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Do you know how to manage your expectations and those of others?

"The best things in life are unexpected because we had no expectations." Eli Khamarov

We all have expectations of ourselves, of others, of consumer items or of situations. When these expectations are not met, it is possible to feel disappointed, sad or even discouraged. Understanding the factors that influence how we manage our expectations and those of others is an important step in freeing ourselves from these negative emotions.

Should we believe in magical thinking?

When we have expectations, we want them to come true! However, simply expecting something to happen is not enough to make our wish come true.

Jean Piaget, a leading child development psychologist, noted that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the subjective world they create in their heads and the objective world outside. According to his observations, children therefore sometimes believe that their thoughts can directly cause events (e.g., having angry thoughts about one's little brother can cause him to fall down the stairs). Piaget refers to this as "magical thinking" and says that we should all be past this type of thinking by the age of 7.

However, it turns out that many normal adults still engage in various forms of magical thinking. Prayer, in particular, can be seen as a way of calling for the fulfillment of an expectation without requiring any concrete action on the part of the individual. This is obviously not a way of managing expectations, since it totally disempowers the person.

How are expectations built?

To understand what role we can play in managing our expectations, it is important to know that expectations are gradually formed in the mind of each individual through the following process: expectations are developed from assumptions based on what we think we want or what others want, based on our upbringing or an idealized view of the world. Often these expectations drift away from reality and leave us feeling frustrated.

In this regard, the image we project of ourselves is already loaded with the expectations of others: it tries to meet those of our parents, family, teachers, friends, life partner, colleagues, etc. Needless to say, this can be a source of suffering when the very desire to conform to these expectations is at odds with our own aspirations.

In this sense, it is important to reflect on the impact that these expectations can have on us and on others.

Expectations of oneself

The expectations we have of ourselves are as much about how we should behave as what we should aspire to. These expectations strongly influence our relationships with others as well as our self-image.

But are these expectations realistic? Do they lead us to improve and surpass ourselves, or do they put pressure on us and feed a poor self-image? If these expectations are creating negative emotions within us, it is imperative to redefine them so that they serve to propel us instead of imprison us.

Expectations of others

If we have high expectations of others, we run the risk of frustration and disappointment. On the one hand, implicit expectations are almost certain to go unfulfilled; on the other hand, it is unrealistic to think that simply communicating our expectations will make people behave as we want them to. This is why it is important to limit our expectations of others.

To do this, we can ask ourselves the following questions: Are our expectations likely to be realized? Have we communicated them well to the people involved? Do they perceive these expectations positively, or do they feel that this increases their stress and feelings of inadequacy? In such a case, it is important to redefine our expectations so that they become a source of motivation for those around us rather than a source of devaluation.

An explanatory model of expectation management

To illustrate the dynamics of interactions between individuals dealing with role expectations, Katz and Kahn produced the following model:

This model can be summarized as follows: individual A has an expectation of his interlocutor B. For example, A wants B to be punctual. If B is punctual, he meets A's expectation and the relationship will be satisfactory.

On the other hand, if B does not meet this expectation, A will feel tension, discomfort.

Individual A is responsible for managing this discomfort. He must therefore communicate to B that he expects him to be punctual (signified expectation).

If the interlocutor understands and values this expectation and tells A, the tension will disappear and relational capital can be developed.

To summarize the implications of this model, it is possible to identify four types of expectations that may exist in relation to the role a person is called upon to play:

· Conflicting or opposing expectations of each other, even though they have been formulated for the same role.

· Expectations that conflict with those of the person, or that run counter to the person's values, needs or skills.

· Ambiguous, ill-defined or poorly communicated expectations.

· Excessive expectations, or not respecting the person's abilities.

Links with the personality profile

According to the model presented above, personality influences how we manage our expectations and roles. The interaction between the trait of conscientiousness and the trait of emotional stability provides us with valuable information about the management of self-expectations and the expectations of others, as well as about the relationship to performance.

Essentially, the relational dynamics of managing expectations can be established between four types of people.

The relaxed person

This person has low expectations of themselves. They do not seek success and are not concerned about it. They have nothing to prove to themselves or to others. They handle uncertainty well. They take life as it comes and trust that things will work out for the best.

Main features:

Not very conscientious and emotionally unstable. Does not have a strong will to succeed and handles emotions well.

The disorganized person

This person tends not to plan, to take things as they come and to be pessimistic about the future. They are likely to have a low sense of self-efficacy. She also tends to avoid performance situations to avoid failure and humiliation. Responsibilities are a major source of stress for her. She has difficulty managing the expectations of others and tends to make decisions based on emotion.

Main features:

Not very conscientious and emotionally unstable. Has a low drive to succeed and has difficulty managing emotions.

The determined person

This person shows a good ability to put aside negative emotions and delay gratification to focus on their goals. They have high achievement goals while being able to handle difficulties. Her moments of discouragement are short and do not cause her to deviate from her goals and plans. She is able to handle the pressure of performance expectations.

Main features:

Very conscientious and emotionally stable. Wants to succeed and manages her emotions well.

The person prone to performance anxiety

This person may put a lot of pressure on himself or herself to achieve high goals. Failure and the anticipation of failure cause significant distress. Rigid organization and planning may be a mechanism they use to manage anxiety. She still has difficulty handling pressure and performing, and is at risk of burnout.

Main features:

Very conscientious and emotionally unstable. Wants to succeed, but has difficulty managing her emotions.

Does healthy expectation management contribute to happiness?

Learning to better manage our expectations and those of others provides valuable insights into how we can break out of the endless loop of disappointment with unfulfilled expectations. This can hopefully lead to a sense of satisfaction with ourselves and ultimately a sense of well-being.

"The greatest obstacle to life is waiting; he who hopes for tomorrow, neglects today." Seneca, Greek philosopher

While it is inevitable to have and raise expectations, it is up to us to manage them. To see more clearly what is preventing us from being happy, here are some actions to take and questions to ask ourselves:

Differentiate between expectations, needs and desires

· Does my happiness depend solely on my ability to meet the expectations of others?

· Do I ever try to meet the expectations of others at the expense of meeting my own needs?

· Am I able to take into account my own desires in my relationships with others?

Identify barriers to self-sufficiency

· What prevents me from meeting my own needs?

· Do I want someone to take care of me?

· If someone else succeeds in meeting my needs or expectations, do I consider this a proof of love or does it make me feel important?

Assess the realism of expectations

· Are my expectations likely to be met?

· In all honesty, can I expect others to act the way I would have acted in such a situation?

· Does this expectation of me overestimate my abilities?

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