“Don’t get your hopes up” is only half the story

don't get your hopes upLast Friday, I treated myself to a 45-minute reflexology massage in Ubud. Luckily, being a veteran of Asian massages by now, I expected this to be painful. I’m normally quiet as I get tenderized and prodded, but this time I couldn’t help but shriek. 

American masseuses would stop in their tracks if you yelped in pain. Indonesian ones take it as a sign they’re doing it right #ow

— Kira M. Newman (@KiraMNewman) February 7, 2014

What would have happened, I wondered, if I had gone into the massage expecting your normal, everyday, American massage? It would have been terrible – painful and terrible.

It’s not that my expectations would have been too high – a Balinese massage isn’t worse than an American massage. They’re just different. In fact, they have entirely different purposes (at least in my mind) – one relaxes me, the other loosens up my tight muscles.

“Don’t get your hopes up” or “Your expectations are too high” are common pieces of advice, but they don’t account for cases like this. Here, the problem is that your expectations are simply wrong, not high or low. And I think these cases are fairly common.

When I was living in Montreal, I remember one time when Fred planned what he called a “surprise.” I was expecting something romantic, and was dismayed to discover a surprise bubble blowing meetup! (Creative and awesome for sure, just not what I had in mind.) It’s like when you pack for cold weather and it turns out to be warm – that’s not a worse situation, but you aren’t equipped to deal with it right away.

Maybe our brains simply have trouble with the discrepancy, and with being wrong – something akin to cognitive dissonance. Then it’s a question of how quickly we can adjust and adapt. I’d suspect that the people who suffer from mis-expectation are the same people who don’t like big surprises.

We might be tempted to believe that the remedy is having no expectations, but I think that’s impossible. We can’t help it – everything that’s happened in the past causes us to make predictions for the future, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to cross the street or guess our friend’s feelings. Expectations also seem to come from desires – like whatever you happen to be expecting for Valentine’s Day this year. Instead, we just have to try the tricky process of untangling and naming our own expectations and asking ourselves whether they’re realistic – and maybe communicating them to our boyfriend so he can go buy some roses, chocolates, and unicorns.

“Managing expectations” is something that great businesspeople do. If it reduces stress and smoothes things out in the workplace, why not in everyday life, too?

Photo by Flickr user Benson Kua

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