Expectations are funny, funny things and we all have them. When they are met, we feel amazing and so very, very loved. When they are unmet, we feel awful and so very, very unloved. It can be hurtful and can reinforce negative core beliefs, such as “I’m not worthy” or “I don’t deserve to get what I want.” And those beliefs are awful.
But what happens when our expectations are exceeded? Do we feel good? Do we feel better? Do we feel more loved or more special or more of anything? Often, maybe even nearly always, the answer is no. Nope. Exceeding expectations rarely makes us feel better.
Think of it like this. Let’s say your favorite cake is a yellow cake with white frosting and frosting flowers. To be honest, frosting is the best part of the cake for you and the cake itself is literally just what holds the frosting. Because really, it’s all about the frosting. Oh, and the frosting needs to be the “cheap” kind. You know, the kind that sort of crunches there’s so much sugar in it. None of that whipped stuff for you!
So now let’s say it’s your birthday and your best friend tells you that he’s going to buy you a cake and wants to know what kind you’d like. So you tell him you want a yellow cake with white frosting and frosting flowers. Because frosting is the best part of the cake and the cake itself is literally just what holds the frosting. Your friend gives you the thumbs up. And you are super excited. Because you LOVE LOVE LOVE yellow cake with white frosting and frosting flowers.
So the day finally arrives. Your birthday. And while you may not be super excited to turn one year older, you ARE super excited to eat some delicious cake. Some delicious yellow cake with white frosting and frosting flowers. And you can’t wait!
So your friend, the one with the cake, has also decided to have a small dinner party in your honor. You arrive and things are perfect. All of your favorite people are there. They are serving your favorite food. There is good music playing. And you know that there will be cake, your favorite cake. Some delicious yellow cake with white frosting and frosting flowers.
The time has finally arrived. The lights are turned off, you sit at the head of the table. And in walks your friend holding a beautiful cake with a single candle in the center of it. And you are thrilled.
But as he gets closer, even though the dimmed lighting, you realize that the frosting looks a little too dark to be white. As a matter of fact, it’s chocolate frosting! Wait….not just chocolate. But ganache. Lots of it. With no flowers. Not one. There is some writing that says something like “blah blah blah, happy birthday, whatever.” And you are crushed.
Now, logically, you are able to recognize that this cake is clearly a “better” cake. It’s fancier and more expensive and was made at a “real” bakery and not just the local grocery store. Logically, you know that your friend went out of his way to give you the best cake he possibly could.
Your emotional brain? Ya, it’s not so happy. And it’s not so happy because it had a very clear expectation that went unmet.
So how do you better manage this? How do you combat the feelings of disappointment that come with unmet expectations? The answer, while at times difficult in practice, is quite simple to share. Gratitude.
Practice being grateful for the good things that you have and are given. The more time we pay attention to the good, the more good we see. The more time we pay attention to the bad, the more bad we see.
So I say, let’s look at the good and eat that cake!