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How to Develop Realistic Expectations

By: Brian Kim - May 19, 2008

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When it comes to people setting their expectations for whatever venture they’re pursuing, some have a funny way of going about it.

There’s the “I’ll set my expectations as low as possible so whatever happens, I can never be disappointed.”

Then there’s the “I’m going to set my expectations really high because I know for sure I can meet them.”

These two ways of setting expectations can be dangerous, especially at the beginning stages of the pursuit of any venture.

If you habitually set your expectations extremely low, you won’t really put that much effort into the venture you’re pursing because you set yourself up for a self fulfilling prophecy of little fruition. It’s a defense mechanism used to protect against any possible pain, not to mention the refusal to come face to face with reality.

If you set your expectations too high, there’s obviously the risk of reality crashing down on you, hard. This can potentially make you pessimistic and continually result in you having that kind of negative attitude toward any new venture you choose to pursue in life.

There can even be a combination of the two methods - a person who outwardly sets his/her expectations low but secretly inside, sets them high. That person can get burned twice.

Whatever the case may be, many seem to choose either end of the spectrum or a combination of both methods.

Why?

Because it’s really hard to determine what is “realistic” at first.

“At first” is the key phrase in that sentence.

Whatever venture you’re planning on diving into, whether it’s losing weight, starting your own business, finding the job you want, try not to expect anything in the beginning stages of the venture.

I know that’s hard to do simply because setting expectations seems to be an automatic response within most people.

Just do the best you can. Don’t focus so much on outcome, yet. Just be in the moment. Go with the flow. Stay with the present.

And then observe what happens. Neutrally.

Once you get some feedback, information, results, then you’re in a position to establish some sort of baseline, to “narrow the gap”, to get that “range”, where your emotions can’t be manipulated as much as before as with the other two methods.

If you’re planning to lose weight and you set the expectation too high and don’t meet them, it’s easy to become discouraged – especially at the beginning. If you set them too low, there’s not as much “kick” behind the venture.

Rather, just do the best you can right now with what you have. Crack open some books, get down the basics of exercise and nutrition, develop a simple system and stick to it for a week or two.

Then just observe. See what happens. Without any attachment. Pretend you’re a scientist studying the results of your own experiment.

It’s important to do this because this will help determine what is realistic for YOU because what is realistic will vary for each person. Some can lose weight quickly, others very slowly. It’s all relative and because it’s relative, one should seek out what is realistic for themselves.

It’s not prudent to adopt what is realistic for another person as what is realistic for you because everybody’s situation is so different. There’s too many factors involved for it to really make any sense to say “this is realistic for all people.” It truly is relative for each person.

When it comes to this of idea of setting realistic expectations, this might tend to clash with the concept of optimism in the minds of many people because let’s face it - being realistic tends to have much more of a pessimistic connotation than an optimistic one but that’s not necessarily the case when you look at it.

Being realistic goes hand in hand with being optimistic because when you’re realistic, you can narrow down the range to what is believable, and then strive for the upper end of that range.

When you know something is possible and you strive for the upper end of that range of possibility – that’s when you become truly optimistic.

Without that range of believability to live in, optimism disappears very quickly.

Knowing that range is important because it anchors you, it gives you a tangible point to work off of, to build upon and build upon you will – with experience, hard work, knowledge, and even greater insight over time.

Once you know the range, it’s easier to be optimistic. It’s actually more fun now that you know and you become more comfortable because you’ve found your very own starting point.

Once the range is set, then it becomes more prudent to focus on outcome and you can afford yourself a little bit of optimism by striving toward the upper end of your current range in that respect.

Once you find yourself meeting those optimistic expectations, your “range” shifts to the right – showing you what is realistic now that you’ve met those previous expectations.

You then repeat the same cycle. You strive for the upper edge of that new range and should you meet your optimistic expectation, your “range” shifts again to the right – presenting to you a whole new set of realistic expectations based on what you’ve accomplished and have gathered so far.

If you think about it, there’s no real reason to have pessimistic expectations. It tends to reduce desire to pursue any venture and “filters” reality to present evidence to fulfill the negative self fulfilling prophecy.

Rather, it would be wise to focus on realistic expectations and when that “range” of realistic expectations becomes articulated, to become excited and optimistic at the thought of achieving results in the upper end of that range so when we meet those expectations and shift the range to the right as a result, we can get excited at the thought of discovering what can be realistically accomplished next.

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One Response to “How to Develop Realistic Expectations”

  1. LnddMiles Says:

    Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

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