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High Expectations and Well-Being

High Expectations and Well-Being

Expectations are our predictors of how we want things to go.  There are two sides to expectations- what we expect from others and what we expect from ourselves. And how we manage those expectations is critical to how we view our experiences and pursue our goals. High expectations can have a positive effect; people benefit from having a goal and being motivated to work towards it. Expectations can seem harmless, but this is not always the case and sometimes people take it too far. Low expectations, for example, can mean you underachieve in life, or let others manipulate you. Therefore, you might think that setting high expectations is the best option for you and although it may sometimes lead to success, it is important to recognise when high expectations can become a problem.

Problems with High Expectations

High expectations can become a problem when:

  • There are constant high expectations in our relationships and in our work.
  • We do not appreciate how far we have come.
  • Being the best at everything is important.
  • We criticise ourselves and/or others.
  • We feel shame when ourselves and/or others fail.

Expectations can work as an inner push, but not if taken to levels of perfectionism. Make sure your high expectations are driving you to try harder, not making you feel bad. They should motivate you. These high expectations can cause unnecessary pressure. Strict or high expectations can cause despair, anxiety, depression and lower confidence.


Take an event such as completing a project at work. You might expect to get praised for your hard work by your manager or co-workers. If they acknowledge your work, you’ll get a release of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that drives your brains rewards systems. This release of dopamine will result in feelings of well-being and happiness. If they give you a promotion for the role you played in the project your expectations may have been exceeded. However, the downside is that when our expectations are not met let’s say you are not acknowledged for your extensive work on the said project- our negative feelings are much stronger than the good feelings we get when our expectations are exceeded. Therefore, if we expect to get x and we get x, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we get a much bigger drop.

It would be amazing if we could all live our great expectations, but we shouldn’t base our happiness on them because there is no evidence to say that we will live to fulfil them. Life is full of ups and downs. Trying to force an unrealistic outcome from everything leads to feeling disappointed. The key to our wellbeing is not low expectations. It is the ability to understand what is in your control and what is not. It is also the ability to interpret and deal with unexpected negative outcomes in a positive way.  Learn to be good enough exactly how you are and by being true to yourself!


Written by Rebekka Johnston

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