Using Mindfulness to Manage Your Expectations

Every day, at work, at home, even on vacation, we deal with expectations. Our own expectations, and those of the people around us. Expectations are beliefs we have about something as it will be in the future: the project will be done on this date, the teenaged kids will wash the dishes, or ten miles is a reasonable distance to kayak in one day. Sometimes, expectations are based on accurate information and negotiated agreements. Often, they’re not. Even if the original expectation was carefully negotiated, situations can change.

What happens when expectations aren’t met? When the project isn’t done or the kayaking day stretches to 15 miles?

People become attached to their expectations. They can be very disappointed when their expectations are not met.

Unmet expectations can lead to disappointmentanger, and other disruptive feelings. If you are furious about the project delay when you walk into a meeting with the team that is behind schedule, at best your ability to think clearly about how to move forward will be impaired. At worst, you may say something you’ll later regret and lose self-control.

How Can Mindfulness Help?

Mindfulness is purposely paying attention with a mirror-like quality of mind. The mirror simply reflects. It is objective. What is reflected does not change the mirror.

Mindfulness enables choice, the opportunity to act instead of react.

Everyone is mindful to a degree. It is the ability to simply see or sense things as they are. It is attention to your physical sensations, thoughts, mental concepts, and feelings when you are climbing a ladder, walking down the street, driving a car, or writing an email.

In my new book, Managing Expectations: A Mindful Approach to Achieving Success, I highlight the critical importance of communication and relationships, the nuts-and-bolts processes of expectations management, and of not only recognizing your own feelings, but also how others react to you and the situation. The essence of mindfulness runs through all of these facets of making progress on just about anything. It is especially needed in the realm of work.

Mindlessness is the quality of doing without attention. Our habits and biases drive our decisions and behavior. We’re all familiar with this experience. We drive somewhere with no memory of how we got there. We space out for an hour, lost in thought about what we could have or should have done in some situation. We make decisions based on unconscious or unskillful beliefs and concepts. We react from negative emotions.

Mindfulness enables choice, the opportunity to act instead of react.

The good news is that no matter your age or how deeply engrained your habits, mindfulness can be cultivated and improved.

Using Mindfulness as a Tool for Managing Expectations

Here are two of the topics I cover in Managing Expectations where mindfulness plays a key role.

1) Barriers to setting healthy expectations

People want what they want when they want it. This wanting often clouds and closes the mind to rational thought. So we are inclined to lack mindfulness when setting expectations at the onset of a project, when it matters most. We become too ambitious, and move ahead with unrealistic expectations that are destined to leave us disappointed and create conflict. Mindfulness here can help prevent issues from bubbling up later on, when it is much more difficult to address them.

Practice: When starting something, make sure expectations are reasonable. Think the project through to the end, including all of the details. Communicate clearly, so everyone’s expectations are aligned. Being mindful now, at the beginning of something, will ensure a smoother flow toward its conclusion, and will increase the likelihood of success.

2) Unmet expectations and changing expectations bring up feelings

Things change. That’s the nature of reality. Sometimes an unexpected circumstance will come along to shift the scope of your project, and expectations will need to be adjusted. When this happens, you have a choice. React emotionally, with anger and resistance, or apply mindfulness, pause and consider your options before making a decision about how best to proceed.

Don’t just pivot in a new direction, make sure those around you who are involved are clear that the original expectations may no longer be a possibility.

Practice: When the unexpected occurs, take a pause and breathe before you react. Don’t just pivot in a new direction, make sure those around you who are involved are clear that the original expectations may no longer be a possibility. Use communication as your anchor.

Consciously noting your frustration allows you to accept it and respond rather than react. With mindfulness of your feelings, you can calm yourself down and start problem solving about how to handle the implications and manage expectations accordingly.