The Art Of Setting Great Expectations

What do you want to happen to you? How do you envision your desired outcome? How do you set up expectations?

In my experience, setting up expectations is one of the most sensitive areas in our lives. Because every time you set yourself up to something, your surroundings are changing. I find this amazing. You start to look at the world differently, because you expect it to behave in a certain way and the world actually start to change. But I find more than often this change to be the result of the way you set up your expectations. To be more precise, the changing speed of the world is directly influenced by the size of your expectations. Aim for less, and your world will change slower. Think big, and your world will explode.

One Step At A Time

Suppose you have a blog. You are comfortable writing, you have a decent posting routine and already started to think about monetization. But you can’t really ask money from your blog, unless you have a decent traffic. So, you set up some expectations here. Let’s say: I want 50 views per article. Not bad for a new blog.

In a certain amount of time, your articles are starting to get that. They are making 50-60 views. Interesting. Your expectations have been met. Now you can start putting some advertising on your blog, you can even try a little bit of AdSense and get a grasp of this entire monetization thing.

Sooner than you think, you realize that 50-60 views per blog post is not enough. It might be good for some peanuts money, but not enough for paying a vacation in Hawaii. So, you raise the stake. You set up higher expectations: 500-600 hits for every blog post.

In another certain amount of time, you get that too. Not only you get 500-600 views per article, but you get some residual traffic too, from your older posts. And that traffic starts to add up. It’s getting better and better. Now you make enough money from your blog to afford a nice two weeks vacation on an exotic island.

But then again, you realize that this can be better. Instead of spending only two weeks on an exotic island you start thinking why not spending half a year there? And the other half on some mountains resort? You have enough experience in blogging and now you know how to do it. So, you raise it again: 5000-6000 views per blog post.

Again, in a certain amount of time, you get there. Now you make so much money from your blog that your entire lifestyle has changed. You live where you want on this planet, when you want. Travel is something natural and your money problems are gone forever. Your expectations have been met, once again.

From the moment you set up your initial expectations, of 50-60 views per article, up to the moment you get 5000-6000 views per article, several years have passed.

Disruptive Approach

Now suppose you have the same blog, you are the same person, only you set up different expectations. Instead of aiming at 50-60 views for your articles, you aim directly for 5000-6000 views. What happens now?

Well, the same thing: in a certain amount of time, your expectations will be met. You will reach that goal. The only difference is that you won’t take those baby steps.

From the moment you set up your initial expectations, of 5000-6000 views per article, up to the moment you get 5000-6000 views per article, a certain time have passed.


But, (yes, there is a “but” here), in my direct experience, this period of time is less than the years in the baby step approach.

And I’m supporting my affirmation with this very blog. When I started it, a year ago, I aimed for 100k visits each month. I’m there now. That was my expectation. I didn’t even care when I had fewer than that. I never acknowledged the gradual increase, month by month. I watched the numbers, of course, but I didn’t acknowledged the gradual, small increase, as a success. Instead, I was focused on the bigger numbers. And I was also focused on writing the best content I can, sharing my knowledge and promoting it. I only did 2 milestones: one at the first 6 months of blogging and the other at the first year of blogging.

So, what’s the difference? Why so many people are setting for those baby steps? Why don’t they start thinking and acting “big” from the first time? Here’s what I think about this.

Fear of Failure

People are afraid of taking big steps because they are afraid of making big failures. Somehow, a smaller failure sounds like something more bearable. I’m puzzled by that, to be honest. A failure is a failure. There is no quality of it. You either succeed, you either don’t. A smaller failure is just a social construct. You’re accepted if you fail under a certain threshold. If you go beyond that, you’re not accepted anymore. Regardless of the fact you failed both times.

Fear of making mistakes was definitely something that kept me away for achieving some of my earlier goals. I was so convinced that if I will fail “small” nothing will really happen to me. Well, I did failed small a couple of times. And guess what: nothing was really happened to me. :-)

Living In Your Comfort Zone

We’re designed to act and evolve in a circle of safety. We call this the comfort zone. Setting up great expectations forces you to leave this comfort zone and act on moving sands. Leaving the comfort zone is difficult. It’s costly. It’s demanding. So, why leave it if you can act from the inside and take only baby steps?

Acting too much inside your comfort zone will make you weak. Setting up expectations too close to your comfort zone will never create breakthroughs. You will reach those expectations and you will be successful, no doubt about it. But in my personal experience, a linear evolution will eventually lead to stagnation. Big achievements require big leaps not baby steps.

Overprotecting Your Self-Esteem

We cannot function properly without self-esteem. We need this as a fuel for our own identity. If we cannot properly identify ourselves with inner models we value, then our acts will start to be confusing. Self-esteem is something we tend to protect with great vigor. It’s deep down at the core of our values. The moment we lose our self-esteem we are literally at lose, embracing any possible and available behavior.

Any disruptive attempt will shake this self-esteem. Both ways. A huge expectation will boost your self-esteem. And a huge failure will bring it down. So, in order to keep our self-esteem within reasonable figures, we avoid big expectations. We put a layer of safety around this core value and try to protect it. Only we can’t really protect self-esteem by avoiding big expectations. It’s like trying to build up muscle by reading fitness books.

Ignoring Self-Discipline

Setting smaller expectations is usually a sign of a short attention span. We cannot focus on long term tasks, so we chose something smaller. After each small victory we set up another small task, and so on. Baby steps are the result of a baby discipline. While there is nothing wrong with being a child, if you really want to achieve your goals, you should aim for something bigger than the living room coach. It’s a perfect goal for a one year old who’s starting to walk, but it’s ridiculous for a grown up who wants to travel the world.

Self-discipline is the ability to do what you have to do, period. Liking it or not is not a question of self-discipline, it’s a question of liking it or not. Doing what you have to do is so simple, yet people tend to mix it every time with this hedonistic approach: oh, well, I might do this, but I don’t like it. Get over it. You’ve set up your own goal, you’ve schedule the tasks, now do it.

The Art Of Setting Great Expectations

Be fearless, get out of your comfort zone, value yourself no matter what and don’t quit.

Yes, as simple as that.

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25 Responses to The Art Of Setting Great Expectations

  • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with small goals per se, but I personally like to have both. I’m not a huge goal planner, but I set sail for a direction and start working towards it. When you do what you love, you’ll love the process and be able to release any expectations you have, even of a big goal.

    Most people also have trouble with big goals because it can lead to procrastination because of (like you said) fear and other nastiness. I completely agree that we have to jump out of our comfort zones and start doing stuff. The way I do it is I make a big goal, envision it and think about what I have to do to get there. If that means going on stage talking to a crowd of one thousand people (which would make me shit my pants), then that is what I have to do if I want to reach my goal.

    The alternative is seeing myself on my deathbed knowing that I could’ve been more. That makes my decision easier, but by no means makes it easy, because I’m not flawless. Great post!

    • Wow, great ending to your comment and I mean it! Looking at your self on your deathbed knowing you could have been more will surely overcome any other “minor” frustration. Great motivator ;-)

  • Hey Dragos,

    I think great expectation create great results. But effectively setting them is a challenge. I particularly like your advice about taking things one step at a time. I know a lot of people lack the patience to do this, because they want fast results, greatness at the push of a button. I personally have this problem often. Learning to take thinks in a natural rhythm can be very important.

    Eduard
    .-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Personal development ideas I can do without =-.

    • Greatness at the push of a button, I like how you put it! It’s like that overnight success which usually takes fifteen years ;-)

  • I think setting small goals isn’t inherently bad, but I do see your point about it slowing growth. It fits nicely into what Tim Ferris said in The 4 Hour Work Week, there is actually more competition for small goals than for large goals, so why not shoot for the large goals?

    -Josh
    .-= jforest´s last blog ..JForestPhotos is live, and first snow of the season! =-.

    • Didn’t remember that one from Tim Ferris book, but it surely gives a lot of insight here :-) Yeap, go where you can really make a difference, go big!

  • I like how you put “expectations” instead of goals. I get that.

    Setting unachievable goals is simply putting yourself in a hamster wheel going nowhere. Setting expectations is bending time and space to bring you to your desired expected situation.

    Few people actuall understand that. CONGRATULATIONS !!!

    • Yes, there’s a subtle difference between expectations and goals. Goals are more measurable while expectations are, well… just expectations. Positioning yourself towards a certain context and becoming congruent with it. How you do that, well, that’s a matter of goal achievement ;-)

  • Another great article. Engineers would say that this process is analogous to adjusting the feedback loop of a servo motor: too tight, and you get a tense vibration as the mechanics try to adjust constantly. Too loose and your motor oscillates constantly. Here, the goals, are set and adjusted by the same machine to optimize the output of the machine, and its own satisfaction!

    Know thyself.
    .-= Chris Kemp´s last blog ..Home =-.

    • Good comparison. Adjusting your engine sounds pretty close to balancing your expectations in terms of how much you use your energy and when you’re prepared to “stop” the engine for a break and just look around, enjoy the scenery :-)

  • Dragos,

    Well written. I like to think of it much like a how you would go about eating an elephant.

    Attempting an elephant all in one go is just going to make you sick, however if your break it down into manageable chunks then the whole project becomes much more manageable.
    .-= Jonny | thelifething.com´s last blog ..Memories Of A Life Designers First Time =-.

  • Hi Dragos
    “…………., period.”
    To learn from your article one has to fill in the gap.
    Off to a great start.
    Thanks for your article.

    btw. I’ve aquired a new habit! :D

  • Hi Dragos,

    I find this “great expectations setting” strategy very good, but I don’t think it can work all the time, and sometimes the small steps approach is better.

    Your blog example: I can set my expectations for 5000 visits/day, but I will fail, because I don’t have the discipline to post regularly enough. So I have to get the discipline first. But then, I don’t have enough time or energy to create valuable content, so I must work on my time management skills and health. More smaller steps. Trying to get the big thing, while developing discipline, time management and energy levels all at the same time is going to be a failure.

    But I do agree that once you have the “infrastructure” in place, that is, clear head, time and energy abundance, and enough money flowing so you don’t have to worry, it’s faster to go for the big things. I think I’m in the “infrastructure building” stage right now :) . When I’m done, I’ll remember to this post. In fact, I’ll try to think big on the infrastructure pieces as well, and see if I can speed up the process ;)

    Cheers!
    .-= Gec´s last blog ..The Next of Kin =-.

  • “Only we can’t really protect self-esteem by avoiding big expectations. It’s like trying to build up muscle by reading fitness books.”

    Really good advice! I think a wise man once said, “No pain. No gain.”

    Yes, it hurts to make mistakes and it hurts to fail at something we set out to do… but there is no other way we can push ourselves forward.
    .-= Steven Handel´s last blog ..Create A Progressive Timeline To Better Envision Your Goals =-.

  • Great read Dragos. I am definitely one for going for the big goals in life, however, have only recently learned to set my expectations much higher because of my previous smaller expectations being met. had I not had the smaller expectations met in the past I might not have had the confidence to then set higher expectations. So what you are saying is excellent stuff, go for it and go for it big, but it’s great to have a few small successes to back up your great expectations.
    .-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..7 Ways to Make Your Life More Meaningful =-.

  • Great article Dragos, I agree with the value of setting big expectations AND also know it is a learned ability like what Steven just point out. If you can’t find the discipline and confidence to do it, you WILL set yourself for failure without the ability to drive it long enough. Small milestones are a way to see progress, recognize the benefits in it and keep motivated to push onward. Now, I think you can do that all while having that great expectation known at the outset.
    .-= Mike King´s last blog ..The Problem with Leadership =-.

  • Dragos,
    I love the idea of thinking BIG!! And setting BIG goals is the foundation stone of that. BUt yes..small little goals if accomplished on the way, do have a good effect on your overall motivation levels…right ;)
    Awesome POst!
    .-= Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..The Decision To Be You =-.

  • Hey Dragos,

    I’m a new blogger myself, and am going to really set HUGE goals for my blog and myself for the next year or so.

    No fear. No baby steps. Just big dreams and big action.

    If I’m gonna fail, I want to go down in a blaze of glory.
    .-= Brett – DareToExpress.com´s last blog ..Crowning the Inner Champion =-.

    • Goals are one thing, expectations are another, don’t confuse them. Goals are measurable and clear, while expectations are more a matter of positioning yourself towards a certain context and becoming congruent with it. Having great expectations means you are prepared to receive much more from life. How are you going to receive it, that’s the story of goals.

  • Dragos, I loved how you distinguished goals from expectations in your last comment. That made everything crystal clear for me and I totally agree with everything you’ve written. Life responds to expectations.
    .-= Lana – DreamFollowers Blog´s last blog ..Life Purpose: Do you avoid challenges? =-.

  • [...] about masters and beginners, the more I’m inclined to think that masters are just setting up high expectations. They see something, but what they really see is something which is not there. Yet. It’s just a [...]

  • [...] Dragos Roua’s – The Art of Setting Great Expectations [...]

  • [...] no idea this blog will have such an enormous impact on my life. Don’t get me wrong, I do know how to set great expectations, but even these expectations proved to be really small compared with what [...]

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