The Psychology of Expectations

Beautiful girl and a frustrated man sitting in bed and not looking at each other. Upset couple ignoring each other. Worried man in tension at bed. Young couple angry with each other after a fight.

What are expectations?

An expectation is an emotional anticipation or belief of an occurrence that may take place in future. It’s a potential form of pseudo reality that we look forward to being manifested in our lives. Expectations can be from people or things or anything that is a variable outside of our Integral self.

Where do they come from?

Expectations arise as a combination or function of genetical predispositions, cognitive processes, attitude formation, social conditioning, cultural norms coupled with one’s mindset & life experiences.

Why do we have expectations?

 Human beings have the innate tendency to attribute their hopes for happiness to having expectations. And for that we look forward to the world around us to be in alignment consistently to what we want so we can experience a reality in congruence to our expectations always.

Consequences of Expectations:

A compromise on Integrity & killer of Authenticity

  • There are only two possibilities, either we get what we want, or we don’t. As the expectation is being referred as variable (something outside of one’s integral self) contextually, there is an equal likelihood for either of the outcomes.
  • Either ways, if the source of fulfilling the expectation lies outside of one’s integral self, there’s a compromise on one’s Integrity as one is not complete in his/her psyche or state-of-being.
  • The expectation (variable) here eventually leads to cognitive dissonance (residual) as one cannot be consistent in his/her thoughts, beliefs, actions, feelings, and behaviors.
  • And any such dissonance has long term effects on one’s psychological or mental health damaging oneself.
  • Any compromise on integrity is compromise on one’s character and refers to one’s non-existence.
  • Also, when we have expectations from others (people), we distort their authentic-self, and we don’t get to see the world around us for what-it-is or who-they-are, if not our expectations.

So, what happens when you have expectations?


An expectation is a belief that is future centric. It can be realistic or unrealistic. On an emotional level, one has Anticipation while having expectations.

In Anticipation, one’s focus is on the obsessed outcome but not the journey. The moment one’s focus is deviated from the journey (where the essence is), there’s every possibility in not manifesting the outcome that was intended.

“When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float’ and that ‘insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.” – (Alan Watts)

The modern philosopher Alan Watts referred to this as “The backwards law” (aka. The Law of Reversed Effort), which proposes that the more we pursue something, the more we achieve the opposite of what we truly want and the more disappointed we feel.

“The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson)


A Misconception:

With the phenomenon “The Law of Attraction”, we carry a misconception that expecting something merely to happen will make it happen. The problem does not lie with “The Law of Attraction”, we need to understand the context in which it was said, and it works. In “The Law of Attraction”, the outcome or reality resonates with one’s state-of-being and not simply because one wants it. For details, read here.

In “The Law of Attraction”, we don’t anticipate outcome, we manifest the outcome.


A Positive Perspective:

On a positive note, we have Pygmalion effect which is a psychological phenomenon in which high expectations lead to better performance. The idea behind is that, when leader’s expectation of the follower’s performance increases, it will eventually improve follower’s performance. This is more on the motivational side where one’s expectations lead to positive outcomes in others; wherein our belief that someone does better in something will indeed make them do better as their efforts also resonate with our belief to produce that intended outcome. This was said in a different context of course.


A Perspective from Gita:

In Karma Yoga (“yoga of action”), there is only action (effort), an action without the sense of doership. Both doer and results become immaterial.

karmany-evadhikaras te ma phaleshu kadachana

ma karma-phala-hetur bhur ma te sango ’stvakarmani

(Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47)


You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Final thoughts to Ponder:


  • There are no short cuts, everything is to be earned through one’s consistency in character with persistent efforts
  • We don’t get something simply because we want, we get only what we deserve. What we deserve comes from who we are and who we choose to become.
  • Our desirable end-states of existence (Terminal values) come from our preferred/chosen modes of behavior (Instrumental values). Refer to Instrumental Vs. Terminal values (Rokeach Value Survey)
  • What we want from the world around should be a by-product of our outward expression in our consistent behaviors of character with Integrity, only what comes this way will stay.
  • Abundance lies in the ‘Here-and-now’, be mindful of the present moment and pay attention, perform action, and experience the essence in the journey
  • Cultivate acceptance & gratitude of the world around for what-it-is.
  • The more intensely one is noble & compassionate in his/her outward expression, the more positively one impacts the world around
  • Develop Internal Locus of control



Earn with Integrity & Spend with Compassion

Some quotes:

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportions to my expectations.” ~ Michael J. Fox

“Expectation is the root of all heartache” ~ William Shakespeare

“Expectations are premeditated resentments.” ~ Anonymous


I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I,

and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.


— Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969


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