I've been lately pondering on the nature of expectations that we all have; from ourselves, from our loved ones, from our friends, and in fact, from almost every aspect of our life. These expectations have an enormous influence on us; on our attitudes, on what we do, on how we deal with people, and what we make of our lives. Expectations, like with all such immeasurable emotional phenomenon, have both positive and negative shades in their influence over us. But its not just a one way street. While expectations can influence us, it is we who decide how much to expect from each. And that I find empowering.

It is a great skill to be able to set those expectations just right, in sync with reality. But more often than not, our expectations are either too high, or too low; making them either too unreasonable, or too useless.

Some might argue there is wisdom in keeping expectations uniformly low. You greatly reduce the possibility of being disappointed. You also save yourself and your relationships from a lot of stress and pressure. But is it really the right approach? Doesn't keeping low expectations from your own self seem like cowardice? Doesn't it betray a lack of belief in yourself, your abilities, your character? Does it not reveal that you don't believe you can be great, that you can achieve your dreams? When you don't have high expectations from others, does it not imply that your relationships are not strong enough? In trying to avoid the pain of unmet expectations, should you also strip them of their power to positively influence your life?

Often, expectations have a way of meeting themselves. Self-fulfilling prophesies they are called. The rationale is that our expectations can influence such significant changes in behavior, both in our own and that of others, that they actually cause themselves to be met. I'll mention a case that I've read about. As an experiment, a set of teachers were wrongly informed that of the two classes they taught, one was full of bright kids, while the other was composed of average kids. This was, however, untrue, and both the classes had an equal number of bright and average kids. But since the expectations of the teachers were now (artificially) skewed, their behaviors were also different for each class. The class that was supposedly full of bright kids received more attention and effort from the teachers than the average class received. This resulted in a significant gap developing between the learning levels of the 'bright' kids and the 'average' kids. This case shows how the teacher's higher level of expectations from the 'above-average' kids actually turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So is the solution to keep high expectations, from oneself and from others? It certainly helps bring out the best in each. Has there ever been a great person who did not believe in himself? Any achiever who only expected to fail? I doubt it. But then, there is also a cost to keeping such high expectations. When people don't measure up, you have to deal with the disappointment and make some hard decisions. You could end up breaking otherwise healthy relationships because of your unreasonable expectations. The risk is certainly too great.

The solution - Reverse Double Standards
The term 'double standards' is used for a scenario where one has low expectations (in terms of behavior) from himself, while expecting the world to play by the rules. This is exactly the opposite of how I think one's approach should be.

The solution does lie in keeping two sets of standards. High for yourself and low for others. The sky should be the limit for your expectations from yourself. There is nothing that you can't do, there's no one that you can't be. But be wary of applying such standards for others. Keep your expectations from others as low as possible. If they exceed your expectations, which they should, give them credit for it, and your relationship will grow. If they don't, then you need to ponder whether your expectations need to be lowered further, or are you wasting your time with the wrong people.

The Rationale
If the fact that I'm suggesting you have two (double) standards bothers you, let me give the rationale behind this. An expectation derives its positive power to influence only when it is known to the person from whom the expectation exists. When it is an expectation from yourself, you know exactly what it is, and hence its positive influence works to motivate, inspire, perhaps even pressure you, to meet it. And thats good. But it is a different matter when it is an expectation you have from others. Quite often, they've no idea what your expectations from them are, and hence the ability of such unfelt expectations to influence them positively is completely lost. What remains is only the possibility of the damage that unmet expectations necessarily bring.

The costs of keeping too low an expectation from yourself, and too high from others are too great to be ignored. It is well worth the effort to try to get them just right.


  1. u worded my thoughts :) .. albeit nicely

  2. Bit of technical and comlex this time.Anyway i always like ur style of writing.

  3. I like your idea of 'double standards'. :)

    In fact, "Have expectations only from yourself, and you will never be disappointed" is a pretty safe approach. Pretty dull though. So yeah, balance is the keyword. Well put!

  4. I wish you find that elusive balance between expectations.
    Man has in his nature to behave irrationally to justify himself, so that he can feel good from inside that what he did was the right thing. He wants to feel comfortable in believing that he was right, otherwise the mental anguish that ensues becomes unbearable. But true seekers do not get fooled by the wolf in sheepskin. They have an eye for seeing the truth in others. More often than not they are correct in their evaluation but life with its vagaries sometimes twists the facts such that good and bad become difficult to decipher and we being obsessed with explaining our surroundings hypothesize the underlying explanation, making certain assumptions along the way which seem quite obvious and are thus left unverified. The outcome of such a process relieves us from the pain of not knowing why.
    I concur with your view of setting high expectations from yourself and low with others as being the quintessential base for forming long lasting social relationships.

  5. @Abhishek: Hmm..

    @Anon: Hmm.. Didn't realize that. I hope you can skip the complex parts but still get the gist, which is that one must have high expectations from oneself, but low from others.

    @Divinite: How can you not have any kind of expectation from people close to you? You will always expect something from them, whether it be good or bad, high or low. You have to have expectations from the people you trust. If you don't, can you say you trust them? Not having any expectations from anyone is like saying we shouldn't trust anyone. Now that I've rephrased what you've said, would you still agree with your comment?

    @Maverick: As you can see, I've come to realize all this only lately. We all believe "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you". I used to extend it and apply it to friends, and believe "Expect others (friends) to do to you, what you would do to them". I've now realized that that is being unreasonable and comes in the way of long lasting social relationships.


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