Do you believe in magic? I must confess I do. I see it all the time. People use this magic without really even knowing what they are doing. But the results are powerful all the same. Now I’m not talking about a hocus-pocus, abracadabra kind of magic. Actually, if you want to get picky, it’s more like “The Force.” What is this mysterious magical power? Expectation.
Expectations: the beliefs we hold in our minds about how events will proceed. Expectation shapes our world as we go along. We expect to have a wonderful time - and we do. We expect to fail the test, or get tongue tied before our speech, or that no one will notice us, and as if we have clairvoyant abilities, our premonitions come true. We expect people to be rude (or at least annoying), and they are. We expect our “whole day to go like this,” and it does. But it is not only ourselves we are affecting with our expectations, because though they start as mere thoughts in our minds they soon turn into actions, facial expressions, tone of voice and, most powerfully, words, that not only shape our immediate futures, but the futures of those around us as well.
If we enter into a situation convinced we will not enjoy ourselves, our mood and demeanor will affect everyone with whom we come into contact. If we approach a salesperson expecting to get the run around, most likely it will show and they will feel defensive right off the bat - proving us right. These everyday encounters can easily be improved by checking our expectations and reminding ourselves that the future isn’t set - yet.
Where expectations have the most power to do good or evil is with children. As adults we must be careful because our expectations can become adopted by our child. Obviously, we know that calling a child stupid is not only cruel, but counterproductive. But even when we think we are helping by anticipating a problem, we can create a problem where it might not have sprouted, or exacerbate a sleeping bean stock of a problem that might have lain dormant. For instance: telling a child, “you won’t like this, but you have to eat it anyway,” or, “don’t drop that!” or, “you’re so stubborn!” We are putting ideas into their heads and our expectations become theirs.
Ironically we can do even more harm with positive expectations. If they are unreasonable, out of reach, or based upon what our desires are rather than who our children are, these unreachable goals we had our hearts set on can really hurt our children and their self-images. We expect A’s from our B student. We expect our shy one to become the team leader. And when they struggle the message they get from us, though not specifically said, is that there is something wrong with them. After all, if my parents think I should be able to, they must be right, right?
The best way to use our incredible powers for good is to expect things to go well, and to say so. I’m not suggesting we go around trying to convince others of our point of view. We can spread our positive influence simply by noticing what is going right, instead of pointing out what is lacking. We can approach people as though we expect to get a positive response. When we do these types of things we are setting up the next moment - with our smile, our energy, our upbeat attitude, and people tend to respond in kind.
The real fun comes when you turn around your expectations in the moment, and in doing so, change everything. In minutes I have personally seen groups of over 100 children increase their effort, improve their attitudes and become more careful in their responsibilities after I (mentally) raised my expectations (reasonably!) for them. No lectures, no criticism. But because I changed, so did they. Sometimes, it really does seem like magic.
Expectation is a powerful thing. If we can become aware how we are using it - and use it wisely - we have the power to change the future.