Expect Mindfully

Through the times, societal values have changed. Maternal and paternal responsibilities to the family have changed. The employer and employee relationship has changed. Yet, the key component that drives happiness in our relationships remains the same. Expectation.

Expectations are made, managed and met, on a daily basis within every relationship. Something as simple as expecting your child to get an A+ on his examinations, and the disappointment that comes when he gets just an A. Every conflictual interaction is the outcome of poor expectation management in some capacity. So how can we be happy in our relationships?

Level of disappointment = Expectation – Reality

This formula highlights that without any expectation one cannot become disappointed with an outcome. It does not end there. While not having expectations would remove disappointments, that would also turn us into observers of reality, having neither disappointment nor joy. The key to happiness in a relationship is to bridge the gap between expectation and reality by adjusting our expectations, rather than removing expectations altogether. This is expectation management.

To illustrate, here is an interaction with my mother.

Visiting my parents after a long day at the office, after not seeing them for over a week because I’ve been so busy with work and my own family.

My expectation:
“It would be great for my mum to support me because I am feeling down. I’m sure she will notice how exhausted I am and offer me a hug. “

She starts telling me all about her week, speaking really quickly and excitedly, and asking me to help her do all these things. I haven’t even taken off my shoes yet! This is adding on to my stress

My mother’s expectation:
I’m so happy to see my son after a long week. I’m sure he must be just as excited.

“I just had a terribly tiring and deflating day. And now you’re asking me to drive across the island just to pick Aunty Stacy, when she could easily grab a taxi down here! Gee “thanks”, mum. Don’t you know I have so much to do at home later as well?”

Imagine how much better it would have been if I had visited my mum expecting that she would be excited and unbeknownst of my stress. I certainly would have been happier, and maybe even driven Aunty Stacy over to my mum’s place. Wouldn’t that have been a win-win outcome?

3 Tips to better Manage your Expectations

  1. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present, without making any judgements. Being mindful helps you to keep abreast of reality, and not be swept away by our emotions. Being mindful allows us to construct expectations that are more reasonable and more likely to be fulfilled.
  2. Acceptance. After a disappointing event that you have no control over, learn to accept that perhaps your expectations were not realistic. Instead of continually attempting to force a change in someone, accept that she is whom she is, and if you cannot improve the situation, learning to adjust your expectations would be better.
  3. Learn to shift perspective and change the way you think. Sometimes, we form expectations from the wrong perspective. An example is that of an employee who is unhappy at constantly receiving criticism from his boss. Instead of expecting his boss to dislike him or not, he could instead shift his perspective and focus on how his boss is trying to help him improve.

Written by Dr. Joel Yang