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It's All About Expectations

So much of life is about expectations. Expect too much?  A sure road to disappointment.   Expect too little?  You achieve too little.  The trick is to get it just right.

There is some physiological evidence that expectations that are met or exceeded cause our brains to release dopamine.  According to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, when that happens, we feel good.  Expectations that are not met have the opposite effect. Just missing a green light can result in a slight drop in dopamine.

Alina Tugend wrote about Rock’s work in in The New York Times and added her own thoughts about managing expectations.  Tugend advises us to have low expectations of what we can’t control and realistic expectations of things over which we have some control.  Her conclusion: “Always expect the unexpected.”

Easier said then done.


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You can say that again. And again. Anxiety is about expectations too.

Jenny Inker

Hi Judy, I am a Gerontology master's degree student and the administrator of a large senior living community where I work with older adults (mid-70's to 106 years old). I have just started reading your blog and am enjoying it. Your recent comments about expectations made me think of something I read this month about control beliefs and their importance to helping people age successfully. The theory goes that promoting a sense of control over our destinies is a protective factor as we age, helping us to feel greater psychological, cognitive and emotional well-being, as well as better reported health and fewer physical symptoms. It fits in nicely with your points about expectations - if we have realistic but positive expectations for ourselves as we age (i.e. that we can learn new things, do things well, remember things, enjoy life despite the physical changes of aging) we will be happier and more well, with better physical health and better cognitive functioning. As you point out, that can be easier said than done, especially in a world where aging is typically portrayed so negatively in the popular media, as something to avoid or correct. Really aging is just another developmental phase in our lives and an exciting one at that!

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