What Did You Expect?

We often expect that things go our way, go smoothly, go according to plan. We expected that: the dog not have an accident on the new rug, that our work computer not have a virus that deleted all our files, our significant other remember THAT one important date.

In my experience the question "What did you expect?" is loaded. The idea that we deserve an outcome or even hope for a best outcome is simply that - an idea. There is no evidence that simply expecting or hoping for a desired outcome ensures said outcome.

Merriam-Webster defines the word expect as, "to consider probable or certain." I decided to break this down a little further to make sure the point I will eventually make is crystal clear. The word consider is defined as, "to think about carefully." And the word think? Webster's definition is, "to form or have in the mind."

Now let's quickly look at the word, hope - "to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment."

So, pragmatically speaking, expectations and hopes come from thoughts or ideas that we have based on past experiences and desires. Why is this important? It's important because we begin to understand that these two words, expect and hope, are thoughts and ideas that are not necessarily true. Because A happened, I expect this outcome, i.e, I don't expect there to be traffic at this time of day because there typically isn't. Thoughts and past experiences hold no value or real evidence for future outcomes. Typically qualifies the expectation as informed by past experience.

In observing outcomes of expectations or hopes, more often than not, we see them leading to disappointment. Believing something is, or will be, true, without evidence, creates psychological rigidity. I understand that people believe in God. That's fine and there is a lot to be said for faith, but let's set that aside. I want to stay focused on everyday human experience with all things earthly.

Earlier in my career, I was promoted to a pretty high level at a job, I put in for another promotion shortly thereafter when my boss left. I hoped to get the job. After speaking with my potential new boss, I believed I might not be promoted so I vacated my position for another job. My thoughts and beliefs about myself and my potential new boss got in the way of me even trying for the position. I don't regret my choices now, as I learned that boss was a nightmare to work for and turnover was extremely hire during her tenure. Still, I'll never know how I would have fared. I was psychologically rigid.

Psychological flexibility is the extent to which a person can cope with changes in circumstances. It's used when stressors or unexpected events occur, requiring a person to change their stance, outlook or commitment. Those friends who are unflappable when their tire blows out, they are psychologically flexible.

Psychological flexibility mitigates disappointment, trauma, anxiety, pain, etc. The model doesn't prescribe one’s attempts to escape or avoid painful experiences. Instead it's an invitation to experience stressors with an aim to live a meaningful life. By ceasing to have expectations, and by allowing our private, inner experiences - thoughts, sensations, feelings, and memories - to be fully felt in the moment, we cease fusing them into our psyche as beliefs and thereby free ourselves to experience life as it comes at us, with greater ease and a semblance of peace.

When working with clients on their beliefs, I use various tools used in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). C0-developed by Steven Hayes, PhD, the practice allows me to help folks do a kind of mental yoga. By challenging beliefs of self that are based on past experiences, and by identifying core values, we are able to identify individual purpose. And let me tell you, as someone who is deeply engaged and committed to this work, it is life changing. What you believe about who you are and what success is, changes only for the


It works for businesses and entrepreneurs, as well. By identifying the core values and mission of their company/organization/business, owners, principals, CEOs, etc. find their purpose and meaningful success. Mind you, some folks figure it out for themselves, but for others, time and experience can sometimes impact how we view ourselves, our relationships and our lives.

Your challenge after reading this post is to do your damnedest to avoid having an expectation or hoping for something. If it's uncomfortable, sit with that feeling. I promise you, you'll begin to better understand yourself and you might just be able to let go of that one little thing that drives you "up a wall."


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