What Happens When We Act on Our Expectations?

Awhile back, I had watched an interesting TED talk by Psychologist Dr. Jennice Vilhauer about how we don’t really act on what we want, but rather on our own expectations of things. It’s a subconscious thing. We’ve probably heard the saying “Thoughts become things” at some point, right? Well basically if we think about an event coming up, like a date, a party, a festival, etc, If we keep thinking about how everything is going to be great, then chances are, it will go right, because you already made it clear that this is going to be your moment or your time to shine. Sometimes, however, we have terrible feelings about how the event will go that it becomes a subconscious thing where you’ll do or say certain things that really enhance the negative feeling.

So say you play the lottery, you’re just trying your luck, and you find out later on that day that you won. What do you do? Was this what you expected would happen? No, of course not. You weren’t expecting to win, you were just playing for shits. In this example, our expectations of certain things don’t really align with what we want.

Then again, when we think something isn’t going to go well, it can sometimes end up going better than expected and vice versa.

What I’m trying to say is that this concept can be applied in just about everything from relationships to events/experiences. Vilhauer goes on to say that she had a client who was gorgeous and accomplished and decided to give online dating a try. Once the client received matches and started going out on dates, the guys that she went out with either weren’t who they looked like in their profile photo, forgot their wallets, or just wouldn’t show up at all whatsoever. Through all these dates, the client began to settle with the terrible dates. They became her expectations.

At one point, she had agreed to go out on a date with this one guy after her yoga class. She, thinking that the date wouldn’t go well, arrived at this cafe to meet up with this guy. The guy was a well-groomed, all-around great guy and the client basically didn’t know how to act. Because she had gotten so used to such terrible dates, she never once thought that she might actually land a pretty decent guy. So the whole time, she stared at the ground and felt really self-conscious. At some point during the date,  she told the guy that she needed to put more coins in the meter and just left the date.

The bottom line was: he was great, but given the fact that she had no idea how to act in a situation like this, it was something new and out of the ordinary for her. I mean, think about it: put yourself in her shoes, shes gorgeous but over time she realized that she wasn’t worth those second dates or a decent man who wouldn’t forget his wallet. Imagine how that must feel. Pretty shitty, right?

Vilhauer then poses a scenario to the audience like:

Say you’re going on vacation to a tropical island.

She then asks something along the lines of: How is what I am expecting, making me feel?

This question not only brings into mind the idea of the future, but it also brings to mind how you feel about a specific thing in the future. This gives you a chance to be in tune with your mind and body.

If you’re like me and are down for a new adventure to a tropical island, then there’s nothing to do. If you’re having positive thoughts and feelings about the whole thing, then you’ve already achieved the goal.

If you’re anxious for this trip, then she follows up with another question: What would I like to have happen instead?

Here, you address to alternatives that go with what you’re comfortable with. What you really do want in the situation. What you want isn’t really what you expect. She then goes back to the example of winning the lottery : you want to win, but you don’t expect to win

She then asks: What do I need to do to make what I want happen?

She says that when we have a negative expectation, we think about all the things that would go wrong. Your aren’t really generating any thoughts and/or ideas about this experience going right.  You begin to see a shift in your thinking once you generate some positive thoughts. In other words, what can go right?

Vilhauer had a client who was depressed and they had been doing a ton of work together, to help this person gain some coping skills and be better equipped with what life throws at them, but nothing really seemed to be working. So Vilhauer posed the question, “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?” The client looked at her with a puzzled expression. When you’ve been depressed for a while, you don’t really think about the future, you just see everything as a big black hole. It’s like time goes by, but you feel like you still hang in the middle of it, not going forward or backwards, but staying there. So Vilhauer began to pose a variation of this question to many more of her clients, she recalled that she received the same response. Five years later, this is where she began to pioneer a new approach to counseling, called Future Directed Therapy (FDT).

I find this stuff amazing that psychologists like Dr. Vilhauer are changing the way they approach a patient’s unique illness or issue in life. The more we have this, the more we will have psychologists and mental health professionals provide a more interpersonal approach to each patient they treat, which is absolutely fascinating! You focus on what you want, keeping in mind that your expectations should align with your wants.

Check out the video!

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