How to Get Better at Managing Expectations: At Home & Elsewhere

4 min
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Trust and credibility are important tenets of well-being. Yet learning how to trust and believe in yourself and your abilities can be tough – and when your goals and actions involve other people, it can be even more difficult to achieve these traits. It can be a tricky balance to find, but one of the keys to doing so is through managing expectations – and that includes the expectations others place on you, as well as those you put towards yourself.  

Learning to manage these expectations is not just for creating a happier workplace, smoother relationships, or maintaining your own sense of calm composure. When you put too much on your plate, it can feel overwhelming, creating a domino effect of unrealistic targets falling one after another, eventually affecting your well-being.

The desired outcome of any particular goal, of course, will dictate the importance of tempering projections. Does your significant other need you to focus more attention on them? Maybe your line manager expects you to work weekends at the drop of a hat. Perhaps you’ve over-estimated your bandwidth for a self-imposed deadline. If you have not set out the goal you’re trying to reach, or envisaged a feasible path to it, you risk running out of steam before crossing the finish line. But if that is the case, then how do you learn to solve the problem?

Saying “no” can be difficult, but sometimes, it is necessary.

If you’re part of hustle culture, you might find yourself addicted to the “rise and grind” mindset. Keeping yourself busy all the time may be a lifestyle choice, but it is an unsustainable one. And beyond the physical and mental toll it can take on you, it can also affect people’s expectations of you, which can be harder to manage. In the long run, this kind of performative workaholism and optimal busyness will lead to others expecting a similar level of tenacity for everything. While there are a number of routes to wean yourself off the need to take on more than you can carry, the first step should be addressing time management, which will in turn help temper everybody’s expectations – including your own.

Self-reflection and realism are useful tools

Think about what you want to achieve. Do you have enough time to do so, and is your intended timeframe realistic? Because that should be your initial concern, long before you involve anybody else. You need to manage your own expectations first, since failing to meet an unrealistic target will almost certainly set you up for a batch of frustration, self-judgment, and potentially, depression.

We also live in an ever-changing society, and many of us work in fast-changing industries – so plan ahead for road-bumps, diversions, or delays. Allow yourself the scope in your timescale for adaptation to evolving expectations. And if you do miss an important deadline, remember that it’s important to not judge yourself too harshly for it. Instead, try to learn from it before it leads to anxiety, evidenced by exhaustion, brain fog, or chronic fatigue, among a host of other life-disrupting symptoms.

In fact, some business leaders see a direct correlation between happiness and expectations, where the former is a result of reality minus the latter. Consider that in any given situation, your happiness is dictated by the reality of the situation stacked up against your expectations. Have you ever gone to watch a movie with the expectation that it will be average, but instead, it surprises you with excellence? In that instance, you’re happy. If you were expecting the opposite and were delivered a dud, you would likely have been disappointed. This is because it’s not necessarily the reality of the situation that creates happiness, but rather, it’s the reality compared to the expectation.

Communication is key

When there’s outside influence with expectations – such as someone awaiting your input to finalize a project, or a partner expecting you to be on cooking duty every night – you will have to learn that mind-reading isn’t a skill many people have. Managing expectations means communicating clearly, so that everyone involved has a clear understanding of what to expect – and more importantly, when to expect it. This also requires keeping communications open. 

Research has shown that key points for success include initiating an open dialogue, making the process collaborative, promising only what can realistically be delivered, and documenting plans in clear ways. That’s not to say you won’t run into unforeseen problems along the way. This is why just as if you were trying to hit a self-imposed deadline, you should prepare for problems. If none materialize, then you’ll likely have given yourself the opportunity to under-promise and over-deliver – which is an incredible position to be in when managing expectations.

If you are still struggling to create a plan on how to better manage the expectations of others, as well as yourself, try this simple five-step checklist to help you break it down:

1) Mastering your time management and prioritizing tasks

2) Visualizing a path to your goal

3) Communicating clearly – what’s expected, when, and is it fair or attainable?

4) Underestimating your bandwidth: under-promise and over-deliver

5) Asking for help if necessary. There’s no shame in sharing a burden

By taking action through better communication, a bit of planning, getting to know your own capabilities and boundaries – and learning to expect them – you can spend more time living in that space between ambition and reality, for a life with less stress and let-downs, and more fulfillment and genuine happiness.


All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Managing Expectation: “What Do You Mean?”; Workplace Wellness: Managing Expectations; Mental Health Effects of Unrealistic Expectations; Three Time Management Techniques to Improve Your Focus.

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