For a long time, the difference between expectations, standards and assumptions was quite confusing to me. On the one hand, great expectations lead to big disappointments, but on the other, if you don’t aim big you can’t win big. It took me quite some time to figure things out. Read more in this blog post why you should have no expectations in life, but also high standards and always be testing your assumptions.
Big expectations really do lead towards big disappointments. That’s why you should be as lean and agile as possible. You can’t have control over people and situations, you can only have control over yourself (and even control over yourself is sometimes very limited). That means that things will definitely go into a different direction than you expect, the only question is when.
- People of whom you expect the least may disappoint you
- Situations where you expect the biggest benefits may turn out to be big disappointments
- You will expect life to reward you, just because you exist, and you may be disappointed once again
- Gurus will teach you how to live, you’ll follow their wisdom and may be disappointed, before finally figuring out that you must find your own way towards success and happiness.
The power you have is within you, not in controlling the outer world. Rather than having big expectations, you should stay flexible. You should be aware of your desires, goals and things you want to experience in life, and fight for them, but have no expectations when and how this will happen. You should have your endgame in mind, but don’t have any expectations for when and how you’ll get there; because you will bump into obstacles and dead-end roads where least expected.
You make a plan, but your plan will stop working after the first contact with reality. You should still have a plan, but adapt it regularly, based on the feedback you’re getting from your environment, based on the experiments you make (more about that later).
And the best way to manage your expectations is to live in the present moment more. Trust the process of getting to the desired event, trust yourself more and regularly reflect to make the necessary adjustments.
If you have expectations to marry someone and live happily ever after right after the first date, there’s a very high probability that you’ll be disappointed. But if you trust the process of dating until you find the best person and then investing all of yourself into keeping a good relationship, the magical relationship experience you desire in life may happen; or it may not, but the probability is much higher.
Why we are unhappy – The expectation gap
Don’t expect that life will reward you. Life owes you nothing. Life rewards those who master its rules. Life rewards those who invest and trust the process leading to the event they desire. So have no expectations at all, but rather have a superior but very flexible life strategy and give your best in every single moment. Who knows where life will lead you and what your path will be. Enjoy the trip as much as possible.
Let go of any expectations towards people and situations, and life won’t disappoint you anymore. Expectations equal predicting future based on your desires (how you want thing to happen) and you simply can't predict the future.
Having no expectations towards life doesn’t mean that you just give up and don't fight for your goals. It only means that you stay flexible and regularly adapt based on what’s happening in your environment. It simply means that you aren’t cocky, don’t see yourself as a big visionary, knowing what and how things will happen (you expecting something means predicting future based on your desires). Because you simply can’t. The world has become too complex, turbulent and changes too fast. As the philosophy of the lean startup goes: you have to give up the notion that you can accurately describe the past, accurately predict the future and manufacture it. All you can do is to have a deep understanding of how the world works.
But on the other hand, you need high standards in life. You must not be a perfectionist, which is one of the cognitive distortions, but you need to have high standards for yourself and others. You have to improve, you have to fight and struggle, you need passions in life, you need to see and feel your progress and personal evolution. You must never take things for granted and you must never stop trying.
In order to raise your standards in the long run, you have to do an identity shift. First, you do a few linear improvements until your identity shifts, and that leads to rapid improvements in your life. You see yourself differently and so your standards are higher; then you set them even higher.
- You will take much better care of your health if you see yourself as an athlete
- You will take much better care of your money if you see yourself as an investor
- You will take much better care of your career if you see yourself as a businessperson
- You will be a much better partner if you see yourself as a valuable and giving person
- You will be much happier if you also see enjoying life as one of the purposes of living
- You will take much better care of your skills if you know your strengths and see yourself as a competent person with a growth mind-set
You have to constantly raise the bar, you have to constantly improve, try to achieve your peak performance. You must become the best possible version of yourself in this life. You must never settle.
You should have no expectations towards life and other people. You should have high standards and then set the standards even higher by improving yourself constantly. You should start with an endgame in mind, you should raise your standards and improve yourself to achieve your endgame more easily, but as mentioned before, you should also be aware that the road to your endgame will be much different from what you expect.
The reason for that are your assumptions. We know two types of realities. One is the objective reality that isn’t accessible to any living being. The objective reality is how things really are in the world. The second reality is your subjective reality. The subjective reality is your own interpretation of the world.
There are many errors in your subjective reality. Your senses have a limited capacity for capturing information, your brains have a limited ability for processing information, everyone has many cognitive distortions and other errors on the subjective reality map, for example generalization, framing and other biases. Here is a long list of cognitive biases.
Errors in your subjective map of the world lead to wrong assumptions. And wrong assumptions are the mother of all fuckups. You assume something will happen, but it doesn’t. You take action, but you get a different reaction than expected. That’s because the objective world is different from your subjective representation and individual interpretation. Because of this gap, expecting anything leads to a very high probability of disappointment.
Of course the more experience you have in life, the better assumptions and assumption-based decisions you can make. Life experiences lead to making better decisions, but you get life experiences from making bad decisions. Your subjective map of the world gets closer to objective reality with experiences. But no matter how experienced you get in life, there are always errors in your subjective interpretation of reality. The fast-changing world contributes to that even more. Even if you could reach objective reality in a certain moment, an error would occur the next second. Because the world is constantly changing.
That’s why you need to constantly keep testing your assumptions. You have to see life as a playground, where you have to test what works and what doesn’t. Based on your findings, you have to constantly adjust your strategy and actions. That’s why the search mode is so important. Don’t just assume, experiment and validate. Then take action.
- Have no expectations towards life and people, stay flexible in how you will achieve your endgame.
- Have high standards towards yourself and others, and constantly improve, as that will help you to become the best version of yourself and achieve your endgame more easily.
- In order to find the right way that leads to your desired endgame, don’t act based on your assumptions, but do experiments and test. Validate your assumptions and constantly adjust your life strategy based on validated learning and the feedback you’re getting from your environment.