Our unreasonable expectations quite often do not allow us to be successful and happy. We can see it in many areas of life. Our children are the clearest mirror of our expectations and strange ways they are shaping the reality. Managing expectations is definitely something any responsible adult should strive to master. You can read more here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
The happiness formula
There are several formulas for happiness in different testing scenarios. An interesting research checked the connection between the happiness and the rewards. The researchers found out three factors contributing to the happiness: expected certain rewards, expected rewards associated with gambles and the difference between the rewards we expected in the past and what we actually got. This means that the higher rewards we expect the happier we will get. However, if in the past our expectations were inflated, our current happiness level will suffer.
Sprinters and marathon runners
There are many big differences between sprinters and marathon runners. Here I do not want to focus on different body mechanics but consider the motivational mechanism. A sprinter needs to push very hard for a very short period of time. Having inflated expectations and huge excitement allows gathering huge amounts of resources into a short burst. Once these resources are exhausted, the runner will collapse and will take his time to recover. A marathon runner will have realistic or even slightly deflated expectations and will start much slower than he can. He will proceed in steady state and conserve energy for the final stretch of the run. As the finish gets close the excitement will rise. When the finish is in the eyesight, he may reevaluate the situation and mobilize all of his resources.
The most successful students have no passion for school
Learning, and especially learning at school is a very long marathon. If we start too strong and inflate our expectations too early, we may skip important steps and fail to finish the race. In theory, passion should spark curiosity, provide motivation and increase the level of satisfaction. On the other hand, passion is sometimes associated with impatience, investment ill-adapted to the opportunity and wasted resources. This is especially true for the children. In several kinds of research, simple and direct correlations between students’ academic achievement and their attitudes toward school were near zero. The factors that do matter in academic success are attendance and the student’s confidence in his abilities.
The parents usually get from their children what they expect to see. Quite often we as parents feel guilty for not giving our children what they need. We are people with limited time and patience, limited financial resources, and limited capacity to understand other people. Quite often we have our own childhood traumas, and trying to prevent them from our children introduces new sorts of traumas.
For example, when I was a child I was constantly bored well beyond my resilience to boredom. Moreover, my parents focused me on math and chess with a very high level of micromanagement. Therefore my kids have a lot of various activities to choose from with a large degree of freedom. So they are constantly busy, tired and anxious about the choices they make.
We expect our children to get all the things we were denied of and achieve all we hoped for. This burden of expectations is too heavy, especially for someone so young and fragile as our kids. We try to support them, but quite often end up micromanaging them. When they try to expect their needs and inspiration, the explanation is anything but consistent and clear. As a result, many parents dismiss the true needs of their children. This gaps between the expectations of the parent and the needs of the child cause frustration. The whole tone of communication is very emotional and not always constructive.
Common parental mistakes
The role of a parent is very hard, and it is impossible to do it perfectly. Expecting perfection from yourself, your spouse or your children is a recipe for problems. I will detour from the main subject of the article and quote this part with minor changes from this article:
- If you constantly try to fix a child, the child will find different ways to keep being broken so you can continue your efforts.
- If you continually bail children out of their own messes, they will continue to make messes for you to bail them out of.
- If you give your kids money whenever they ask and almost never say no, they will develop problems supporting themselves.
- If you constantly try to mediate disputes between your children, they will continue to fight one another so you can continue to mediate.
- If you blame yourself for your children’s failings, your children will blame you for their own woes.
- If you continuously help children with their homework they will continuously need your help.
- If you keep making a huge deal about something your children do or say, they will keep repeating whatever it was so you can continue to obsess about it.
- If you instantly replace any items lost by your child, your child will continue to lose things.
- If you do nothing when your children disrespect you they will continue to be disrespectful.
- If you look uncomfortable getting presents on holidays and birthdays, your children won’t give any.
- If you seem to get a kick out of a child’s misbehavior, they will continue to misbehave, no matter what else you say about it.
- If you set a low bar in your expectations for your child (academically, for example), they may meet the bar, but they will not exceed it.
- If you compulsively pay more attention to your children’s needs than you do to those of your spouse, they will insert themselves between the two of you.
How do we fight unreasonable expectations? For example, by focusing on here and now. Being present and available for the life experiences, sharing the small joys with our loved ones. Some people have a natural talent to notice the small things life have to offer. Personally, I envy these people. I have to work very hard to notice the small things around me and be grateful for them. And even then, I fail very often. It is relatively easy to be mindful at the first minutes of meditations and the last minutes of meditation, much harder to preserve mindfulness through prolonged meditation, and infinitely harder to be mindful in everyday situations. Quite often, mindfulness itself makes us face expectations that are unreasonable.
Every time I fill frustrated and depressed, my mother told me “relax and enjoy life” without providing any cues of how I can do this. Each time she said that some portion of guilt and confusion added to my not exactly cheerful state. Once I confronted her regarding this recommendation. She said: “You are very smart, you read a lot, so even if I cannot do this you can!”. This is a great example of unreasonable expectations…
Expectations by labeling
There is something profoundly wrong when we put labels on people. Once a person has been labeled, he loses a part of his will. Typically people do their best to comply with the labels or to prove that the label is wrong. Either behavior is usually excessive. For example, there is a happy energetic child that happens to play during the school. In essence, the system has two choices: either provide an educational framework that includes playtime and gamified oportunities or diagnose the child with ADHD and medicate him. Unfortunately, more and more children are diagnosed and labeled. Bad educators are unwilling to become creative or admit their mistakes and blame the child and his parents. Both of my boys do not have ADHD but were sent for ADHD diagnoses on multiple occasions. (My girl is still in the kindergarten, so the issue is not relevant.) We have enough education and connections to explain the teachers their mistakes. 99% of the parents do not have these resources.
We often blame people for doing things they should not do. We expect them to be in control of their action and question their discipline. Sometimes this is a good call, but sometimes the urge is too strong. If a child does not have enough engaging experiences, how can he resist the lure of the gaming? When all the friends are active in social networks, how can a child refrain from taking selfies? Behavioral addiction is not very different from a chemical one. There was a complex study that found very few of the people who play video games are truly addicted. For those who are addicted, parents can offer a 72 hours detox with follow-up behavior modification. Yet most parents keep shouting “Stop playing this stupid game, go outside and play with the ball”.
Happiness through managing expectations
Simply reducing the expectations, focusing on the process rather than outcome, we can become less anxious and happier. There are contradicting studies on the effect of lower expectations on the success level of a person. Yet, let me ask you: What is more important, success or happiness?