Posted by: hjelen87 | January 13, 2013

It’s All About Expectations

Hope sign

I was talking to someone the other day about a movie, and I mentioned my view that a huge part of how I feel about any movie that I see has to do with my expectation going into it.  It’s not always about just how good the movie is, it’s often more about how well it lives up to, or exceeds, my expectations.  For example, the movie Elf.  For whatever reason, I didn’t see that movie until the year after it came out.  And during that year, that movie was talked up so much.  Tons of people told me it was the best Christmas movie ever.  So I went into it thinking it was going to be one of the best movies I’d seen.  And it let me down.  It wasn’t so much that it was a bad movie.  It might have even been a great movie, but since I expected it to be the best ever, when it fell short of that, I couldn’t think about it positively anymore.  It was a disappointment.  (Seriously, though, Home Alone is far and away the best Christmas movie of all time…)

Hope is an interesting thing.  It is defined in the dictionary as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  Hope can be a great thing-it can keep you going when things are rough, because if you desire and expect them to get better, than you can push through the hard times.  However, hope can also be a dangerous thing.  People often say “don’t get your hopes up,” because it matters what we “expect and desire” to happen, not just what happens.  As Bane said in TDKR, “There can be no true despair without hope.”

I went on a few dates with this guy once who called me every day for a week and a half, and then I heard nothing at all from him the following week, and I was really bummed out.  We had basically just met and it wasn’t super serious, so why did it make me so upset when he didn’t call?  It was because he got my hopes up.  It wasn’t just that I wanted him to call.  I’ve been through plenty of times when I wanted a guy to call and he didn’t, and it didn’t upset me.  It was that I wanted and expected him to call: I hoped.  After the week and a half of him calling every day, I came to expect it.  I wasn’t upset just because he didn’t call, I was upset because reality didn’t comport with my expectations.  If he had never called, or if he’d only called once a week the whole time, then I wouldn’t have expected it.  Without expectation, there is no hope.  And without hope, there is no disappointment.

Same thing applies to racing.  If I take a few months off of training and jump in a track meet not even expecting to break 5:30 and end up running a 5:24 mile, I’ll be pretty satisfied.  But if I train really hard and expect to run sub-5:00 and instead run a 5:04, I won’t be too happy, even though clearly the ultimate result is better than the 5:24.  The way I feel about the race depends almost entirely on my expectations.

An easy solution would be to “not get your hopes up.”  Just don’t have any expectations and you won’t ever be disappointed.  There are three problems with that solution.  One is that expectations are something you can’t always control.  You can try your best not to expect something, but if circumstances and other people give you a reason, you might come to hope for something even when you are trying not to.  You can say, “I’m not really expecting to run under 5:30 for a mile,” but if you’ve trained really hard and your results in practice show you that you probably have the ability to run faster than that, then you will come to expect it, as much as you try not to.

The second problem is that, as I said before, hope can be important and necessary.  If you are going through a really hard time and you have absolutely no expectation that it will get any better, you will be pretty miserable.  If there is nothing better to move forward toward, then why keep moving?  Hope (expectation & desire) that things will improve allows you to move forward, through the hard times, so you can get past them.  In a race, if you don’t expect that you can run faster, you probably won’t push through the pain and realize your full potential.  Expectation allows you to set goals that you are able to accomplish, but that may require some discomfort to achieve.

And finally, hope actually feels pretty good for a while.  When something you desire isn’t happening and then something happens that causes you to have hope that it might, you want to cling to that hope.  The last thing you want to do is let go of the hope, even if you know it might cause you disappointment later.  As Anne of Green Gables once said, “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation.  It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset…almost pays for the thud.”  So we not only cling to the hope, but we stoke the fire and let the hope grow.

So what do we do?  I can’t say I have a great solution to this problem of hope and potential disappointment.  I personally get my hopes up altogether too much, leading to a lot of disappointment.  But hope has also gotten me through hard times and hard workouts that ended up leading to great things happening.  So I’m not going to be one to tell you “don’t get your hopes up,” because I know it’s not that easy.  I think it does help, though, to recognize how the way we feel about something is influenced by our expectations about it.  It helps to put it in perspective to try and think about the thing that happened on its own, rather than just in the context of your expectations regarding it.  Just something to think about.

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