How Expectations Change, and How we can Change our Expectations.

One of the most cryptic codes on this planet that is hard to crack lies in the realm of expectations. Since we were babies, our lives and progress have been dictated based on someone else's expectations of how we should behave. Laws, lessons and literature are key factors that solidify exactly what we should be doing, and when. While these areas do help to enforce law and order, we have started to experience - especially throughout the 20th and 21st Century - exactly how these ideas need to evolve. Human behaviour and the expectations of us as individuals are not linear. Due to changes in society that seek equality and challenge the old ways of thinking, we are realising that the expectations handed down to us from our parents and grandparents don't always apply to the current age.

However, just as technology has done, our expectations have also evolved and developed as new influences alter our way of thinking. Magazines and reality TV shows, while being a great source of entertainment, have now become another instance of social pressure. It's fair to note that our mindsets are not robotic; we don't uphold the exact ideals that generations before us did, we have developed our own sense of self. Lo and behold, as we grow older and interact with others we also spread a little part of our mindset and ideals; this normally occurs through our speech, behaviour management and our own interpretations of the situations we find ourselves in.

And while expectations can be such a positive - and are often helpful indicators when things are going right or wrong - it becomes more and more apparent that the way we react around other people can also affect their behaviour too. In previous blog posts, I have mentioned that the minds of children and adolescents are like sponges; they can easily absorb the information we feed them. Therefore, if they are exposed to unrealistic expectations from an early age, such as body shaming magazine articles or even success stories catered to a certain gender/intelligence, then it will become engrained and reinforced as they grow older. There can also be a negative side to expectations and following them.

Our mindset is like a spider web. On the outside, it consists of an anchor thread and a bridge thread; these are the two most important parts of the structure because without these we are unable to see the intricate spirals and delicate weaves that make up the strong interior. These are the silks that keep the web in place. Let's say that the anchor thread and the bridge thread are made up of memories and the decisions we make. These experiences, no matter the consequences, shape the way we behave and the way we think. It creates the basis of our mindset. Based on these life events, we then start to develop the frame, which is the part that holds the details. This frame signifies our behaviour. Our behaviour impacts the smaller everyday decisions we make and the way we see ourselves. Ultimately, this is the web.

Why is this metaphor important? Because it goes so much further than just its structural significance. Spiders build their webs to capture and trap their food; sometimes the bugs are stuck, other times they can get free. It's a life source for them to be able to eat and survive. For us, this section is our mindset. We can easily capture and trap expectations, or we can let them go. It's important to note that the silk the spider web is made from can be very strong and even stretch to accommodate changes in weather or the strength of the creature it has captured. This is also true of our mindset; it can continuously grow and expand based on everything we do, the way we speak and the smaller experiences we endure.

You know the inevitable question is coming: what happens when a spider web is destroyed? The spider rebuilds. What does this mean for our mindset? When we tear down one mindset, we can rebuild too. We can also learn from our experiences.

Have you ever put an expectation on yourself? Here's some examples of expectations we see in every day life:

  • I'm going to get that washing done today

  • I will get a good exam result

  • I am going to get that pay rise

Do you see one that fits you? Now I'm going to ask you to think, what happens if those expectations don't pan out? For a lot of people, the narrative normally changes to:

  • I failed because I didn't finish the laundry

  • I am stupid because I didn't pass that exam

  • I am obviously not worthy of that salary increase

One final question from me, would you honestly tell your best friend that the reason they didn't hit their expectation was because they failed? I'll let that sink in for a moment.

Having expectations can be a positive but they need to be in tune with reality. Although I don't necessarily agree with all the systems used in schools, expectations of development and behaviour can be a useful indicator when working out how best to support a child. For example, if the expectation is that a child should be able to form a full sentence but can't, it allows the teachers and support staff to investigate other means of giving the child the right education. Likewise, if the expectation of behaviour is held to a high standard, and that child exceeds in positive behaviour, then they should expect to be rewarded for that. Expectations are also beneficial when evaluating science and medicine. If a bacteria doesn't behave in the normal way it should, then it could lead to a new discovery. Or if someone is recovering as they would expect to be, then this is a sigh of relief for the patient and the doctor.

In last week's blog post, Exploring healthy body image and expectations, we explored where some of these expectations derive from and the need we feel to achieve them. It is mostly due to societal, cultural or family pressures that we sense failure when we do not succeed. However, within our generations, we are starting to develop a more empathetic understanding towards mindset, and this is also being explored in schools with children as young as four. So, for those of us who haven't been able to experience such a positive atmosphere, how to we refocus our mindset?

In all honesty, it's about having a truthful and honest conversation with yourself. Ask yourselves these questions:

  • What are you currently finding stressful? Why?

  • Are there ways you can alleviate that stress? Are you creating your own stress for the sake of it?

What do I mean by these questions above? Let's take a simple scenario, you're gunning for a promotion and you've outlined everything that you need to do in order to achieve that promotion. Perhaps it includes working longer hours, snapping up work quickly or being competitive with your colleagues. Believe it or not, these could all be simple factors that are causing you more stress than it's worth. Why not ask your manager what they would expect you to do if you wanted that promotion? If they're fair, they might be open to giving you smaller opportunities that allow you to showcase your work, or include you in more planning meetings to help you get the gist of what the promotion is about. It's easy to spot how your expectations vs theirs are incredibly different.

Another point when refocusing your mindset is to be mindful of your inner dialogue. When you achieve something, do you wait for someone else to congratulate you before you congratulate yourself? I hate to break it to you, but it can take someone much longer to realise what you've done. Take weight loss/gain as an example here, in some situations it can take people months to spot your weight change, whereas you can spot it quicker. This is because you see yourself everyday in the mirror or when you look at your body; you know what your body can/can't do and only you know how the clothes feel when you wear them. We really need to move away from being validated by those with opinions that do not matter to us.

While there are so many other techniques we can do, such as goal setting or pre-planning, to help us achieve our expectations, sometimes it's easier to go right back to the basis and re-evaluate where the pressures are coming from. There are circumstances in our lives that are so much trickier to handle than a simple promotion or weight management task; the situations that can be the hardest to manage are from those that have expectations of us to achieve, behave or do things by a certain age. While I'm very fortunate that I have laid all my cards on the table with my family and friends, and this has been accepted by them, there are others out there who do suffer from conflicting expectations and are finding it difficult to manage them. If you have friends or family experiencing this, then give them the reassurance they need to know it's okay not to achieve what others want. After all, changing your mindset is one thing, but changing someone else's is a very different, complex issue.

To conclude, the more in tune we our with our thought processes and our mindsets, the more likely we are to refocus the negative into the positive. Sometimes, we have to accept that our expectations were not achieved because they were not aligned with reality. Once we start to become aware of things that are unattainable in a short space of time, or pressures that are stressing us out, we are able to act on them and do something about them. Remember, this change is for you and not for the benefit of anyone else. In fact, your development might inspire someone else to release the burdens on their shoulders.