Five Steps to Creating Realistic Expectations

Creating expectations is a natural human tendency, especially when there’s an opportunity to achieve a desired outcome. Managing realistic expectations, however, can be more tricky. They often arise unnoticed, and they impact your life and influence your decisions, thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs, to shape your experiences and perceptions.

Unfortunately, when your expectations don’t come to fruition, it can take a toll on your mental health. If you’re a naturally anxious person, you may even create worst-case scenarios in your mind that trigger negative emotions before knowing the outcome. Ironically, when reality doesn’t meet your negative expectations, you may feel relieved.

To avoid heartbreak, sadness, anger, resentment, and frustration resulting from uncontrolled expectations, you must learn to manage them proactively. While this is easier said than done, and expectations can be powerful motivators, unrealistic or overly optimistic ones can be difficult to navigate. Ultimately, controlling your expectations is crucial to achieving positive outcomes without sacrificing your well-being.

How our lives are affected by expectations

When you create expectations, you create a mental image of what you believe will happen in the future. This mental image can influence your perceptions of reality and shape how you interpret and respond to events that unfold. In some cases, this can be a good thing. In others, not so much. It all depends on whether they are positive or negative and the situations in which they arise.

Positive expectations are the ones that motivate us to work towards our goals and provide a sense of purpose and direction.  When starting a new job, for example, knowing what is expected from you and creating your own expectations surrounding your workload and workspace can help you increase productivity and limit stress.

However, unrealistic or overly optimistic expectations can lead to disappointment, frustration, and stress if they’re not met.

For example, if you have high expectations of yourself, your work, or your relationships, you may be more likely to react negatively when things don’t go as planned. In contrast, when you have realistic expectations and are open to different outcomes, you can approach situations with greater flexibility and adaptability, leading to more positive and fulfilling experiences.

Meeting expectations

Meeting other people’s expectations can be a daunting task that often leads to stress and anxiety, yet it might be something we feel obliged to do. After all, we are social creatures and desire to be liked and accepted by others. However, it’s crucial to understand that trying to live up to other people’s expectations can lead to a loss of personal identity and fulfilment.

It’s natural to want to be perceived in a positive light and strive for perfection, but that’s an impossible standard to achieve. Everyone has their own expectations, opinions, and perspectives that may not align with yours. Trying to please everyone and meet every expectation can lead to a sense of confusion and dissatisfaction.

It is much more rewarding and worthwhile to embrace your unique qualities and strive to live an authentic life. Being true to yourself requires courage and vulnerability, but it also leads to a sense of peace and contentment that can’t be found by living up to other people’s expectations.

Allow yourself to live a life that aligns with your values and beliefs, which in turn leads to a sense of fulfilment and purpose. It’s important to remember that not everyone will understand or accept our choices, but that’s okay. What matters most is that we’re living a life that’s true to ourselves.

How to set realistic expectations

Creating realistic expectations is an important aspect of achieving personal growth and success. Here are some tips on how to create realistic expectations that don’t lead to disappointment:

  1. Be honest with yourself: Start by being honest about your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Acknowledge your abilities and areas where you need improvement.
  2. Consider your past experiences: Think about your past experiences and how they may influence your expectations. Create realistic expectations by evaluating your past successes and failures.
  3. Set specific and measurable goals: Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable tasks that you can work towards over time. This will help you stay motivated and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Stay flexible: Expectations are not set in stone and can change over time. Be willing to adjust your expectations as needed based on new information or changes in circumstances. Staying flexible will help you adapt to unexpected challenges and opportunities.
  5. Avoid comparisons: Comparing yourself to others can lead to unrealistic expectations and feelings of disappointment. Instead, focus on your own progress and growth, and celebrate your own achievements, no matter how small.

To create realistic expectations that don’t lead to disappointment, be honest with yourself, consider your past experiences, set specific and measurable goals, stay flexible, and avoid comparisons. By setting realistic expectations, you can achieve your goals and experience a greater sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life.

“The truth is that most of life will unfold in accordance with forces far outside your control, regardless of what your mind says about it” ―Michael A. Singer

Right expectations and aspirations

If there are three things you can control in life, it’s your mindset, thoughts, and reactions. By controlling the things you expect from yourself and others, you can greatly minimize disappointment. Putting pressure on others to meet your expectations can create unnecessary stress for both you and them. By refraining from this, you will be free to pursue your dreams without any burdening thoughts.

Keep in mind, however, that expectations are not the same as aspirations.  Aspirations refer to goals you are working towards and the desire to achieve more without the added pressure of expecting it.

If you truly want to achieve something and believe that you can, failure shouldn’t be an option. Adopting this mindset can help you view setbacks as challenges instead of failures or insurmountable obstacles.


Expectations can often lead to disappointment and heartbreak. While they are necessary in some situations, such as work environments, they can be harmful in other aspects of your life. This is why it can be challenging to define expectations as either good or bad, as they can be both depending on the circumstance.

One aspect where expectations often lead to pain is in social situations. By focusing on our own expectations and aspirations for ourselves,  we can alleviate the pressure that often accompanies growth and uncertainty while still allowing ourselves the motivation to achieve our goals.

It is important to remember that managing our expectations requires self-awareness and reflection. By setting realistic and reasonable expectations and being open to adjusting them as needed, we can minimise the negative impact of unfulfilled expectations. Ultimately, by striving towards our aspirations with an open mind, we can pursue personal growth and fulfilment without the burden of unrealistic expectations.

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