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March 12, 2014
by Cristina Rennie MA, RCC, CEIP – MH


March 12, 2014 02:55 by Cristina Rennie MA, RCC, CEIP – MH

“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”

― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The above quote by Sylvia Plath, an American poet, novelist and short story writer of the 1950’s begs us to consider the topic of “expectations” and how it affects our lives. Over the years I have had many conversations with friends, clients, family and others about the concept. Many times it comes up when talking about coping strategies or questioning relationships. In particular expectations are generally forward looking and future orientated with regards to a particular situation. However, it is my opinion that expectations can be attached to almost any form of experience that we have and hold within them the past, present and future thoughts. Therefore, it could be considered essential to self reflect on expectations as a part of our life journey to discovering why we do what we do, think the way we think and feel what we feel.

When people talk about expectations they often wrap it with a preceding description such as “high expectations” or “low expectations” or “no expectations” at all. It is interesting when you look at the traditional definition of what an expectation is and ponder how it fits for your life.


1. The act of expecting. Eager anticipation: eyes shining with expectation.

2. The state of being expected.

3. Something expected: a result that did not live up to expectations. Expectations Prospects, especially of success or gain.

4. Statistic; The expected value of a random variable. The mean of a random variable.

It seems to me that there are many different parts of an expectation and some can be considered positive and some are considered negative. Also when a negative expectation comes to fruition people seem to be let - down. One of my questions might be related to Sylvia Plath’s quote at the beginning of this article, if we had no expectations at all what would that do?

One of the challenges with trying to dissect what an expectation could or should be is that it is not so simple. It is complicated and I believe that at any given time there are both realistic and possible parts of an expectation and that it cannot be narrowed down to black or white answers.

I believe that we should allow ourselves to hold both of these concepts at the same time grounding us in the past present and future of what we're hoping for a vision for our lives and this we can call “realist expectations”.

Here are some tips to creating realistic expectations

1.     Write a list of your hopes and desired outcomes for a particular situation or relationship

By doing this activity you are creating a visual and externalized way to view what is going on in your mind and making it nearly impossible for the ideas to spiral and not connect. This technique is used often in counselling and psychology to help become more aware of your thoughts.

2.     To each of your desired outcomes write down the very small steps that would be needed to get there

This process helps take the realm of possibilities and turn them into doable pieces. You can also start to see if there is enough resources; physical, mentally, socially and spiritually to achieve them.

3.     Next write down how long you think it will take to achieve each outcome

Time is a very valuable resource and everyone has challenges guessing how much time it will take to do things in your life. When you go over time versus under time, generally, this creates stress attached to particular outcomes.

4.     Prioritize your list

Not every outcome on your list will have meaning to you and each part is not distributed equally. Therefore, ranking in an order of importance is significant in the process of uncovering realistic expectations.

5.     Share your list

Often times people sit and try to figure out how to handle situations and relationships on their own. This is a big challenge, as we cannot always see every angle that would influence decisions. This is also true of expectations and more so realistic expectations. Thinking about whom you trust and with what information is helpful in deciding who may become a part of your support network to reduce isolation and not being alone with these important issues.

6.     Evaluate and make decisions about your expectations

The final part of this equation can be the most challenging, as it gets closer to making changes when you commit to decisions about your expectations. In this process try to acknowledge when fear about a particular decision and the fear of change creeps in. When you can see and feel this happening it is easier to kick fear to the curb and to find your realistic expectation.


Cristina works in Abbotsford BC and is the creator of both Shamrock Counselling Services ( ) & Sundance Solace Society ( Sundance Solace is a non-profit branch that focuses on the power of nature to benefit people. If you would like to be involved there are a number of opportunities including: professional and practicum internships, associate positions, and volunteering. Please contact Cristina for more information


By Cristina Rennie MA, RCC, CEIP – MH

604 751 2354

About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

Shamrock Counselling can be found at
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