Are Your Expectations Setting You Up for Disappointment?

Lonely girl crying with a hand covering her face

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

For a long time, I felt like I was standing on a riverbank just watching the water of life go by, too scared to jump in and play. I was waiting for the perfect current to come along that I could ride all the way to the completion of my intensely detailed life goals.

I didn’t want to move until I felt like success was guaranteed and I was certain it was the “right” thing. Life was flowing, and I wasn’t doing anything. You can never be certain about the future.

Around this time, I graduated engineering school and instead of feeling excited and free, I felt like a large weight was dropped on my shoulders. I had a lot of expectations to meet, all of which were self-imposed.

After all, I had an engineering degree. By the world’s standards, I was bound to be successful, get a great job, and make money.

The thing is, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the path of engineering in the traditional sense was not right for me. I also couldn’t seem to function with the weight of these expectations. I got depressed, frustrated, and disappointed with myself for not pursuing engineering right way.

I expected myself to be successful, which eventually escalated into expectations of perfection in all the areas of my life.

One day, I was on a walk with my Dad and he said to me, “Amanda, you just have to jump in the river and swim! You might wash up on the shore of the riverbank a little ways down, but at least you’re moving. Plus, you never know who or what will be there on the shore waiting for you. Just jump in and stop trying to set expectations for the future. Jump in and ride whatever current looks good now.

That’s exactly what I did. Instead of focusing on what to do, where to go, and how I was going to accomplish everything I thought I wanted in life, I focused on releasing the expectations I had about it all.

I focused on what I wanted to and could do now. I finally jumped in. 

The following are some tips and lessons I learned while making the transition from expectation overload to the lightness of exploration. 

Less Expectation, More Exploration And Trust

Oh, this is so juicy! When expectations rule our lives, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Then guess what? We judge ourselves harshly for it.

For example, I had a list of specific measurable goals for where I thought I should be when I graduated engineering school. When I finally did and realized I didn’t meet any of my goals, I felt disappointed and started telling myself I was a failure. Of course, this behavior got me nowhere.

The most important thing I learned is to release my expectations about how I think my life should go and approach life from a place of exploration. This opens you up to experiencing things that are beyond your wildest dreams. It’s okay to have goals, but make sure to leave room for something even greater to come along.

Maybe the most peaceful and quickest way to achieve something is a way you haven’t thought of yet. Be willing to go with the flow.

This requires trust. I learned that when I let go and trust I will receive everything I need, I always do. I often find myself saying at the end of the day, “Wow, this day was amazing and I had no plan, yet I accomplished everything I needed to.”

Explore through life knowing deep down that you are always guided to exactly where you need to be. Plus, doesn’t exploring sound like more fun than expecting?

Look Beyond Your Distractions

A lot of us want external things because of the way we think they will make us feel. I wanted a skinnier body because I thought it would make me feel happy and loved. I wanted a successful career because I thought I would feel fulfilled. I wanted a relationship because I thought it would relieve my loneliness.

These things can distract us from looking within ourselves for answers.

When they fail to do what we want, we feel disappointed and angry. In order to release this cycle of disappointment, we need to release the belief that they will save us.

If you want to experience more love, start giving more love. If you don’t want to feel lonely, then start healing the belief that you are alone. If you want to feel like you’re worth something, start treating yourself like you are worth something, because you most definitely are.

When you heal the beliefs that run wild in your mind, you can still enjoy the externals, but you’re no longer trying to get something from them. You know you’re already fulfilled, happy, and complete, so if your circumstances change, you can maintain your joy.

Relax More, Judge Yourself Less

I’ve learned that the loving voice within, also known as our inner guide, has a bigger plan for us than we have for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I want that plan!

As it turns out, right now you are exactly where you need to be. Phew.

The only thing you need to do in order to follow the path of your inner guidance is listen to it by releasing your judgments about what you think is happening. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now.

Get quiet and listen for guidance about what to do in this moment. Any advice coming from love will be something you can do now. The thought of doing it will make you feel lighter and excited.

Change Your Thoughts

If you are feeling disappointed, it’s because of the thoughts you have about the situation. So if you don’t want to feel disappointed, change your thoughts.

The first thing I do when I feel any disturbance to my peace of mind is say to myself, “I am determined to see this person/situation differently.” This is how you step into your power. Everything happens for you, not to you.

You’ll be amazed at the shifts in perception that occur when you become willing to release fear and see love instead.

When you focus on releasing the thoughts about how you imagined your life to be, your most loving, truthful self can come forward and guide you. There is nothing to figure out.

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About Amanda Christian

Amanda is a registered yoga teacher with a passion for wandering in the forest, teaching outdoor yoga, mountain biking and drawing mandalas. She lives for campfire conversations and dark starry skies. Over on her website, she has free yoga classes, travel ideas, and guides to getting creative! Follow her adventures on Instagram @amandaoutside and YouTube @amandaoutside.

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  • I always love the topic of expectations vs. reality and that whole too high of standards leads to more disappointment. It’s a very difficult thing to discuss, Amanda, because it requires balance. We need expectations to drive us, while at the same time too much can be our emotional downfall.

    It’s easy for me to reflect on all the times where I set the bar too high and expected way too much when it wasn’t viable to do so. It seems like I’ve had the best emotionally positive results when I just lived life in the moment and let things happen when they do. Like I said before, it all comes back to striking the right balance between expectations and that mindset shift.

  • Slip_Mahoney

    Thanks Amanda! I see myself in many ways here.

    A good friend (and soon to be published author) shared some advice he had received from his writing coach:

    “Don’t get it right, get it written!”

  • Amanda Christian

    Oh I so needed to hear that today! Thank you 🙂

  • I love this topic too.

    I was going through some tough times last year. A friend of mine was just “too busy” for me. Instead of being the understanding friend, I pulled an attitude and eventually got frustrated. I blocked this person from my social media (as if it would make a difference) and decided to give this person the cold treatment….

    … but somehow, deep down inside of me, i realise I was not REALLY upset with this person. I was just upset since this person did not meet MY expectations. How selfish could I be. I was REALLY selfish.

    I eventually said sorry and we finally got to meet and was given the opportunity to talk things out, just like what real friends would do.

    I learned to manage my expectations. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m still learning and practising it.

    Go with the flow. Some days you’ll have your way and some times it’ll just drain you out. Either way, it’s experience.

    Thank you for this wonderful and insightful post.

  • Joan Harrison

    I so agree Amanda, it is so much easier to just let go. Why do we try the hard way of making things happen, controlling things? Once you learn to pass it all over to the universe amazing things happen all by themselves. Finally I have ‘got it’ after causing myself frustration for too many years. It is so simple, sometimes though it does not feel easy!

  • Gainaru Gratiela

    Thank you Amanda. Honestly, I feel as if you wrote this article for me:D And you gave me strenght and hopes through this article, rang many bells and gave some really simple but useful solutions. Thank you, really;)

  • spicytofu

    This year I learned not to make judgements, and if I do, make them positive. A good girlfriend told me, “Then it becomes evaluations.” I think when we don’t judge, we are nicer to ourselves and less critical or harsh. This allows us to move forward and to give the opportunity to try something different. I think overcoming the fear of making mistakes was the biggest battle. Yes, I am losing the expectations, AND I am living in the NOW. My favorite quote from you is “It’s okay to have goals, but make sure to leave room for something even greater to come along.” So true….

  • this article came to me at just the right time. thank you, amanda.

  • I think you’re right Amanda. Setting up expectations for yourself and then seeing yourself as a failure for not meeting them, is the most demotivating you can do to yourself.
    Also a perfect balance is required in this case, because we cannot too much lower our expectations. Also setting up a definite goal for yourself is a MUST to do, if you want to progress in life. The idea is to set an achievable goal rather than setting up something which is impossible to achieve. I hope you got my point! 🙂

  • Amanda Christian

    Hey Chentan. I agree. I think it’s great to set a goal as long as you find complete fulfillment and happiness in process of working towards it, and not just on the outcome itself.

  • Indeed, I think expectations come from needing to control our environment.
    I especially like this quote from Alan Watts on that…powerful stuff:
    “The refusal of the unknown brings the feeling of insecurity, and in its train all the frustrating and impossible problems, all the vicious circles of human life.”

  • lv2terp

    Fantastic post!! Thank you for this beautiful wisdom, it is much appreciated on my journey to let go of expectations as well! 🙂

  • Marie

    What I needed to read at this moment. I think this is the biggest mistake that I do to myself – expecting too much that is why I do not enjoy little things that I accomplish. I always felt that big achievements are the only ones that deserve praise and pats in the back. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Nichole T.

    When reading this, I swore I was writing it. I can really identify with your experiences. This is a great article Amanda. Thanks!

  • Basia Furmanek

    Wonderful and life-changing to me, really.. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Abhijit sinha

    V.V.V Thanks to you from deep my heart Amanda mam. I totally I get the real positive way of my life.
    Thasks! Thanks! Thanks!
    Mam Pls solve my one problem, when some people said to me you never do this work then I feeling very angry and out of control. because I know I can do this but at the time I am not interested to do that work . bt those people can’t believe and laugh and always tease me. And hert my ego. What should I do mam I can’t handle that situation and loose my temper at that time. That’s my problem so Pls mam give me your emportant tips.

  • Stef

    This is what ive been trying to learn for a while now but i guess habbits die hard. I think this is the cause of my anxiety and one thing i need to master to start living again. Very well written, i will bookmark to come back and remind myself when im lost again.

  • MotionLotion

    I just want to say I appreciate the article as well as the links you put inside. Lots to think about.

  • Angel

    something is not right there even though i had similar situations, but friendship should not be struggle, but sometimes it is.

    youre right about go with the flow, it puts less pain on you that way and its easier to let go and not to feel it as struggle.

    i think real friends comunicate normaly no mater what after some time when they both cool down. but there are some people that make you and whatever you do look like youre selfish person..even though i sometimes am thats not the point because thats human, and some people cant tolerate that because they dont see the biger picture or are looking things from just their perspective. .

    You said “I was just upset since this person did not meet MY expectations. How selfish could I be. I was REALLY selfish.” thats not selfish, thats human, youre human, theres nothing wrong or selfish there. its ok to recognise that as something that did not matter, that selfishness, and that your friendship is more important, but your friend should really understand your selfisness also and respect it, and trust that youre a person thats not selfish..i mean sure you/me act selfish sometimes, but as i said, its only human! but you cant BE selfish, thats just silly talk! get the point?

    now i see that friend as selfish person, not you. did she understood you??!

    Anyway, im glad everything is ok, its just that i hate when people bring everything on me as if its all my fault or when i feel that way all the time whatever i do and none understands me…but i can let that go now, and not to feel that way, but i still see the pattern.

  • Angel

    (I so dislike word mistake…) Its no mistake if you’re a human (and i presume you are)… we are all learning how to love and how to understand ourselves and others..its just a process of evolving, but not a mistake.

  • Angel

    Thank you for the article. 🙂

  • Diana

    Thank you so much for this – exactly what I needed to read right now.

  • Stephi

    Even though I’ve accomplished a lot I still have deep insecurities about my worth.
    I’m in my late 50’s …I can go through periods of feeling OK then something will make me feel really sad or angry. I guess we all go through it but it’s a constant battle.
    I’ve been through some major events in the past 9 years(Hurricane Katrina) moving, friends leaving due to nervous breakdowns. Though I can understand much of why things happen-this nagging insecurity about my worth never goes away(and I have so much to be greatful for) Maybe we all go through the battle but some are better at hiding it.
    Thank you for the post

  • Katherine Barrington

    This article has come exactly when i needed it. I want to thankyou deeply. The words you have written became music in my body that healed my lack of self trust. I now see myself. Gratitude.

  • Maya

    i dont agree with this Just jump in and stop trying to set expectations for the future. Jump in and ride whatever current looks good now.”

  • Maya

    dont agree with stop trying to set expectations for the future. Jump in and ride whatever current looks good now.”

  • PJR

    Everyone PLEASE HAVE EXPECTATIONS! The key is to when they not met, to NOT think you were not worthy of having them be met. Just make sure you expect what you can give. If you can give it you do deserve to have it returned. All of this crap about not having expectations or “managing”
    them … How it frees you…sorry, other words are avoidance and settling.

  • Marlo la O’

    doesn’t exploring sound like more fun than expecting?

    Beautifully said, couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • Shashank Prasad

    If u feel angry, I suggest just politely walk away from there.This will reduce half your anger. Later, tell the person concerned frankly about your feelings when you are teased or laughed at. True friends will understand this and avoid this behaviour in the future. If they don’t, well stay away from them, they are not your real friends. Run away!

  • Tyler L

    There will always be disappointment, it’s going to be a big part of one’s life. It’s a matter of how much you let it disrupt your daily pattern. Emotionally Mature people will likely frown for a few min when something disappointing occurs (girl/guy not interested in dating you, didn’t meet business goals, etc) but keep their main focus on the future, and perhaps what they did wrong (if applicable).

    It takes practice. But being able to rise above is life changing!!! and you are well-ahead of the average person.

    Keep in mind too, that expectations and disappointment are precursors or prior feelings of jealously. Jealously in its proper meaning is feeling envy for not getting what you are entitled too. Jealous over your crush paying more attention to another guy then you (when you arent in a dating relationship)–Irrational and a bit of entitlement.
    Jealously over your committed partner flirting with others–Rational, you should express your feelings.

    Those 2 pillars will take make your daily life filled with joy

  • Zoe Kaftan

    well, I think that this advice is fine for some people. People like myself have too high of expectations on everything, including ourselves, and we need to be encouraged to lower them, for our own sanity. I promise we don’t just become deadbeats.

  • P Robbins

    Hi Zoe I think we can tweek it in any way that works best for us. I would just say be true to yourself first. If you expect people to be kind or respectful because you bring that the table stand firm in accepting nothing less. I am not sure by what you meant about having too much expectation for yourself. Please elaborate.

  • I think that’s what the author means when she says, “It’s okay to have goals, but make sure to leave room for something even greater to come along.”


    I am in high school right now and have great expectations from my life. My parents too have great expectations from me and I don’t know if I’ll fulfill them . I surely am among the toppers but you see being a topper in class and making it to your dream college and making ur Parents proud is not same. I don’t know if these are my expectations or the fear of failure that makes me feel bad.See I obviously have read a hell lot of inspirational quotes saying you can and stuff but it has started seeming fake to me.Or perhaps the whole problem is that I don’t exactly know what the problem is with me…

  • Dr. Awesome

    Olivia, these expectations that you’re facing are ones that you’ve temporarily adopted. Your parent’s expectations of you only exist if you let them.

    When you read inspirational quotes, what your looking for is a way to overcome fear of failure. And while they may be inspirational, the power ultimately lies with your mindset. You have to tell yourself that not reaching your expected goal is OK. You have to believe that your goals are guidelines and not destinations.

    If you see your goals as destinations, the more you fail, the farther that goal will seem and the more impossible it will seem to get there. Just do what you think is appropriate and be OK with stumbling along the path. You have to be OK with not achieving your expected goals within a certain time frame.

  • sausage

    ‘Letting go’ Is one of the most overused meaningless phrases in the New Age.
    I now have an allergy to it .
    The misuse and abuse of language is one of Americans ‘spiritualtiy lites’ most destructive tendencies. Its a drip drip drip of dumbing down that has been going on since the 80s aided and abetted by Reagan, The New Age, and Oprah etc ending in an election that could destroy the world.
    I wish we could all ‘let go’ of America.
    Americans cause more mess than any other nation, uses more resources and starts more wars.
    All the while preaching snakeoil whilst appropriating other nations religions and spiritual practises while stripping them of meaning and substance for the bucks.

    Please America ;’let go’ of your notions of grandeur. You ALWAYS cause more problems than you solve, and your populace is terrifyingly ignorant, hysterical and addicted to Fake food, Fake news,and Fake emotions.
    We the rest of the world, wish you would go away for awhile untill you have grown up.

  • producer

    today after decades of existence I seem to be waking up to this strange experience of lowering, to very low for some to totally dropping of some expectations from people in life. Today I am totally giving up on the mother I should have had. She was bad and now I am able to finally give up my expectations. She has paled out of my existence. Its freeing. And scary. very scarcely. because she was just a sample. A sample of the horrible ghosts that have played in my life. Now all the ghosts seem to be coming out of me.
    Finally I am feeling myself.
    Minus the ghosts.
    And that.
    That is mighty scary for me.

  • producer

    I know its long time commenting. The problem with some of us is that we have expected love from psychopaths, attention from hopeless alcoholic parents and milk to flow by milking bulls. Its now a rude painful awakening.

  • producer

    Its a late comment. Congratulations on your self awareness this early. I definitely didn’t have that myself. My take is that you are trying to find the truth of who you are minus your parents and all those motivational talkers and priests and high school coaches. This is a good thing.
    As an adult you will learn to listen to everyone talking and running their mouths and wishes over you but privately know you have your own views, direction and aspirations.
    That is adulthood. I do not see anything you have to be afraid of. Everything looks great in your growth to adulthood.

  • Munjal Pandit

    we can’t stop expecting. if we are putting some efforts for someone, we are naturally going to look for some kind of response from them. that is expectation. what we believe is that what goes around, comes around. not exactly the same, but something that keeps the equilibrium of the relationship. every relationship is based on give and take system. if we give something to someone, we are obviously going to expect to get something back, that is expectation.
    expecting something without giving something is stupid. but even after putting efforts, when the person never does anything for us, it hurts really bad.