Expectations Are the Biggest Form of Self-Sabotage

Expectations Are the Biggest Form of Self-Sabotage

We often invest in daydreaming but aren’t really aware of what we are doing to ourselves when the dreams aren’t fulfilled.

We don’t realise the full impact of having an expectation until it’s not met. We often invest in daydreaming but aren’t really aware of what we are doing to ourselves when the dreams arent fulfilled.

Expectations are a funny thing. Defined as “a belief that something will happen or be the case,” they are often formulated from a mental energy-based ‘misperception.’ They can be linked with our ‘intention setting,’ but they aren’t always positive, and they’re often unrealistic.

When they are unreasonable for us, they can be downright destructive in terms of the thought processes we use to punish ourselves when we perceive we have failed.

This can be demonstrated when a couple learn that they are pregnant. The expectation is that pregnancy will be a magical glowing experience — go to the hospital and come home with a baby. Life will be amazing. And yes, we all want this as the outcome. However, it’s not always the case.

Some pregnancies don’t proceed after 12 weeks, some women feel nauseated the entire pregnancy, or lose their hair, or become incontinent, or get hemorrhoids, have horrific birth experiences. Some women even experience all of this. Some babies are stillborn. Some babies were expected to be boys and yet born girls.

Where the heck is the rosy picture of pregnancy then?

Isn’t it interesting, how quickly your brain went from pregnancy to expectation of seeing the mother hold the newborn? That’s how subtle an expectation can affect us.

The subliminal perceptions that are associated with outcomes are very interesting. While you want to go straight to an easy and nice outcome, there’s often no pausing by the brain to assess anything alternative.

It is this point that we establish an anchor point for negative perceptions and links to future failures.

Travis Bradberry talks about expectations in terms of goal setting and suggests it’s a good thing to have positive expectations when working towards your goals. I happen to disagree on one level in relation to this.


Because to focus on the expected outcome without making any connection to the emotional juice — your feelings — means that you’ll lose motivation, get mindset wobbles, and ultimately fall off the moving forward wagon.

Bradberry talks about the following unrealistic expectations that bring you undone, and I find myself often supporting clients within my clinical practice in defusing negative emotions associated with these:

  • Life should be fair
  • Opportunities should fall into my lap
  • Everyone should like me
  • People should agree with me
  • People should know what I am saying
  • I’m going to fail
  • Things will make me happy
  • I can change him/her

Christine Hassler has the right idea and looks at flipping expectation on its head so you turn potential negatives into positives with a couple of hot tips. I would add to the goal-setting process, that you take the time to actually understand your emotions which motivate you and drive you to want success.

For it is this understanding which will support you to pick yourself up from any future perception of failure and remind self of the ultimate goal — to feel happiness and joy.

After all, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

1. Have A Dream.

 Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to have dreams. We need something to drive our motivation and reason to live.

 Yet having a dream without a clear connection on how you will arrive at the change destination is a recipe for disaster.

For example, it’s great to set a goal to lose weight. But you don’t burn enough calories through worry or stress to drop the desired kilos. It requires actions such as smaller portion sizes, calorie counting perhaps, or even increased movement to achieve the results you want.

Having a dream enables you to manage how your dream life will feel when you are living. The trick is to make the dream fluid and flow, rather than write the script of exactly how things are to unfold.

2. Set Small Implementable Goals & Actions.

To be able to realise your dream to fruition, you need goals. In order to tick the goals off the list, it’s critical to identify small actions which you can easily implement and achieve.

Identifying small actions removes the negativity of expectation because you are forced to ask yourself during planning, whether you consider you can actually achieve what you are wanting to implement.

Making small easy wins in the first few days is critical for driving your motivation through the slightly harder tasks and maintain your willingness to continue when it gets tough.

3. Openly Communicate With Self & Others.

Open communication is an absolute must whereby you provide or seek clarification of what you are wanting to in your dream life. This means you need to be clear on what you think, say aloud, and not what you infer.

No one is a mind reader.

We don’t understand your individual thought process. I haven’t lived your life with your experiences and inherited patterns, therefore I can’t possibly understand or recognise your stress triggers unless you tell me. Even then, I’m only processing your needs in relation to your stress triggers, with my stuff filter on!

Furthermore, if you’re trying to communicate something specific in relation to what you desire, it often pays to link your emotional juice to validate the reason or purpose.

For example, if asking a colleague for a task to be done without specifying a deadline or reason for task sets everyone up for failure. Openly communicating exactly what the task is, when it’s due to be completed, and why it will support all parties to work collaboratively to achieve the goal.

It’s a bit like making an informal agreement so that everyone involved understands the part they play.

The same reasoning applies when communicating with yourself about living your intended dream life. You have to be honest within your internal dialogue. Check-in with yourself and audit the depth of positivity or negativity. If your internal dialogue is on the negative nancy side, you can attempt to use affirmations and positive intentions and get nowhere fast with a single negative thought.

You’ll quickly frustrate yourself that you’re not achieving and the resultant expectation will leave you feeling like you’re a failure.

4. Connect To Your Emotional Juice.

This concept can be expanded further to our own goal-setting process. As a Wellness Coach, I work with clients to focus on creating goals to work towards living their dream life.

Whilst we set goals, we place our focus on the new habit that needs to be created to embrace the feeling, the emotional juice, of that dream life. Hassel refers to this as ‘secret sauce’ and I believe she’s onto something there!

When we create goals, part of the learning experience is that we experience mindset wobbles. It’s a bit like the universe subliminally asking us “are you sure this is what you want?

When the motivation waivers, I encourage clients to return to my notes on “what do I want to feel,” which associated with their goal.

Asking yourself these simple questions then enables you to dissociate from the negative perception of failure and focus on the positive outcomes. When coaching, I often find identifying weaknesses (or as I like to call them opportunities for growth) the most powerful exercise of goal setting we can undertake.

Asking the following questions prompts our logical thinking to find solutions outside of the box, find evidence of previous success (ie what has worked before), and how we can change in the future.

  • What did I learn?
  • How can I leverage this learning to achieve my next goal?
  • How can I behave differently in the future?
  • And based on what I learned, what agreement can I make to myself or someone else regarding future goals?

Through identifying the challenges (ie weaknesses), you have the conscious opportunity to circumvent the expectation of failure by actively reframing and planning to succeed through connection with all your good juju.

5. Validation

Seeking validation that you have been understood during communication ensures that all parties are on the same page. Sometimes, this communication helps you to remain very clear on what it is exactly that you want.

As we undertake work towards achieving the goal, sometimes it changes and we receive unexpected bonuses. Validating your emotional juice, your feelings in relation to life is a fantastic opportunity to clarify — yes I’m on the right path.

Validating your feelings enables you to maintain connections between your emotional brain and gut reaction — ie open heart space. Validation of our feelings reduces expectations because we remain connected to that inner knowing, and allow ourselves to be guided through the change obstacle course.

It’s when we disconnect from feelings during the reaction that those Negative Nancy monkey chatter patterns kick in and we misperceive what’s going on around us.

6. High involvement in actions, low attachment to the outcome.

Hassel refers to this as an expectation hangover, and I completely agree. As we walk our path, it’s vital to focus on how good we are feeling at moving forward on our journey, the lessons we are learning, and our growth.

If we focus on outcomes like acquiring stuff, more money, etc then there is no internal satisfaction and we crave more external to validate our internal sense of self-worth.

Sometimes just having clarity in the small steps forward that we take can alter our perception of the journey we walk.

So take action — and plenty of it.

Connecting with how the action makes you feel as you migrate towards your ideal life. It’s this continuous investment into your happiness account by acknowledging your feel-good moments that motivates you to do more, rather than focus on the outcome.

Disconnection from how you feel whilst taking action boosts mental energy for you to attach to expectations. It’s here you lose access to being able to go with the flow.

7. Own Your Beliefs and Values.

Understand and recognize that your values and beliefs are yours — they don’t belong to others.

We are all different and unique — thank goodness or the world would be a boring space! With that said, it’s impossible to expect others to share your exact beliefs and values.

Why? Because they don’t wear your underpants. They don’t walk in your shoes. They don’t have your environmental experiences or genetic inheritance patterns. They aren’t you.

So remember this when in a moment of misperception or misunderstanding of a situation (this can cause conflict). Take a breath and if necessary utilise the coaching questions:

  1. Am I in control of the situation?
  2. Can I shelf my feelings until later?
  3. Can I choose to change my perception?

Asking these questions enables you to step out of expectation by consciously connecting to your emotional juju and letting go.

8. Gain a Different Perspective.

Journalling or debriefing (or even Kinesiology and Wellness Coaching) with a person of trust can support you to gain a true perception of reality. Talking or writing about scenarios supports you to defuse the negative emotion which has arisen.

As the expression commences, this enables you to step out and perceive different viewpoints of the fishbowl of life.

When we step out of the intensity we can then grant ourselves the opportunity to understand what might be a motivational factor for another party. We may be able to gain some understanding of how they might process or react to a situation.

Stepping out of expectation is a gift because you gain clarity on how you feel. As a bonus, you also can gain insight from how another party may experience a situation.

9. Accept What Is.

I had a client recently who had become so disillusioned with her partner that she declared she would stop talking to them because she felt disrespected. Four months later a conversation had still not eventuated and she was left heartbroken, angry, sad, and confused. I know, four months is an incredibly long time to share space but not words!

Imagine how your body feels when you stuff those unexpressed emotions into it? Pain. Discomfort. Now imagine how much energy you utilise to not express out all the emotional juice! It’s exhausting!

The unwanted negative thoughts of shoulda, woulda, coulda all start to form a merry-go-round inside your head and your ability to perceive reality becomes tainted with reality. Sometimes you need to take a breath, step back one pace and own this place you’re in.

Acceptance of situations is the first step towards climbing out of the hole. When you can acknowledge a situation, thought, or feeling on a conscious level, you can then engage your logic brain to find a better solution and change.

Sometimes acceptance of a situation, no matter how sloppy the sh*t sandwich tennis match has become, is the first step to telling yourself “why am I choosing to maintain this?” Acceptance also creates a positive space for you to entertain gratitude.

As Shakespeare says, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” It sets us up for disappointment, heartache, and a perception of failure because we don’t achieve our desired outcomes. Is it time to take a breath, step out of a current negative situation, and assess your thoughts, feelings?

Is it time to communicate your needs openly, and include a reference to your feelings?

Is it time to consider how the other party might be feeling so you can understand and adapt your feelings and responses?

Is it time to stop punishing yourself with shoulda, woulda, coulda thought patterns, and adapt I am willing to learn to change?

10. Manage Disappointment.

It’s a rare thing to immediately achieve a goal. And if you did, well done. Perhaps you need to stretch yourself a little further now.

Just like learning to walk as an infant, it’s rare that we stand from lying flat on our backs. We need to develop muscles in order to roll, sit up on our own, then crawl, walk, and eventually run. This is why breaking down the obstacles to achieving the dream are so critical.

Managing your disappointment when you don’t achieve what you really want is also vital. You need to remain open enough that you can reflect on any lessons learned along the way as you perfect the practice. Additionally, congratulate yourself on maintaining effort and continuing at all.

The trick with disappointment, like trying to quit smoking is to celebrate what you did achieve and start again. Implement strategies to avoid the obstacles you observed got in the way. Seek support if you can’t see the strategy and have someone guide you over the hurdle.


Bradberry, Travis. (2016, January) “8 Unrealistic Expectations That Hold You Back”.
Hassler, Christine (2015, February) “Tips To Avoid An Expectation Hangover” Success.

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’