This article is a follow-up to my radio show, ‘Expectations are Premeditated Resentments’ on last Saturday. If you haven’t already listened to it, here is where you can catch up to.
It’s been proven that many people make their decisions and understand themselves in the light of what others expect of them. When we know, someone expects something from us—our attitude, how we act, what we want and don’t want—we will try to meet those expectations. It’s thought that we do so in order to gain respect, position, likeability, and belonging.
Succinctly describing the power of expectations: what is expected happens. The Pygmalion Effect!
Studies have established the fact that people tend to live up to what’s expected of them whether negative or positive and do so mostly unconsciously.
Let’s recall how the power of expectation manifested between teachers and students —in the Pygmalion Effect research studies.
Two groups of students, who were academically very similar, were assigned to two teachers. One teacher was told that the students in her group were high achievers. All she had to do was guide them. The other teacher was told that her students were difficult and slow and she was to do her best. It was planned that the two groups would be tested again at the end of the year. You can imagine the results: the high achievers scored significantly higher than the “slow” kids and both groups did so unconsciously. They rose or fell to the level that their teachers wanted of them. This kind of result has been replicated many times across a variety of different scenarios.
Before I continue I want to make the distinction between expectations and goals.
Though not exclusively, goals are largely a product of your conscious mind. They are limited in their focus and narrow what is available for you to see. You have no doubt heard that you must make your goals as specific as possible. That way they will be maximally actionable.
But goals are set in the context of your expectations and expectations contain a much larger field of imagination-i.e., they also emerge from your unconscious. Expectations are made up of —
part fantasy — end results that you envision whether or not you have a solid ground to anticipate them;
part concepts — the contribution of your linear mind which allows you to understand and create a story around them; and
part wish — that may reach back into your childhood making them dreamlike.
Expectations are gestalt structures, unified wholes that cannot be described as the sum of their parts. Expectations are more inclusive and much more expansive than goals.
So now, I have several questions for you…
- To what degree do you need expectations to be placed upon you from someone else? Have you thought about it?
- What about the expectations you have of yourself? To what degree do you conceive, organize, and keep your expectations of yourself in your daily consciousness?
- How do your expectations guide what you do?
- How well do you live up to your own expectations?
Like the two sets of students above, when expectations are believed (the teachers believed what they were told) they become self-fulfilling. They anticipated the events that were implied in their expectations to occur and they did. Without knowing it they began teaching their different classes with a prediction of the future and that future came to be.
That’s the promise in the power of expectations. And that’s why, as specific as your goals may be, you need to attend to your expectations;
what you say to yourself when you are alone;
the thoughts and images that arise in your mind with respect to what you expect of yourself;
even your dreams which may give you clues to those parts of your expectation that arise from your unconscious.
Because if you don’t, if your expectations are a hodgepodge of thoughts and feelings with little or no attention from you, they too will be self-fulfilling—but a result may surprise you.
So what about the example for your own life?
How aware of yourself were you?
Because it’s in your awareness of yourself that you can have a better grasp of what’s going on in your mind—conscious and unconscious—and be better able to conduct your life toward outcomes you truly want.
That is the power and the promise of expectations.
I would love to hear from you whether you agree or not.