You might have heard the saying that expectations always lead to disappointment. That may or may not be true, but expectations are definitely holding you back from living a life full of joy and bliss. One of the most effective ways of managing expectations that I have found is to understand something called the Expectation Pendulum.

Most people operate on the Expectation Pendulum, whether you are aware of it or not.

When you are a kid, expectations of yourself and life are usually high. Life is fun, hanging out with friends is fun, and having sleepovers is fun. And you think to yourself that you have another 100 years or so of this? Awesome!

Something tends to happen as you begin to age though. The expectation pendulum starts to swing the other way. Life starts to happen, as some people would say. You start to encounter challenges, new experiences that you don’t like and become more aware of the evil as well as the good in the world. Suddenly, your expectations of life start to swing the other way.

The pendulum effect continues throughout your life. You get a new house and an amazing new girlfriend and your expectations become high again. You go through a breakup or someone in your family dies and your expectations are low. Back and forward. Back and forward.

The problem with being on the expectation pendulum is that you are usually in a lose-lose situation. Either your expectations are high or they are low.

If they are high, reality either falls below and you are disappointed or it meets your high expectations and you are satisfied, but not overjoyed. If they are low, reality either falls to your level and everything looks grey or reality pleasantly surprises you, which is usually only temporary.

Expectations also take us out of the present moment and somewhere into the unknown future. This idea is captured in an article in Psychology Today:

The decisions/choices of life come one-by-one in the moment. Expectations forever push you to look ahead, mentally entrap you in the future. Like a chess player you’re always thinking eight moves out – what should I do, how will others react, how will respond, how can I get them to react in the way I expect, what if they question my decision…

Keep it simple. What do I want right now? See what happens next

All of these things aren’t just true of your expectations of life as a whole, they are true of your job, your friends, your family, everything. You get high expectations of your friends and they disappoint you. You have low expectations of what work is going to be like today and surprisingly, it met your low expectations. Again.

In order to live your best life, in order to experience incredible amounts of joy and feel non-stop energy running through you, you need to bring the pendulum to a halt. You are the only one who has the power to do this.

The Expectation Pendulum will keep swinging until you don’t want it to keep swinging anymore. When you decide that you are done managing expectations and you want to enter the only place where you can find consistent peace. The only place that exists is when the pendulum is at rest – when you have no expectations. 

When your Expectation Pendulum is at rest, everything unfolds as it unfolds and you are not only okay with it, you are extremely happy and content for it to unfold the way it is. You don’t have high expectations for your career and you don’t have low expectations for it either. You are just at rest in the middle, just letting each moment happen as it does.

Just like a real pendulum, it can be difficult to come to complete rest in the middle. It takes time and practice to slow the swing before eventually, you will find yourself there. Once you are there, it takes a lot of momentum to get you back to your old ways, and you remind yourself that you don’t want to go back there. Managing expectations is no longer a problem when you decide that you don’t have or want any.

Aim for rest in the middle. Aim for no expectations.