Expectations and Standards

We often use the terms expectation and standard interchangeably. Indeed they can be synonymous, but I want to suggest a way of making a very helpful distinction which can support our ability to select the best possible map for a given situation. To that end I suggest we use the terms in the following manner.

Expectation refers to the map we use to anticipate what is most likely to actually happen (perception).

Standard refers to the map we use to guide how we actually want our own behavior to be (choice).

Please notice that neither of these maps refers to how I want the other to behave, only to what I actually have reason to expect the other will do.

We want our expectations to be as close as possible to exactly what is actually going to happen. We, of course, can't always know what is going to happen, so we are sometimes surprised or disappointed. The closer our expectations are to reality, the more we can accurately anticipate what our experience will be. We want our expectations to be spot on. If things don't go the way we expect, we want to alter our expectations.

Standards on the other hand are the way we hope we will behave and, thus, are just a bit better than what we have actually been able to do. Standards are the adjustable supports that hold the bar in the high jump. They can be set at different heights depending upon the ability of the high jumper. The height is set just slightly higher than the last jump the athlete was able to make. Ideally, we want to have our standards be just a bit beyond what we are usually able to do. If they are too low, we sell ourselves short. If they are too high, we set ourselves up for continual failure.

Joe was expecting that Jane would be home by 5:15. He was expecting that when he gave her some affection that morning it would be returned. He was expecting that when he called her she would answer. None of these expectations were met.

Joe could see this as evidence he is not making accurate maps. As he builds his expectations he is failing to take into account that Jane may be distracted by concerns about work and thus rushed in the morning when he wants to play with her. He is not adequately taking into account the demands which may keep her late at work, or may slow her progress home, or may have sent her into a store to get something for dinner while leaving her phone in the car.

Joe may forget that he cannot appropriately set standards for Jane and may try to tell her when she should be home, how she should dress, and with whom she should and should not talk. Or he may remember that standards are about his own behavior and focus on how he wants to act when he is disappointed and afraid.

Still, he is feeling upset. He is afraid and angry. These feelings seem to him to be coming from Jane and her choices. Indeed, it was her choices which created the events which evoked these feelings in Joe and allowed these qualities to arise for him in his relationship with her. But the feelings are actually coming from the tension within Joe which he is projecting onto Jane. This strategy of projection is one we all use to protect ourselves from unwanted feelings. The problem with this strategy is that it disowns the feelings and thus inhibits us from addressing them at the source. We will return to this problem in Chapter Five.

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