“A problem is just a surprise you didn’t want”
– Anonymous

Managing expectations play a big role in avoiding disappointment. Expectations are responsible for a lot of our behaviors and interactions with people, events, and situations.

In his TedTalk and book Stumbling on HappinessDaniel Gilbert explains that our expectations and interpretations of the future lead to a mismatch of reality and the imagined realities we have played out in our heads. Doing so alters our levels of happiness when the mismatches occur, leading to disappointment, triggering foul moods, and often lowering self-esteem and self-worth.

While managing expectations is crucial for your well-being, there is another piece of the puzzle that is missing.

Avoiding disappointment by managing expectations allows for a proactive approach in protecting our happiness. In this respect it works very well.

The missing piece is what happens after. The reactive half of an unsatisfactory situation.

The trick to avoiding disappointment involves the combination of both proactive and reactive measures, and making the reactive portion proactive as well.

Let’s take a step back and ask the question: “What happens after I’ve received the bad news?”

Many people know that lowering expectations is the best way to avoid being disappointed. But what happens when you’ve actually received the bad news? How do you react?

The secret is to pre-plan your reaction to the negative situation with “If-Then” scenarios.

Coupled with proactive expectation management and pre-planned reactions, sample scenarios may look like this:

  • This exam is going to be hard, so I’ll do my best and work for a passing grade.
    IF I fail,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll retake the exam again next year.
  • My boss gave Jamie a hard time with the previous presentation.
    IF I get shut down the same way,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll stay calm and ask for specific feedback and changes I can make next time.
  • Our family reunion is made up of a group of the cranky people who hate each other.
    IF they start arguing again,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll make sure I take another piece of dessert and focus on what the kids are up to instead.
  • My room mates are horrible and they never clean up after themselves.
    IF they don’t clean up after themselves,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll set aside 15min of my day and focus on cleaning one aspect of the house.
  • We left later than expected and there is always heavy traffic at this time.
    IF there is a major traffic jam,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll crank up the A/C and sing along to my favourite artist.
  • We’ve been arguing a lot lately and it’s not looking so good for the both of us.
    IF we break up,
    THEN I won’t be surprised, and I’ll take time to reflect and find a way to mediate my feelings in the next few months.

It might not sound drastically different, but implementing the “If-Then” strategy will prevent you being caught with your pants down and not knowing how to recover after being presented with bad news.

You remove the surprise factor of situations actually going wrong and managing it with an exit strategy.

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.
– The World Is Not Enough

If you’re like me, the internal dialogue that goes on throughout the day can really affect your outlook on life. If left to their own devices, a downward emotional spiral is likely to occur. I’ve experienced this. To pull yourself out, the first thing to do is to recognize the situation and start applying the “If-Then” strategy to manage your expectations and aid in avoiding disappointment. This will help slow the spiraling, bring it to a halt, and eventually turn it around.

If you’re still unconvinced, check out this helpful flowchart.

Most of the world’s troubles are manifestations. They’re literally, all in your head. Accept that first. In the end, practice being a mallard.

Like water off a duck’s back.


— Benny

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