Expectations vs Wants

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How Does What You Expect Dictate What You Have More Than What You Want

Recently I watched a Ted Talk by Dr. Jennice Vilhauer, a Harvard trained psychologist, she argues “that you act based on what you expect rather than what you want. What you think you want and what you expect are completely different; expectation is a belief about whether or not you're going to get what you want.”
We all know the huge payouts of winning a lottery ticket yet how many of us regularly buy lottery tickets? Not many. The reason we don’t buy lottery tickets as often as the lottery commission would like us to, is because we don’t expect to win the lottery given the odds.


Having an expectation that is different from what we want is the reason why we can’t seem to have the things we really want in our lives. The big paycheck, the ideal relationship or the smoking hot body. The reason why no matter how hard you try to create change you often stay stuck because you act on what you expect and if you already expect not to achieve those results then that is exactly what you get: NO RESULTS.

Suppose you want to lose the weight on your mid section and get into really good shape for a big day coming up. You decide to take action, you join the gym and even more you hire a personal trainer. You’re excited to go to the gym and are hoping to get in shape in a few months, after all you’ve done all things you would need to get the results. Joined a gym, hired a personal trainer… what else?

You go to the gym the first few days pumping with excitement and motivation. You give it your all, you make yourself and the trainer proud. As the weeks roll by you start losing interest, you don’t put in the same effort and as that continues you feel demotivated, lazy and even ashamed. Before you know the month is over and you haven’t achieved any results…

What happened? You were at the same gym, you had the same trainer like you did when you started, then what changed? According to Dr. Vilhauer your results were based not on your initial response but on what you expected even before you started. Which is ‘no matter how hard I try I will never get in the shape that I want to be in.’ All your actions then stem directly from your expected result.

Surprisingly, most people go about their daily life thinking that they're acting on what they want when in reality they're acting on their expectations.

People give up on their dreams, their relationships and in some cases even on their lives because they don’t believe they can change their circumstances. And sadly, since the belief that they are powerless they are not even willing to try. This is very related to the fear of failure that I have talked about in my previous blog.

There's probably something that you want in your life right now but you're not sure if you can get it and so you hold yourself back. Playing the game gives you no certainty of winning or losing but not playing guarantees that you will lose.

Now you might be wondering why do we do this? our brains work on the principle of anticipation we constantly predict what we think is likely to happen before it ever occurs. As soon as you start to anticipate any event you begin to act and feel in ways that help you prepare for what you think is going to happen, in other words you create the self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of the reasons that our expectations can keep us so stuck as we have an automatic tendency to use the past to predict the future. When you think of the future the same part of the brain gets activated as when you think of the past, if you have failed once (as we all have) you’re likely to think you might fail again.

What’s interesting, however, is that your predictions of the future based on your past or in short your fear of the past repeating itself is not what’s holding you back. What holds us back is our belief that our future will not be better than the past and with that belief you are unable to create something better, even though opportunities present themselves in front of you.

Awareness of your expectations give your conscious mind the ability to override the belief that triggers the self-fulfilling prophecy and plan for a different outcome.

Our emotional wellbeing depends on our expectations we have of our ability to get what we want. A large part of our brain is dedicated to anticipating rewards; expecting to get rewarded gives you positive emotions like happiness and joy. Likewise, when you don't think you're going to get what you want you feel sadness, disappointment and maybe even depression. The farther away your expectations are from what you want the more distress you feel.

Now let’s talk about how you can change your expectations to match up with what you want so that you can take consistent action. Dr. Vilhauer suggests three simple steps that will help you begin to shift your expectations:

Step 1: Observe Your Feelings Around Your Expectations

Think of an upcoming event in your life, it could be a family event, a goal you’re trying to achieve or a work related project or anything you’re anticipating soon. Now ask yourself a simple question, what do I expect the result will be and more importantly how is what I’m expecting making me feel? If you expect a positive outcome you will feel a positive emotion, great. If you're expectation is something you don't want to happen then you're going to be feeling a negative emotion like anxiety, fear, dread and overwhelm. Tapping into your emotions will give you a clear indication that you are expecting a negative result.

Step 2: Ask yourself what would I like to have happen instead

What you want is oftentimes the very thing that you're not expecting, step 2 allows you to identify what you really want. We all want to win the lottery but we don’t expect to win it.

Step 3: Ask yourself what do I need to do to make what I want happen

A negative expectation about a future event results from the mind focusing on all the things that could go wrong. If you’re focused on that you cannot focus on the things that could go right. Asking the question, “what could I do to make it happen?” allows your brain to come up with a plan. As that happenes your assessment of the situation starts to change and the mindset shift happens. All of a sudden, what was expected to go wrong starts transforming into a possibility of success. What’s even more remarkable is that every successful action that you take towards that plan starts to change your expectations.

You may be thinking, “this will not work for me…” then you are already acting on what you expect and not what you want. I challenge you to follow the three steps above to create mind shift between what you expect and what you want. Believe that it is possible to shift your expectations. Your past does not define who you are or where you're going, it's your expectations of the future that limit you the most. You can chose to give yourself the opportunity to step out of the past and create the life you truly want to live.

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