Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Power of Expectations

Dear Friends and Family,

Happy New Year and New Decade! Many of you may be glad to turn the page on 2009. I know last year will be one that I will not soon forget. The impact of last year on me and my family will certainly endure for many years to come.

For some time I have been wanting to begin a series of posts on the "power of expectations". A number of experiences I have had over the past several years have caused me to think about the impact expectations have had on my own life and in the lives of others. Expectations impact so many areas of our daily lives:

-professional success or failure
-parenting/childhood development
-medicine and health
-performance in sports
-marriage and relationships
-faith and prayer
-stock market performance/economic indicators

Consider how expectations impact our views of ourselves, others, our circumstances, our past and our future. Our level of contentment is directly related to our expectations. On that note I am reminded of a simple equation that a mentor of mine in business once showed me:

S = P - E

or, Satisfaction = Performance - Expectations

You could easily substitute "Reality" for "Performance". In other words, our expectations, when compared against our reality- our circumstances - our performance, determines to a great extent whether we are satisfied or dissatisfied, content or discontent.

So, should we have high expectations and risk being disappointed? Or, should we set low expectations and attempt to ensure a sense of satisfaction? Maybe we should have different perspectives depending upon whether we are talking about your task list for home improvement on a Saturday verses your business forecast for the year, or your child's academic performance, or your expectations of healing from a terminal disease, or whether your favorite professional sports team will win this weekend.

What about our expectations of people who are different than us? There has been much talk recently in the U.S. about profiling certain individuals at airport security because of the Christmas Day bomb attempt on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Should a person's race or ethnicity or religion impact our expectations? If so, how far should we take such expectations?

How about the poverty cycle? What impact do expectations have on those who feel trapped by their economic circumstances? What impact do certain types of governmental programs have on poor peoples' expectations of breaking that cycle?

Many of us have heard of the Pygmalion Effect that was popularized by the classic movie "My Fair Lady" or more recently "Trading Places", where the power of high or low expectations significantly impacts a person's performance and progress. How far should we go in applying this powerful principle in human behavior?

How about marriage? (This is a touchy one.) How do our expectations of our spouse impact our attitudes on a daily basis? What is the impact over time of fulfilled or unfulfilled expectations on this most intimate of relationships? How can changing our expectations assist in breaking a bad cycle?

How about the expectation of economic and technological progress that has been with us since the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700's? How has this promise of progress been fulfilled, or not? How has its lack of fulfillment led to attitudes of despair and indifference?

My working hypothesis is, expectations:

-have an over-sized impact on our daily lives.
-can be dangerous when they are too far from reality.
-are largely within our control.

I look forward to exploring some of these questions . . .

In Christ alone,