Wisdom//

The Expectation Trap: The Mindset That Makes You Overreact to Disappointments

Setbacks do a little bit more than just slow you down. They actually threaten to make you stuck

Nadia Snopek / Shutterstock
Nadia Snopek / Shutterstock

If you’ve felt disappointed about something, recently, you are not alone.

Many people immediately feel disappointed in themselves when they fail to keep their resolutions, reach a goal, or deliver on their deadlines. They feel let down and somewhat defeated.

It’s human nature, but there is a way around it to get back on track immediately after a major setback. Disappointments shouldn’t feel like a trap. Even though it’s an emotion triggered unconsciously, you can deal with it, and keep moving.

Manage your expectations: put yourself in a better mental state

Failure can take a massive toll on your emotions — what’s important is the mindset before and after the disappointment.

When we consider taking any action, we form prior expectations (both big small). And if the outcome is worse than expected, we experience disappointment. If the outcome exceeds our expectation, we feel happy or even motivated to keep pursuing other goals.

In other words, when things go right, you feel happy. But when things go wrong, you feel frustration, regret and yes…often disappointed in yourself.

Expectations sometimes stem from misguided certainty.

Expectations can trap us when we cannot see past them. Your expectations going into any situation will always determine how you will feel after the event has taken place.

When we lead with them and come out with something very different from our desires, disappointment is typically the result. When an expectation is not met, the result is anxiety, inner turmoil, and disappointment if not managed.

Expectations in and of themselves are actually harmless. But they can get the better of us only when they become rigid barriers keeping us from taking the right actions or moving past our disappointments.

In many situations, attachment to the outcome is the real culprit. Whilst you need an emotional connection to your goals, sometimes the same emotion becomes a trap. Instead of staying locked in a constant struggle to get specific results or experience, maintain a flexible mindset about your expectations.

“It’s very possible that you initially aimed a little too high and too quickly. A modified objective will provide you with a realistic target you can work towards. And, of course, once you hit that mark you can then raise the bar higher the next time around,” explains Adam Sicinski, Founder IQ Matrix.

Set attainable goals, and enjoy the process that leads to the outcome. Bring your consciousness about the outcome (both positive and negative) up to a more neutral or positive level so that you are in a better position to react the outcome— being trapped in the emotional outcome prevents you from thinking logically about both the process and the outcome.

Many people can’t get over their disappointments because they are hung up over what reality should be — a single perception or lens with which they see the world.

They think in terms of binary opposition (black or white), a common mental error that can distort your perception of reality. When you are trapped dichotomous thinking, everything becomes “this or that”. You fixate on how things “should be” or “must be”.

Example, if you think hard skills are the only most important things employers want, a rejection of your application can make it difficult to process that disappointment.

In your mind, you continue to hang on to the perception that you are the right person for the project or job because your hard skills cannot be matched — but this can be an illusion because your prospective employers may be using a different lens — soft skills.

If you improve your perception about both, you could have learned other equally important skills to increase your chances of getting what you want.

By attaching yourself to a single train of thought, or perception about anything, you increase your chances of getting disappointed. It also prevents you from moving on after a major setback.

As long as you are trapped in it, you can’t get to where you want to go.

The moment you begin challenging yourself to think objectively about your circumstances is the moment you gain the clarity you need to start figuring things out and getting past outcomes that are not ideal.

Think of your disappointments as an opportunity to understand the gaps in your mental framework

Disappointment sometimes comes from the mismatch between reality and expectation. Use them to understand your mindsets, beliefs, assumptions and worldviews.

“Disappointment can actually be an incredibly powerful emotion that can help you clarify your personal expectations and pave the way forward toward the attainment of your goals,” says Adam.

If you know why you’re disappointed, you’ve got a head start on being able to make a better plan based on new mental models (framework or worldview.

Once you understand why things didn’t turn out the way you expected, you can correct your blind spots, assumptions, and make set measurable, realistic, and attainable goals.

Dealing with disappointment requires you to let go of your mental illusions and expectations. “Many people get disappointed with something because they view it as a setback. They feel like they have taken a step back from what they want to be,” argues Celestine Chua, the writer of Personal Excellence.

When you are disappointed, ask yourself:

What were my expectations about these circumstances? What expectations did I have about myself? What false perceptions or mental models am I clinging on to? What am I expecting from reality that I’m not getting?”

These questions might help you recognize that perhaps your expectations weren’t quite flexible or realistic enough.

Question your assumptions about goals, processes of reaching them and outcomes. Become aware of them, improve them and use them to handle the outcomes better. Seek out your personal illusions and improve your mindset.

Managing disappointments take time. As you start living past your disappointments, remember, it’s only temporary. Wallowing in disappointment can weigh heavily on your mind, and can keep you stuck.

Although setbacks, roadblocks, and defeats are all obstacles that can stand in your way, cut yourself some slack, give yourself time to overcome them, make peace with your disappointments, learn from them, adjust your perception and regain control to keep moving.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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