A picture of a woman with her hands above her head

One Saturday, I woke up an hour later than I hoped. I didn’t get to vacuum, mail my packages or finish the book I told myself I would. Due to a morning obligation, I also had to skip breakfast, despite swearing just the evening before that I wouldn’t leave the house without it. I resolved that my day was off to a bad start, which only precipitated into a full-on bad day.

Sound familiar?

I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who is used to setting these types of daily expectations for myself. The operative word here is expectation. When we expect something of ourselves—or of others—we make it into something that should happen. We get hell-bent on the hope that something will happen, and if it doesn’t, the consequence can range anywhere from a minor disappointment to a soul-crushing defeat.

An expectation is a mental bar that we set for ourselves. The recent “bad day” I had was a direct result of the invisible expectation I had set for myself to get an unrealistic amount of work done. These capricious expectations took the veritable steering wheel of my day and derailed me from the kind of day I actually wanted, one that was both productive and empowering.

Expectations can be harmful because when we don’t meet them, we equate it with failure. When we have conscious or subconscious expectations of ourselves, we live in the constant cycle of scarcity, of never enough. These types of unmet expectations typically damage our mental and emotional well-being.

Expectations are often harmful because when we don’t meet them, we equate it with failure.

When we have certain expectations of others or the world around us, we’re likely to disappointment because the things we expect are often out of our control. More often than not, these unmet expectations are bound to leave us feeling disappointed, anxious or depressed.

The good news is there’s a remedy for unrealistic expectations. Manage your expectations by setting intentions. What’s the difference between an intention and an expectation? While both may seemingly derive their energy from hope, an intention originates in aspiration rather than in assurance. This small mental shift to an intention reframes our reality to be less susceptible to the danger of an unmet expectation.

For example, if I intended to feel both productive and empowered at the end of that day, I would have been more apt to identify and squash the expectations creeping in that I would accomplish an absurd amount of work. My intention would have then driven me to focus on what was both realistic and fulfilling. Expectations breed disappointment, while intentions evoke purpose.

Expectations breed disappointment, while intentions evoke purpose.

Here are a few ways to combat expectations with intention:

Overloading your to-do list?

Take a moment to pause. Ask yourself what things you absolutely need to prioritize before the close of the day. Whatever doesn’t fit isn’t worth the risk of an unmet expectation. Move it to another day.

Planning a gathering?

Remember that you can only control yourself. Let go of the desire to control other people’s behavior—what time they show up, how long they stay or how they engage with other people while they are there. Rest in the truth that your intention to gather people together was good.

Chronically underestimating travel time?

Reevaluate ways you can allocate more time to get to where you’re going to. With the intention to focus on what you can control, you lessen the impending threat of an unmet expectation.

We do our minds and bodies a service when we liberate ourselves from the chains of expectations. When we intend rather than expect, we are able to moderate how we react to an unfulfilled expectation. That is the beauty of intentional living—abiding in the grace that reminds us that no matter what happens, we are worthy.

Have unmet expectations of yourself or others left you disappointed? How can you learn to focus on the things within your control?

Image via Dani Watts Photography

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  1. Thank you so much for this Article! As someone who struggles with setting high and unrealistic expectations and often times the disappointment that follows, especially expectations around time and how much can realistically happen. I love how you clearly defined the difference between intentions and expectations as I’ve tried to make that same shift- purpose over expectations.

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