By Amanda Gore
Expectations are far more powerful than we recognize. Our expectations can - and usually do - control our perceptions, which in turn create our reality. Cognitive scientists have found that our mental maps and what we expect impact our experiences far more than we realize.
Our expectations cause us to focus our attention on what we expect to see - not what is really there. In other words, we see what we expect to see and we feel what we expect to feel, we hear what we expect to hear etc.
In Australia, the most common greeting is "Hi, how are you?" In fact it is so common that even when someone meets us and says just "Hi!" we reply with "Hi, fine thanks!" - even though they did not ask us how we were! We expected to hear "Hi, how are you?" and we responded to that and not to what was actually said. I know this happens in the USA as well!
If we 'have faith' (read: expect it to work) in a particular technique to remove pain, that technique usually works. Think of the placebo effect - where people, thinking they are being given pain relieving drugs are given sugar pills (expecting them to be pain relieving drugs) after which they experience significant reduction in pain.
One of our most challenging tasks is to become aware of the expectations we have hidden away in the recesses of our brains and minds! Many of these can be set up from our childhoods - think of your parents and how they behaved. Most parents are doing the best they can so this is not an indictment on your parents - or you as a parent! My Dad was an alcoholic, and I have recently realized that I had a deep belief that I could not rely on men, which had of course become an expectation that all men would usually disappoint me!
Of course this is not true but it took me 53 years to discover it lurking in my being! Call me a slow learner, but I am just grateful I finally shone a light on it! I don't want to have that belief and expectation because it is obviously not true. Some people may disappoint me but not all men as a rule!
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? In other words, do you wake up and expect things to go well - do you wake up and think "I wonder what blessings will emerge today?" or do you wake up groaning and imagining (expecting!) all the things that will probably go wrong or how difficult the day will be or how miserable you feel etc!
Do you expect things to work out in the best way possible or that everything you do will be full of challenges; eg. "with my luck, the car probably won't start," or "no one will notice me, I am boring," or "no one cares about me," or "I'll never find a car space this morning."
Another life lesson I learned from a former partner was about finding car spaces! Whenever we went driving, he always expected to find a car space very close to our destination. I, on the other hand, at that time, expected NOT to find a car space! As soon as I was aware of our differences in thinking, I started to look for car spaces and told myself I would find one easily and close to where I wanted to be - and lo and behold it worked!
In short, do you expect the worst or best as a rule? The research suggests that when we have a moment of insight - an 'ah ha' moment - in which we suddenly become aware of something we might have been doing to affect our reality, we can make a change. So this is my wish for you for the beginning of 2008 - that you have many moments of insight into which you realize an expectation you may have and decide whether it is helpful or not.
What do you expect of your partner? How do you expect them to behave or react to ideas or things you say and do? Is it the truth or do we distort the reality and perceive their behavior in a way that confirms our expectation? How do you view your colleagues at work? Do you expect people to be helpful and smart or to be impediments to your progress?
What about an expectation of life? Do you expect life to be full of surprises and blessings and that things usually have a way of working out? I have made a decision to wake up each day and say to myself 'I wonder what blessings will unfold today?'
Stuff happens and how do you view the stuff? Do you believe stuff happens and then go about with a hopeful and positive expectation that it will be interesting to see how things work out? Does stuff happen and you internally cry out, "Oh no, I knew this would happen!" Or do you become conscious of what you are saying to yourself about it - and stop yourself falling into the old pattern and say instead, "Oh, that's interesting! I wonder how this is going to be turned into something good!" Some might say this is wishful thinking or not realistic but looking with rose colored glasses is better than looking through dark murky lenses!
So make a decision to become conscious of your expectations and beliefs and see what 'ah ha' moments you have today! Ask yourself, "Is this really what is happening, or just what I expected to happen? Could I look at this or perceive things in a different way?" Spend just a few minutes dwelling on what people might expect of and from you! How do you think they expect you to behave or react? Maybe ask a few people and see if any insights arise from that exercise!
We all have our own perceptions of the truth and our perceptions are determined by our expectations... so uncovering our expectations, changing those that need to be changed might help us all have happier lives!
Amanda is an Aussie (living in the U.S.) and an expert on joy and being connected. Her speaking, writing, and whole life is committed to helping people connect their hearts with other people's hearts, and reconnect their own hearts with their heads! In other words, Amanda speaks about the emotional intelligence that makes us more successful at work and at home. Sign up for Amanda's monthly newsletter, "The Endorphin Injection!" at