How Low Should Your Expectations Go?

By Chelsea Babin

Whether you’re just starting a new job, a new job search, a new project, or learning a new skill, you will naturally have expectations. Unless you’re used to thoughtfully deciding what your expectations will be, they can often be set too low or too high for arbitrary reasons, depending on how confident you’re feeling at the time. When you go on autopilot, your expectations can cause extremely negative results.

When you automatically set your expectations too high, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. When what you’re thinking isn’t reached or achieved, it can be a real bummer and a blow to your confidence. Similarly, high expectations can result in impatience, particularly when other people are involved. If you’ve just come out of an interview for a job you’re expecting to be offered easily, sitting by the phone for more than a day can feel like agony. Weren’t they supposed to love you and offer you the job immediately? That may have been what you expected but, if those expectations were not thoughtfully made, it’s no surprise that such a high bar wasn’t cleared.

Conversely, when you automatically set your expectations too low, you’re unknowingly discounting what you could truly be capable of. Low expectations can set you up for a lack of confidence or create the perfect recipe for lackluster results. If you don’t want to hinder your progress or set yourself up for failure, why would you rely on such low expectations?

The truth is, it’s human nature to rely on intuition to set our expectations for us. Expectations feel like a natural, knee-jerk reaction to most people. So how can you consciously balance your expectations when you aren’t in control of setting them? Take the responsibility for setting your own expectations, rather than just leaving that job to your subconscious. The answer may seem simple, but very few people do this or even know how to do this.

In order to take charge of your expectation setting you have to be aware of your specific situation. Let’s say you’re heading into a collaborative project with two of your coworkers. One coworker is someone you’ve worked with before who works at a pretty slow, steady, but reliable pace. The other is someone you haven’t had a chance to collaborate with but is supposedly a creative genius. How should you set your expectations? Think of a variety of hypothetical situations and responsibilities this project may put you in. Try to average out the lowest possible result and the highest possible result and you’ll come up with a fairly accurate set of expectations. Now consider other outside factors like how motivated your boss is to get this project done, how stringent the requirements are and how accurate the budget for the project seems to be. While this thought process can help you balance your expectations, it won’t automatically ensure all of them are met. If you want to meet all of your expectations you need to set small, achievable goals along a larger route and focus on them one or two at a time. This focus helps you get from one end, the beginning, to the other, your expected end, in a fairly healthy way.

While it may seem unnatural to consciously set your expectations at first, it’s much easier to find the proper balance when you’re paying attention. This method will save you from underachieving and being disappointed. It will save you from becoming incredibly impatient and producing lackluster results. What more could you ask for?