Monday, May 25, 2009

The Empowerment (or Trap) of Expectations

Ever noticed how given we are to feelings of disappointment, betrayal or depression? It is very human of us of course to feel these things, and it’s, well, basically natural. But it doesn’t have to be quite so natural. We might be surprised to find out that our expectations of things can either be our best friend or worst enemy. They can empower us or trap us.

Expectations are such powerful things. Imagine being able to consistently hold a view of life like Fritz Perls’ below:

“I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.”[1]
We can feel the power of autonomy and personal responsibility in this statement above.

What he is saying is his expectations are not driven fundamentally from his belief systems, but they may be more directly linked to his own deliberate intent; something he’s very much more in control of.

The fact is nearly all of us have quite fragile and partly erroneous belief systems that often cause us to think and act in unproductive, even harmful ways--that is until we decide to train our minds to think ‘manually.’ We do this by going around our beliefs, bypassing them, and instead thinking and acting from our deeply held values.

Our values are much more concrete and likely to be consistent with logical thought toward the achievement of our purpose and specific goals.

What Perls is also saying in the second half of the quote is the people in his world are not going to be held to ransom by him if they don’t produce on demand what he expects. Further even than this, he’s not going to entertain expectations of others at all, unless they’re stated.

Both frames of mind in the Perls quote around expectations are clearly healthy, not simply for us as individual persons, but also for all of those we interact with via work, at home, and socially. The only push back we might get is from people who have unfair expectations of us.

I have found it helpful to reflect on these questions in sorting my helpful expectations from those that are plainly unhelpful:

1. What expectations do I have right now; and, how are they helping or hindering me? (How/Why)

2. Are my expectations within my direct control?[2] (Yes/No)

3. Are my expectations congruent with my intentions? (Yes/No)

4. Finally, do I need these expectations? (Why) And, in other words, do they serve me or others? (How)

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Acknowledgement: This article and the basis of the four questions above were inspired by David Deane-Spread’s ATT-C© “Attitudinal Competence” system via his e-book, Master the Power of Your Attitudes: The workbook to choose your best Attitudes, Values, Purpose and Goals (Nedlands, Western Australia: ANJA Publishers, 2004), p. 17.
[1] This quote is cited in Deane-Spread, p. 17. The full text of the Gestalt Prayer by Perls is: “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped” —Fritz Perls, 1969. Source: Wikipedia, Gestalt Prayer. Retrieved 25 May 2009
[2] Deane-Spread says, “It is ridiculous to hold expectations about anything that is not within your direct power, or given as a commitment by others.”

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