Every day, you wake up and you anticipate how your day will go. If you are going to school or work today, you will run through some neural paths in your mental plane regarding what to expect so that you are prepared for the day. If you have an important presentation to give, you might run through that scenario a few more times to remove all uncertainty and ease your fear.
We are constantly anticipating our world as we go about our day, “seeing” the results of our actions before we even do them. The stories that are constantly being played out in our mental planes are called expectations.
Expectations can be helpful as a way to prepare yourself so that your experience won’t be your first time forming synapses about an event. For example, if you are to meet a new client and you’ve practiced what you’re going to say to him, you will still be able to complete the sale even if you are distracted by his eyepatch, peg leg, and scraggly beard. The unexpected information won’t undo the solidification of your intended sales pitch. Expectations help to avoid sudden impulses of fear, called surprises, when faced with unexpected information. “Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be surprised.”
Your expectations are essentially universes that you build that are mere moments ahead of your current reality. They are created based on what you experience in your daily life, namely the parts that you have habituated. When you spend a few hours driving 70 mph on the highway, you might feel slow driving at 45 mph after you exit because you expect the world to come at you much quicker. When you finally upgrade to the new smartphone after using a slow phone for years, you might be overwhelmed at how much the new technology can do.
You are a human which means you are able to create expectations about everything. Heading out to a party, opening the door for a job interview, and getting ready to tip off a basketball game all involve anticipatory neural paths to be fired. As you gather information through the event, you compare it to your expectations; your emotions communicate that comparison. When your reality matches or exceeds your expectations, you will feel a pleasurable emotion known as happiness. If your reality is less than your expectations, you will feel unpleasant emotions like frustration or disappointment.
Let’s say you walk into a job interview with expectations that you’ll look at the interviewer in the eye and speak clearly. You leave the interview after stuttering on the last question and you’re feeling annoyed that you didn’t completely meet your expectations. A few days later, you get an email from the job reading, “Congratulations, you got the job!” You’ll feel happiness because your reality exceeded your expectations, since you thought your stutter cost you the job.
It’s important to realize how your expectations, even when made unconsciously, affect your overall emotional state. We often compare our own lives to those of our peers. If you only focus on what your friends share on social media, you will raise your expectations of your life to match what they are showing. A friend once told me “you can’t compare your everyday to someone else’s highlight reel.” If you are constantly expecting to have the same excitement as a highlight reel, you will always be disappointed.
You can use your knowledge of expectations to manipulate your mental state. If you know that happiness can be achieved by exceeding your expectations, you can lower your expectations to find happiness. A person who wants nothing and has nothing is just as happy as a person who wants everything and has everything. Your reality is a matter of perspective, shift your perspective and you can shift your reality.