Unmet Expectations: How Should You Respond?

Christmas is over. Was it all you hoped it would be? I’m not just talking about the presents, but the relationships. Did it all work out? How you respond to unmet expectations is really the daily battle of life and it determines your success in life as well.

Hundreds of Expectations

Whether you realize it or not, you face unmet expectations every day, not just the day after Christmas. You have hundreds of expectations for how the day should go, from your alarm clock going off on time, to the weather, to how your boss should treat you, to how your favorite Netflix show should end. It’s endless.

The Emotions of Unmet Expectations

When you meet those expectations, you experience a degree of satisfaction and contentment, even elation. But when they aren’t met you experience these primary emotions:

  1. Anger. You are mad that your expectations weren’t met and start looking to blame someone for it: others, yourself, and sometimes God.
  2. Sadness. You grieve the loss of what didn’t happen.
  3. Fear. You are afraid that your expectation will continue to go unmet.

For the small expectations, these emotions are barely detectable. But they still exist to some degree. The bigger the difference between what you expected and what you got, the greater the emotion.

Responding to Unmet Expectations

Now, there is nothing wrong with these emotions. They are God-given and natural. The problem is what happens after you experience these emotions. How will you respond? Choices must be made and this is where we often go wrong. We let our emotions influence our choices.

Put simply, our choices go in two directions: constructive and destructive. We default to destructive because that’s what feels good in the moment and that’s what people modeled for us most often growing up. We follow one of two paths:

  • Silence. We shut down and isolate from others.
  • Violence. We strike out with our words, actions, or even our fists.

Unfortunately both responses only cause more loss and begin a downward spiral that leads to more emotion and more bad choices.

A better choice is to be constructive. Again there are two paths to go here:

  • Resolution: You seek to meet the unmet expectation either by raising the performance or lowering the expectation.
  • Acceptance: You choose to accept that you can’t meet  your expectations and that life can still go on.

Like I said before, this process is ongoing every day, whether you realize it or not. Your brain is processing losses non-stop, choosing these two pathways and incurring the benefit or curse of your choices. Choose well and you release the weight of your loss. Choose poorly and you add another brick to your backpack.

Inviting God into Your Unmet Expectations

You can’t do much about your emotional response to unmet expectations, but you can do a lot about how you respond to them. This is where God can help. Turn to God with your anger, sadness, or fear and say:

Father, I’m so disappointed in what didn’t happen. But I don’t want my emotions to influence me to do the wrong thing. Help me to think clearly and respond in a constructive way. Give me the wisdom and ability to resolve what went wrong or the grace to accept it and move on.

This is a very practical way to incorporate God into your daily life. Unmet expectations happen all the time, so invite God into those moments. If you do, you’ll find yourself living with a greater sense of peace than you ever have before. You’ll also find that God has become very real in your life as you turn to him on a regular basis.

Here’s to a better 2017. To learn more about overcoming losses you might want to read my books, STUCK, or Return from Exile.

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