There are countless studies that try to figure out whether it is better to have or maintain high expectations, or better to lower your expectations. Some say when you lower your expectations, you are more likely to be happy, and have your expectations met, others find out that marriages that set higher expectations are more likely to be successful, because they bring more quality into the marriage. To a certain degree that is pretty obvious. If you stand at the altar, looking at your groom with the thought: “I’m getting married to an idiot,” chances are your life together will be somewhat less than stellar.
When you start your working life with the belief that the world is a rotten place, highly unfair and money is something exclusively for those born rich and inherently selfish and idiotic people, don’t be surprised to find that the enthusiasm and dedication you can muster up won’t net you more than the bare minimum.
At the end of the day, never underestimate our ego’s desire to be right. It is truly amazing to see how much pain and misery people are willing to put up with so that they can turn their worn faces to you and say: “See, I told you…”
So, high expectations then? Only to be disappointed and frustrated over and over again?
The truth is that whole discussion has not led to any satisfactory guidelines for the right amount or degree of expectations. Worse, the idea of lowering your expectations not only doesn’t help you feel any better or get what you want, it is inherently flawed.
When we talk about lowering expectations, we do not actually mean we reduce our expectations. Nobody simply decides to want or need less. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
What we do when we say we lower our expectations, is maintain the expectations that we have, but anticipate the other one’s failure to meet them. Then we treat them accordingly. Which makes for some pretty awesome relationship as you can imagine.
Have you ever heard someone say: “Ah, that one? I have given up having any expectations of him whatsoever. He doesn’t lift a finger when you set fire to it.” I’m sure you can even picture the accompanying gesture. Shaming others has been one of our favorite forms of coercion since time immemorial, especially with our children. Brené Brown in her wonderful book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) says this about shame and I completely agree with her.
“Can you use shame or humiliation to change people or behavior? Yes and no. Yes, you can try. In fact, if you really zero in on an exposed vulnerability, you could actually see a very swift behavior change. Will the change last? No.”
Beyond a very short-lived period of “adjustment” that may look to you like success, shame has only one long-term effect: disconnection. In practical terms, this means the shamed person is more likely to avoid you. They are more likely to resist you and resent you for making them feel so bad about themselves. There are probably a few of such people in your life that make you cringe when you think of them.
When we talk about lowering expectations, we talk about shaming and blaming others for failing to meet our needs. Thus driving our neediness up and any chance of fulfillment way down. Stop lowering expectations. It doesn’t work.