever be able to gracefully walk up the stairs again, let alone sit without extreme discomfort, it would be good to know what will work best to ease your pain. If a friend recommends a certain cream as a powerful painkiller, your expectation is it will provide you with relief. 

Which it will, even if the cream turns out to be a placebo. 

Strangely enough, it will continue to provide you pain relief even after your discovery at being duped, if you continue to believe in its effectiveness. 

 It turns out belief has a mighty strong impact on our outcomes. 

Bending reality in this way suits our us beause it means we can alter our perception to meet our expectations. It also explains why checking on the validity of our assumptions is a worthwhile pursuit. 

Our brain is highly attuned to expectation so if your expectation is to have poached eggs for breakfast every Sunday morning and you discover that your teenage daughter used up all the eggs in an omelet on Saturday night, you might be feeling a little miffed. 

This is also why as parents of small children, it’s really important not to make a promise you can’t keep. 

Guess many of us have been there for that nuclear fallout. 

 Take care with that power of anticipation. 

 If you’ve promised to take your little darlings to see “The House of Magic” in the school holidays, their level of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in the brains’ reward circuitry will be running hot. As the day draws nearer, (only three more sleeps!) the level of excitement and expectation continues to rise just like the perfect cheese soufflé. 

But if the show gets cancelled or Mummy had to work instead, not only has the pouffle gone out of the soufflé, the accompanying drop in dopamine feels bad so bad – it hurts.  

This might well take more than some placebo pain relieving cream or a kiss to make it feel better. 

 Stuff happens all the time. That’s life. It’s expected – oh the irony. 

  So, you didn’t get that promotion you thought was yours for the taking, huh? 

 You’re running late and every single set of traffic lights is against you! It must be a conspiracy! 

 Your submission that you’ve slaved over for the last three weeks has been rejected with a curt “No, thanks.” 

 Expectations shatter. 

What counts is our response.  

Because unless we’ve set ourselves up to manage that disappointment, frustration or sadness, our brain experiences a threat response that can trigger a downward spiral of mood, hopelessness anxiety or depression. 

 The key is deal with this effectively is to 

  1. Create the right expectations 
  2. Lead the expectation with encouragement 
  3. Be flexible with expectation arrangements 

 Creating the right expectations. 

 We make dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, our “pleasure center”. It’s the part of the brain that lights up when you’ve just found the perfect outfit for that special occasion you’re celebrating next week for example. 

It’s also lit up by our future plans; to get a job in that company you’ve always aspired to or get offered a place at the University you’d love to study at. 

 These types of expectations make us feel good (thankyou dopamine) and happy.  

 Too often we think happiness comes after we achieve success. 

In reality it is our choice of trying something new, creating opportunities and keeping a positive frame of mind that makes us happy and in the better state for high performance and better problem solving. 

 Work by Barbara Fredrickson has shown how when happy, our perception of what we can handle broadens, we‘re more creative and more able to resolve those challenges that so frequently land like dog-poo on our doorstep. 

 Lead expectation with encouragement. 

 Encouragement is possibly the most underutilized positive performance tool available to us. 

 That gentle word of encouragement is sometimes all we need to help us to overcome any seed of self-doubt and imposterdom and rise to our full potential. 

 There was an occasion while I was working with a mentor, things hadn’t been going so well. Week after week, he remained disappointed in my progress and told me so. While I knew I could do better, the reality of my dismal performance was seriously undermining my initial enthusiasm and I was feeling increasingly demoralized.  

Finally, after yet another frustrating session for both of us, he asked,  

 “O.K What is it you want from me, because I don’t know how to make this work?” 

 My reply was,  

 “I just need some encouragement.”  

“Please tell me one small thing I’m doing well so I’m not left thinking everything I’m doing is wrong.” 

 Having got that sorted, things rapidly improved! 

 Encouragement is the source of hope and empowers us to be our best. 

 Who do you turn to for encouragement? 

Is it your partner, a colleague or your boss? 

 If you are a leader, how do you encourage others and what difference have you noticed in their performance? 

Be flexible with your expectation arrangements. 

 Whether you set your expectations high or low, stay flexi. 

 If you know that disappointment for a particular situation will affect you badly then set the bar of your expectations a little lower, to ease the intensity of pain if they are not realised. 

It’s about perspective keeping. While it’s really nice to get an upgrade when flying, it doesn’t always happen. Throwing a hissy fit and demanding” Don’t you know who I am?” won’t necessarily work in your favour. 

 Be willing to try, even if you may fail. 

I’ve never been a particularly sporty person, but I decided to learn how to snow ski, because it’s a sport my husband loves, and I wanted to be able to share that experience with him. Fast forward a few years and today I’m a passable skier. 

 (Yes, pass me when you can, because I’m a tad slower than some others on the slopes.)  

By staying flexible in that expectation, yes, I have learnt to ski, and no, I’m not going to make the Women’s Downhill Slalom Team, has kept me going back and getting on that chair-lift one more time up to the top of the next mountain. 

Flexibility is also about giving yourself permission to shine, no matter how scary the prospect. This is where checking in to review/tweak or adjust your trajectory of expectation is important. 

Expectations great or small are part of life. Managing these successfully can be achieved by keeping an open mind and regularly applying some optimistic realism. 

 Plus, most importantly, to always expect the unexpected. 

Jenny Brockis

Dr. Jenny Brockis is passionate about all things "brain".  She helps businesses and individuals develop and benefit from a brain friendly work culture. As a Medical Practitioner and author of 3 books, Jenny can show you how to improve your mental flexibility and agility necessary to thrive in our increasingly complex world.

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