5 Tips to Avoid an Expectation Hangover

Even best-laid plans go astray. A project flops, an idea fails to take off, a promotion never comes—we’ve come to expect occasional disappointments in our career. But what happens when they negatively impact our personal fulfillment or sense of achievement? These illusive beliefs become toxic and leave you with a pounding disappointment—an expectation hangover.

It’s a headache you internalize when things don’t go according to plan. Not only do you feel disappointed, but you also begin to doubt everything, including yourself. This zaps your confidence and stifles your motivation to achieve your next great thing.

So if high expectations are so detrimental, does that mean all we have to do is not have any and, boom, insta-success? 

No, because it’s only natural to expect things in your life and career. Yet there are effective ways to upgrade expectations, navigate disappointment and avoid expectation hangovers to increase your productivity and job satisfaction. Here are five tips from Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life:

1. Drop expectations and create agreements. People are not mind readers, so it is unreasonable to expect co-workers to know exactly what you want. Even when you think responsibilities are evident, take the extra time to create crystal-clear agreements with people. For example, if you would like a project to be complete by end of day Friday, get an agreement—in written or verbal form –from the person who is responsible to meet that deadline. 

2. Perception check. When it comes to communication, the message sent is not always the message received. Be it in person or over an email exchange, do not assume the point you are making is heard the way you intended. Ask the person you are communicating with to repeat it back to you. Say, “I’d like to make sure I’m communicating effectively. What did you hear me say?” or “Would you mind repeating what you just heard to ensure we are on the same page?”

3. Pursue goals with the secret sauce of “high involvement, low attachment.” Goals are great to have; however, when your sense of well-being or happiness rides on the result, you are setting yourself up for a massive expectation hangover. Give it your all at work so you know you’ve done your best without becoming overly emotionally invested in outcomes.

If things do not turn out like you planned, ask, What did I learn? How can I leverage this learning to achieve my next goal? How can I behave differently in the future? And based on what I learned, what agreement can I make to myself or someone else regarding future goals? Then stop, move on and take one proactive step forward.

4. Do not project your values onto co-workers. This is especially important when it comes to working with someone from a different generation. Age has become more of a diversity issue than race or sex in today’s workforce, as millennials are entering the workforce by the millions. Workplace priorities and style of millennials, Gen Xers and boomers are extremely different. Accept the differences and see them as assets rather than liabilities. Then refer to tips 1 and 2 when communicating with co-workers.

5. Accept reality. We all like to think we can control 100 percent of everything, all the time. But we can’t. When experiencing any kind of expectation hangover, fighting hard to change what cannot be changed is a waste of energy. Lingering in shoulda, coulda, woulda regrets will keep you from moving forward. Accept what is, change the things you can and let the rest go so you can focus on creating a successful future. 

This goes for relationships, too. When it comes to expectations of others: Do not go to a Chinese restaurant when you are craving nachos and expect to get them, drenched in cheese. Accept your co-workers and employees. You’ll get the best from another person when you begin by accepting them for who they are right now.

As Shakespeare says, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” It sets us up for disappointment and diminished results. So trade in your expectations for agreements. Take proactive steps to move forward and remember to take one step at a time to prevent getting overwhelmed. Be present, and when your mind does drift to the future, at least go to a desirable destination.

Recognize the 5 things, including past disappointments, that can trap your dreams—and overcome them.

Christine Hassler

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