Great Expectations

January 30th, 2011

In the shadow of the attempted assassination and shootings in Tucson, the violence and protests in Tunisia and Cairo, and floods in Australia and Brazil, we are all looking for a little reassurance and optimism. We need to know that despair and anxiety are NOT our new reality, and begin putting flesh on the vision for a better future. Expect a better future. Anticipate a better future. The Roman philosopher Horace who lived just before the time of Jesus said, “Life is largely a matter of expectation.” The Law of Expectation works for others and it works for yourself. By striving to be all that you can be, you find yourself exceeding your own expectations.

How does this law work? Is it absolutely true? Are there exceptions?

I heard a story about an American minister named Terry Sweetser that illustrates the Law of Expectation. He had just arrived in his first church. In his first year his sermons were so boring that people were leaving the church in droves. After one service a young boy came up to him and offered him a handful of quarters. The minister asked him why he was being so generous. The boy said, “My parents say you’re the poorest preacher we’ve ever had so I thought I would help.” (Well I added that bit but the rest of the story is true) In his second year people began returning. He wasn’t aware that the governance group had met in his first year. They discussed terminating him because he was SO awful. They chose a different strategy. They agreed to spread a rumor that their pastor was the most promising preacher they had ever heard. They believed that as that message spread, he would begin to live up to the expectation. One day the minister walked into a restaurant and overheard someone saying, “That’s the new preacher. He is one of the most promising preachers this town has seen.” He wondered about this because his confidence was low from some critical feedback he’d received. But he had noticed some improvement and didn’t know why. He decided that if that was what people were saying then he had better work harder and make sure it was true. This is the Law of Expectation in operation. Set yourself and others up to succeed with some positive expectations.

But on the other hand don’t expectations get you in trouble at times? Sometimes expectations are a cunning attempt by the ego to avoid living in the moment. You can live in the future where everything is rosy or you can dwell in anxiety because you’re trapped in your imagination. Don’t you sometimes find yourself worn down by other peoples’ unrealistic expectations? Do you sometimes exhaust yourself with your own perfectionist expectations? Do you struggle with guilt when your expectations don’t manifest as you hope? Expectations that are unrealistic or guilt laden are like noise in your life.

So how do you discern between expectations that are noise and expectations that raise you up to your highest potential? How do you distinguish between expectations that squash hope and expectations that inspire confidence? How do you draw a line between your own true path and the expectations of others?

There is a Facebook page called “The TV show Full House gave me unrealistic expectations about family life.” Thankfully it only has 12 members, but it’s a real issue. Sometimes your own fantasies get in the way of enjoying life the way it is. Maybe you grew up with an expectation that once you left home you would be completely content, or once you got married you would be happy, or once the kids left home you would be able to really start living. The expectation in this case just keeps you from living the life that is in front of you.

Then there is the recent publicity around the Chinese Tiger Mother. Some are even drawing a connection between strict Chinese parenting and the growing economy in China. Tiger Mother has two daughters. Her ultra high expectations seemed to work well for her older daughter but her younger daughter rebelled. An expectation that is too high will tip some kids over the edge. An expectation that is too low will create an energy of indifference. Follow the child and match your expectations to their circumstance. As Robert Brault said, “Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit.”

Clearly the Law of Expectation operates with a very fine line. So how do you find that line? There is likely no absolute answer to this question. This fine line is not a problem that can be solved but is rather a tension that has to be managed. Here are some general discussion points.

Expectations that Inspire

1. Open expectations inspire.

Open expectations inspire. Fixed expectations frustrate. One of the ways that the fine line can be balanced is to distinguish between specific, fixed expectations and open expectations. Open expectations are flexible and bend to fit changing circumstances. Shoot for the moon and even if you fail you will still land among the stars. Celebrate the partial victories along the way. Leave room for the movement of forces outside of your understanding or control. Take patience and timing into account. If you lock your expectations in too specifically, you could be in for a rude shock. In terms of parenting this will likely mean adjusting your expectations according to the child and the circumstance.

2.       Expectations that Motivate

Author Norman Cousins was given little chance of surviving from heart disease. He developed his own recovery program that included massive doses of Vitamin C along with hefty doses of Marx Brothers films. He found that 10 minutes of belly laughing a day gave him many hours of pain free sleep.  Cousins said this about health care generally,

Nothing I have learned in the past decade at the medical school seems to me more striking than the need of patients for reassurance. . . . Illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that people don’t know how to deal with. They are reaching out not just for medical help but for ways of thinking about catastrophic illness. . . . Reassurance is not a Pollyanna concoction aimed at deception. It is not a verbal tranquilizer for creating a mood of synthetic calm. It is a way of putting the human spirit to work . . . The wise physician . . . instead of dwelling on all the melancholy possibilities, offers a plan of battle in which the patient has an active role. Quoted from Head First, the Biology of Hope, by Norman Cousins, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1989, page 66.

The Law of Expectation is not just wishful thinking. It is about putting the human spirit to work. It is a motivating energy that translates into positive effect when combined with action. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, “You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.”

3.       Know where the expectation is coming from.

You have to search your soul to know why you have certain expectations. If you are running from reality, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you are trying to live vicariously through your kids, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you are in a fantasy world about your health and aren’t taking appropriate precautions, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. The Law of Expectation only works if it is coming from a pure motivation and has loose attachment to specific outcomes.

Taking into account the fine line of expectations, it is still clearly a powerful tool in human fulfillment.

Doubt is the largest hurdle when it comes to the Law of Expectation. Some of the loudest noise in your mind comes from the voice of doubt telling you that you are not good enough, and should never expect anything good in your life.

Doubt is one of the themes in the movie The King’s Speech.  King George VI was suddenly forced into the spotlight at a time when live radio was the new expectation. He was living with debilitating doubt that manifested as an awful stutter. He worked with a creative speech therapist to prepare to give the famous speech after Britain declared war on Germany. One of the tricks the speech therapist used was to blast loud music through headphones while King George read from a script. While the music drowned out his active voice of doubt, he read flawlessly. Once the music stopped, his stutter resumed.

I resonate very strongly with this story. When I was a teenager I was told by career advisers that whatever I did with my life, and not to expect much, it should NOT involve public speaking. I developed my own voice of doubt that was drowning out my self belief. When public speaking became an inevitable part of my life goals, I had to overcome the voice of doubt and set expectations that I COULD speak well and confidently.

Do you have an issue with doubt? What is the noise in your mind that is drowning out all the possibilities of the Law of Expectation? Is it the precocious voice of skepticism or the winy voice of perfectionism?

Uncover the real blocks to your highest potential, suspend and heal the voices that limit you and set about living the Law of Expectation. After all who are you NOT to be gorgeous, fabulous, talented and abundant in all things? Manifest your highest potential. Raise your expectations, raise your sights, raise your optimism and raise your glass to a life of abundance. You are a child of God, the Universe and the Source of all potential.

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