This is a myth put forth by cynics. If your train is late, or your car isn’t fixed on time, just shrug indifferently, because you didn’t expect much anyway. Expect mediocrity, says the theory, and you can be pleasantly surprised.
The thing is, there isn’t a pleasant surprise when things go well, just a mild jolt to one’s cynicism. Besides, pleasant surprises only provide temporary happiness, not the core kind.
Low expectations will affect your day-to-day life. By expecting mediocrity you will find it. Everywhere.
Don’t aim to have a satisfactory life by having low expectations. That’s not satisfaction, that’s weary resignation. Sure, you might avoid being disappointed, but life itself would be a disappointment.
Having low expectations will not bring happiness; at best it will help you avoid some unhappiness. That’s not good enough.
How would you feel if no-one at expected much of you? A little hurt maybe? A little worthless? So, why view life that way?
‘Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.’
‘People don’t fail because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.’
Q. ‘Do you suggest we have high expectations instead?’
No. Certainly, there are benefits to having high expectations. High expectations can prompt optimism and effort. With that optimism we are less likely to be daunted by the fear of failure, and more motivated to work for what we want.
And, if we expect to be married, that indicates a confidence in our desirability. If we expect to have perfect kids, we might be prompted to nurture them well. If we expect to have an attractive home, we have something to look forward to and it’s easier to work hard for it.
We only get one life, and it’s the journey which matters, so whether or not we actually meet our expectations doesn’t matter.
‘When I asked you if we should have high expectations you said no. Yet you’re giving sound arguments for why we should have them!’
Instead of expecting to succeed, we can aim to succeed. Instead of expecting to retain our youthful looks, we can aim to retain them, or aim to accept the looks we have. Instead of expecting our kids to be perfect, we can aim to raise perfect kids. Instead of expecting our friends to be perfect, we can remind ourselves that no friend is perfect, and aim to deal with their shortcomings. Instead of expecting to be in a committed relationship, we can aim to be in one. That can prompt us to do what it takes to keep the relationship healthy.
By aiming for these things instead of expecting them, we don’t simply assume they are going to happen. Instead, we are prompted to make plans to make those things happen.
‘Even if we aim for those things we can still feel gutted when they don’t happen.’
Just how disabling is that disappointment? Do we live our lives in anguish because our intentions are unfulfilled? Hardly. For most of us the answer is ‘no, we’re not dramatically affected’. We shrug and get on with life.
Besides, when we aim for those things but fail to attain them, we are more likely to feel disappointed than gutted.
‘So, no low expectations, no high expectations?’
That’s right. Have no expectations. But aim as high as you like.
How do we have no expectations?
Read the chapter on Karen Horney’s Tyranny of the Should.