Expect it to be difficult—then it will be easy2 min read

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False hope syndrome is the name of the phenomenon that happens when you expect a certain activity to be easy, or you expect your goal to be achieved quickly and without much effort.

This is a trap, because it’s rarely the case. I wouldn’t call that optimism. It is actually being naive about the path ahead, and the obstacles that are likely to show up.

Suppose that you are doing a research on a topic, and you expect that the information will be easy to find and digest. If it ends up being as easy as you expected, you’ll feel nothing special; but if it is harder, you’ll feel discouraged, annoyed, and may even give up the task altogether.

On the other hand, imagine that you expected it to be difficult to find the information you wanted. If you were right (it was indeed difficult), you’ll feel nothing special, yet get the job done. If it ends up being easier than you expected, you feel joy and relief—you now suddenly have a surplus of energy. It’s a bit like the feeling you’d get if you have budget a certain amount of money for a vacation, and on your last day you realized that you have only spent 80% of it—you feel abundant.

  • Our expectations around effort control how much willpower we allocate to a task.
  • Our expectations around time control how much we will persevere on a particular goal.
  • Our expectations about pleasure control how much happiness we experience.
  • Our expectations around money determine whether we feel poor or rich.

Having high expectations is not optimism; having low expectations is not pessimism.

Managing your expectations is about managing your energy and your emotions.

Exercise

In what area of your life, this week, are your expectations hurting you?

What can you do to manage them more wisely? Think of the shift in perspective you might need to adopt.

Going Deeper

To go deeper into this concept, review the section on Contingency Plan in chapter 30 of Mindful Self-Discipline. If you are a member of the MSD app, try the SACA Method guided meditation to learn how to change the stories you are telling yourself.

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