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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

The hurdle of expectations

When things turn out the way you had wanted them to, or maybe even better than expected, it can feel great. Whether this be a project at work, a night out with friends, time spent with family, or enjoying a hobby.


But, of course, things don’t always turn out the way we want them to and we can find ourselves feeling disappointed and frustrated. When this happens, it can be helpful to dig a little deeper beneath the expectations you had held for the situation.


Beneath your expectations you will find 'rules' that you have created about the way things ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be – usually hidden below conscious awareness. Rules about:

  • how you think others should behave

  • what you think you should be doing

  • how you think the situation should work out


You might find yourself saying things like:

They should be grateful.

I shouldn’t be doing this.

It should be straightforward.


These rules are born from a positive intention. They are your way of trying to meet your needs and desires. However, you cannot guarantee that your expectations will be met, which makes these rules unenforceable. Since they are unenforceable, they can become a source of self-induced stress, trapping you in a myriad of unrealistic expectations. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. There will be times when others let you down, times when you let others down, and times when you let yourself down. To be human is to be fallible.

One way of imagining the relationship between your expectations and the reality of a situation is to see them as a Hurdle of Expectations. When things don’t go the way you had wanted them to, and your Bar of Reality falls short of your Bar of Expectations, you can find yourself in a Drama Zone of blame and shame – with feelings of disappointment, frustration and helplessness (to find out more about Drama you can read my previous blogs).



When in the Drama Zone, it is easy to find yourself wanting to change things are beyond your control:

  • to change the thoughts and behaviours of others

  • to change the past


But there is another way. You can move from a Drama Zone of blame and shame to a Learning Zone of self-responsibility:


There are number of things you can do to make this shift:

Your first option is to lower your Bar of Expectations. This involves first identifying and acknowledging the expectations you have for the situation by asking yourself:

What was I hoping would happen?


You can then uncover the unenforceable rules beneath these expectations by asking yourself:

What unenforceable rules am I imposing on others?

What unenforceable rules am I imposing on myself?


If you choose to let these rules go, you will be freeing yourself from unrealistic expectations you may have for yourself and others. You will be freeing yourself to be with the reality of a situation. And you will be freeing yourself to explore alternative ways of getting your needs and desires met.

Your second option to raise your Bar of Reality by taking constructive action. For example, you might choose to enforce different boundaries within a relationship. Or perhaps walk away from a situation or relationship as you reappraise your experience.

Your third option, is to do a combination of the two – to lower your Bar of Expectations and raise your Bar of Reality.

In the Coming to Calm course we cover a number of ways of moving from Drama Zone to Learning Zone. You can find out more by:


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