3 Ways Your Expectations Are Killing You - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

In a previous post I explored intuition and how going with your gut may not always be accurate. In fact, it can sometimes feel more like attempts to mind read than anything else.

I also spoke about dwelling on the possible positive. This isn’t the same as “positive thinking” which I think gets way too much airplay and sets us up to feel really horrible when we (or “the universe”) isn’t able to visualize anything we want into existence. It may prime us for positive expectations, but those expectations may get in our way.

Still, there’s a place between the Eeyore view of expecting the worst and positive thinking. Lots of people go through life with little hope for good or happiness, with the philosophy being that if something great does happen, they’ll just be happily surprised.

There’s some trouble with that life motto, though, and they center around how much our expectations get in the way of our successes:

Get Primed for Positives:

While seeing the world through rose colored glasses edits out way too much of humanity and life to ultimately be healthy for us, seeing the world through the lens of hopelessness doesn’t do us any favors either.
It also may blind us to seeing alternatives to our own expectations. To actually being surprised by what we didn’t expect.
There’s a saying that if you have a hammer and it’s your only tool, then everything becomes a nail (I’m sure the saying is smoother than my paraphrase.) So too is your worldview: If you are looking for things to confirm negativity, you will find them.
A gratitude practice is a great antidote for this. When you begin to put on the lens of gratitude and looking for times to feel grateful (Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of being grateful for your “non-toothache” is a great example) you will really start to shift your outlook where the worst things aren’t always as bad as they could be.
You can more easily reframe challenges.
Instead of Positive Thinking you become more primed to see where positives may be hiding.
We lose that if we only have our ‘expect the worst’ stance on.

Remember That It’s All Uncertain:

I love Alan Watts’s take on “The Story of the Chinese Farmer”. It’s worth taking a listen to him tell it, but to break it down, he talks about a series of events that happen to this farmer that others say “Congrats! That’s wonderful!” or “I’m so sorry–that’s tragic!” to. But the farmer’s reply is always, “Maybe”:
The loss of of horse leads to the horse returning with eight horses which lead to his son breaking his leg riding one of the horses which means the son can’t be conscripted to fight in a war…and on and on and on.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel psyched or saddened by the ups and downs of things, it’s just that allowing ourself to fall into an overly burdened (positive or negative) sense of things almost always is a recipe for disappointment. Don’t expect the Worst OR expect the Best. Don’t be married to your expectations.
Take what happens as it comes. Grieve or celebrate as you want, but don’t forget that it’s all way too uncertain to control and stay one way or the other.

Competition (With Others) Kills:

One sure way to turn a positive set of issues into a negative one is to start comparing yourself to others. I’m not saying that competition can’t be inspiring, but when we are always holding our successes next to someone else’s successes we wring the joy out of the competition we had with ourselves. That sense that we can do something better today than we did a year ago.
If we’re a bowler and we’re constantly bowling a 65 game and we finally score 100, why would we dampen our sense of accomplishment by comparing ourselves to the person who scored 200?
If you’re going to set competitive goals, do it with yourself to push yourself forward and don’t hold other people’s successes as your standard.
This fits in with the idea of no more Expect the Worst, Hope for the Best because it’s again about changing a mindset.

That last part about mindset is key. How we frame things that happen to us and things we do can be the deciding factor in whether we’re living a life of Abundance or Depredation.

Yes, of course, there are objective things accounting for this too and I’m not telling anyone without basic needs that they should “enjoy what they have” and not complain about injustice. But too many people have much of what they “need” but are unable to see it.

  • Because of competition with others.
  • Because of forgetting that things change.
  • Because they are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Experiment with little shifts in attitudes and framings to see if this works for you. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to schedule a 20 minute free phone consultation if you wanted to talk further about this or anything else on these pages.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working in family and men’s counseling for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.