Have you ever experienced the following situations? 

  • You hear a lot of buzz around a new movie. It’s won several Oscars and the critics are raving about it, but when you watch it, you’re disappointed
  • Likewise, you decide to go to a restaurant with very low expectations and find yourself delighted by the food
  • You may have heard of relationships where things are going perfectly. The couple seems happy, and then, out of the blue, they’re getting divorced, leaving one of them taken by surprise

These are all examples of expectations and the resulting experiences we have when entering situations with specific ideas about how things will be. 

In medicine, the impact of expectations is a real phenomenon. We know it better as the placebo effect.

We also see this in work and business. Some  55% of marketers think that the content they make is useful to readers. But the reality is different: only 14% of people find that over half of the emails a business sends is relevant at all.

Expectations can quite literally ‘bend reality’ and change how we experience life. We form expectations as a way to plan for the future. They help us to think in the long term and take steps, such as saving to buy a new home, applying to college to start a career, or coming up with a business plan to start a new business

However, when we don’t prepare for the unexpected, we can falter and lose our footing very quickly. Our survival brains prefer safety and security. When our plans get disrupted, our minds create emotions in the form of fear or anxiety. So, we need to know how expectations work and how to manage them.

When we understand how expectations work, we can leverage them to both motivate us and to be ready when changes take place. Let’s check out how this is possible.

Be aware of your biases

The first step to managing expectations is to be aware of the biases you likely have. This means being introspective and taking the time to think about what you believe about yourself, other people, and events. 

One way to check your biases is to ask the question ‘What do I think must or will happen?’ in relation to a person or event. For example, perhaps you’ve gone above and beyond to give your partner a wonderful day on their birthday. But when your birthday comes around, you don’t get as much effort as you put in. Normally, this situation would be met with anger. 

But it’s worth pausing to ask ‘Did I set up high expectations of my partner?’ When you use rational thinking, you realize that you created a demand in the form of an expectation that your partner would do the same things for your birthday as you did for theirs. 

Instead of holding on to such expectations, you can realize that there are other factors that could influence your partner’s behavior. They could be financial, personal, or other issues. When you’re aware of your biases or expectations, you’ll open yourself up to life turning out differently than you’d like and you can move on from such matters more easily. 

Avoid assumptions

A covert way that expectations can trip us up is by making us think that our past experiences are good indicators of future happenings. This is the case with many leaders who become complacent when they see that the sales figures are good or that business seems stable. It’s this complacency that led to the demise of Nokia.

In relationships too, take the time to call your friends and to check-in with your partner or spouse. Even though we’re all in close quarters because of the current pandemic, we need to be proactive in keeping relationships healthy and alive. If you’re a leader of a team or a business, don’t forget to conduct a catchup call with your customers from time to time. 

By updating yourself with information and talking to people, you’ll stay in touch with reality as it exists and will have the mental agility to manage changes. 

Keep your expectations real

The biggest way we allow expectations to affect us is by creating unrealistic ones. This happens when we set goals for ourselves that are based on what other people think, little research, and assumptions. 

When we set realistic goals and account for external factors that can come in the way, we’ll have the mental flexibility to ride with any hindrances that appear. 

So, do your research. Whether you’re planning a party, looking for a job, or seeking ways to make money online, you need to know what’s possible and set your objectives accordingly.


Today, we’re having less person-to-person contact, which means that we have to make up for it by overcommunicating. When you have expectations of others or when other people are expecting things from you, you need to drive clarity with communication.

Outline everything, ask questions, confirm what you’ve discussed. Even create documentation in the form of emails or with messages. 

In your personal life, be brave and share what your hopes and dreams are with loved ones, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries too. 

It’s through clear communication that people understand what the expectations are, which means they’ll do their best to live up to them. Or to correct them when life has other plans. 

Don’t be ruled by expectations. Leverage them

Expectations are important because they give our lives focus and also help us plan for the future. But we need to use them to create order and not be ruled by them. 

When we’re aware of how they work and how expectations can affect us, we’re in a place to step back and reassess the situation if we need to change our plans. With the ideas in this post, you’ll be able to use expectations to thrive and help others thrive too.