by Gina Bello, Holistic Therapist, NLP Coach, Hypnotherapist, Time Line Therapist®

Have you heard this said before?

“The best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone.”

How do you feel about that statement? When you hear that, does it resonate-sound right to you?

When I began to really think about expectations and what it means to have expectations, I started with the definition.

Simple Definition of expectation (noun)

  • : a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen
  • : a feeling or belief about how successful, good, etc., someone or something will be

(Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary)

Now, knowing that having an expectation (or more than one) of someone or about something constitutes that something will happen or is likely to happen, and that it also constitutes a feeling or belief about how someone or something will be (may be positive or negative), I found myself struggling to agree with the saying that ‘the best way to avoid disappointment is to NOT expect anything from anyone.’

A few other quotes that are used in our everyday dialogue and lend to the belief that having expectations inevitably ends in disappointment, especially when expectations are placed on a person (rather than a situation):

“Don’t expect things to happen. It is better to be surprised, than disappointed.”

 “Peace begins where expectation ends.”

“Keep expectations high on achievement and low on people.“        Well now, I’d say that is one to ponder!

 and, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”  ~ Shakespeare.

This all got me thinking.  Is having expectations ‘bad’?

My first thought is that the word itself  ‘expectation’ can lean either way—to being a positive or a negative outcome or result, and may apply to a person or people, or to a situation or something.  The same may be said about the word “belief”. We may hold a positive belief or negative one about someone or something.

What does science say about expectations? Renowned authors and speakers have been quoted saying (although no one knows who originally said it) “Where intention goes, energy flows”.

Would it not stand to reason then, that if we believe energy flows where intention goes-put another way, where we focus our energy with intention, we are able to influence the outcome and results to what we focus the intended outcome to be? Same as all that ‘law of attraction’ stuff everyone likes and talks about, no?

If we expect students to do well and to get good grades and hold no preconceived ideas or beliefs other than the students will be successful in school, chances are they will be successful and meet and perhaps even exceed, expectation. The same may be said of coaches and their clients, athletes, and so on.

This was the topic of study of Rosenthal and Jacobson’s Pygmalion in the Classroom (1988), where the experiment involved teachers who had been given false information regarding the learning potential of certain students in their classes. Unaware of the experiment, teachers interacting with these target students were told these same students had been tested, and were on the brink of intellectual growth. They were in fact not tested, but had been randomly selected. The conclusion of the experiment and study found that most of the same students scored higher on their IQ tests than their counterparts in class that had not been selected in the study.

Results from that study led the researchers to claim that the expectations teachers held for the target students (and, perhaps the accompanying behaviour of their teachers holding high expectations for these students) actually caused the students to experience accelerated intellectual growth.

I thought it would be fun to poll a few friends on social media regarding their thoughts about expectations.

Here is what was asked:

What is your belief concerning expectations, do you believe in having them, and in what context would you set expectations, both for yourself and of others?

1) “The best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone?”

2) Yes to having expectations, with good intentions and without attachment are important and necessary for nurturing a healthy relationship and communication?

3) Yes, expectations held about people is contingent upon the relationship you have with the person / people involved?

4) Are you able to separate the ‘end result’ (of the expectation) held about someone, or something, from the person or situation?

Interesting comments. A sample of poll responses: 62% felt they did not have expectations in order to avoid disappointment, or a variation of that—expectations may be set for self however, expectation of another person is projection. Perception is projection.  25% believe in having expectations of situations and of others, and that expectations are dependent upon the relationship with the person/people involved.  12% questioned the difference between an expectation and a responsibility based on commitment. Perhaps one cannot expect anything from anyone unless they are aware of the other person’s commitment to something, someone or a situation. A belief is then developed (by the person having the expectation) about what that person will do.

Now, this discussion just wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include the word anticipation.


:  a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen

:  a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action

:  the act of looking forward; especially :  pleasurable expectation

:  the use of money before it is available

:  visualization of a future event or state

:  an object or form that anticipates a later type

:  the early sounding of one or more tones of a succeeding chord to form a temporary dissonance — compare suspension

Let’s not forget about Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Robert K. Merton, 20th-century sociologist is credited with coining the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy” in his 1948 article.

Positive or negative expectations about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person’s behavior toward them in a manner that he or she (unknowingly) creates situations in which those expectations are fulfilled.

In other words, causing something to happen by believing it will come true

Self-fulfilling prophecy are effects in behavioral confirmation effect, in which behavior, influenced by expectations, causes those expectations to come true.

So then, by the same token a self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction, an expectation, a belief really, that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.

The question that I come back to for myself is how do I feel about having expectations – both about people and situations? I find the meaning among these words to be relatively similar – expectation, anticipation, belief, and self-fulfilling prophecy….the INTENTION that I place on what I believe regarding a person (their behaviour), their ability and so on), a situation (the outcome) or thing (the result) is going to be heavily influenced by my internal state, my thoughts and my perception (which is my projection) about that person, situation or thing.

Is there a chance that I may be disappointed regarding the result, outcome or behaviour in either of these scenarios? YES, there’s always the possibility of that. However, I choose to hold the intention –a positive one at that, and to detach from the end result.

I have control over my thoughts, and therefore am also able to choose if and how I wish to respond in any event where my expectations (anticipation, belief of and self-fulfilling prophecy) of a person, situation or thing should not come to fruition. And, so do you my friend.