I don’t know about you, but when I have a big goal, I expect to feel really good when I finally manifest it. While it’s true that we get a dopamine hit when we achieve a goal, the reality is that this good feeling usually doesn’t last very long. In fact, the good feeling isn’t always as amazing as we imagine.
Think back to a time you accomplished one of your important life goals. Did you celebrate it? Did you take it all in? Or did you just move on to the next goal, or maybe even feel a little disappointed?
Whether you’ve been working on a goal for one month or five years, your expectations might be holding you back. But don’t worry, working on your emotional expectations might help you not only manifest your goal but truly feel good once you do.
The Bigger the Gap, the Worse We Feel
When I work with clients who are struggling with a goal, I often ask them what they imagine it will feel like to achieve their goal. The answers I get usually don’t surprise me—they include words like amazing, happy, and excited. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 0 means very unhappy and 10 means very happy), people say they expect their emotions will hit a 9 or 10. Of course, these emotional expectations are totally understandable. But what if your current emotional experience is a 4? Or, what if you used to be at 8, but feeling disappointed about not reaching your goal for a long time has brought you down to 3? Unfortunately, the bigger the gap, the worse we tend to feel.
So, how do you bridge the gap once you see it?
It usually comes down to three choices:
1. Improve your mood
2. Develop more realistic emotional expectations
3. Do both
As you might expect, I suggest option three. Here’s why…
Improve Your Mood
Improving your mood now is the best way to ensure you’ll truly feel good once you achieve your goal. If you don’t, then the good feeling you hope for will just be an idea; it won’t be something that’s a practiced and embodied experience. After all, it takes time and repetition to wire something into your brain.
According to Dr. Rick Hansen, psychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, building neural connections isn’t about your life conditions or circumstances, it’s about your experience of them. In order to wire your brain for emotional health, you have to teach yourself to stop and “take in the good” for at least a few seconds whenever something good—whether it’s a feeling or experience—happens. Really take it in. Then, when your big goal manifests, your brain will know what to do: experience and enjoy.
In addition to leaning toward good feelings and really experiencing them, improving your mood involves self-compassion and having effective tools for handling any inevitable negative emotions.
Trying to force yourself to be happy or positive all of the time, on the other hand, isn’t healthy and might actually backfire. Denying or restraining natural emotions, especially negative ones, takes a lot of energy and might make you feel worse—and therefore it might widen the gap between your current emotional state and your emotional expectations.
This is a mistake that I often see people make when they are trying to manifest something by attempting to avoid all negativity. Negativity is inevitable. The goal is to learn how to deal with it effectively rather than stress yourself out by trying to avoid it.
Develop More Realistic Emotional Expectations
Developing more realistic emotional expectations means making room for a little negativity. The truth is that we usually idealize how we’ll feel when we finally manifest an important goal. While idealizing sounds innocent enough, it can set us up for frustration and disappointment.
Anytime we idealize something and metaphorically put it up on a pedestal, we are, knowingly or not, comparing it to something we don’t like and wish were different.
When we idealize a possible future, we tend to devalue our present. We are literally disappointed before we even start. When this happens, we often hope our idealized future will solve our current unhappiness. As you can imagine, this is a frustrating position to be in and it’s asking a lot of the future. The stakes are just too high.
According to Harvard psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert, we aren’t very accurate when it comes to what’s called affective forecasting. We’re surprisingly bad at predicting what will make us happy, how long these feelings will last, and how intense they will be. This explains why our achievements can sometimes seem disappointing.
The answer, of course, isn’t to stop imagining a better future, but to realize that, whatever happens, it won’t reflect our idealized vision. This realization can be especially important if you’ve been struggling with an important life goal. For example, some studies show a link between infertility treatments and postpartum depression. One psychological explanation for this link has to do with idealized expectations of motherhood that are difficult to reconcile with the day to day realities of parenting. When we idealize an outcome, we can underestimate the new challenges that lie ahead once we achieve a deeply-desired goal.
Having more realistic expectations of an outcome can prevent feelings of disappointment, frustration, and shame. I’ve certainly found this to be true in my work with women who struggled with infertility and subsequently became pregnant. The more prepared they were for the ups and downs of parenting, the better they felt about themselves as parents.
Ultimately, it’s best to have realistic expectations. Achieving your dream comes with both rewards and challenges. It won’t be all good and it won’t be all bad. It will be a combination of the two.
So How Do You Become More Realistic About Your Emotional Expectations?
First, consider people who are already living your dream. Be realistic and look at actual people and their real lives, not the social media or Hollywood version of living your dream. What is the everyday reality of the life you aspire to? What will Mondays and bad days look like? What mundane things will you still have to deal with?
After doing this, consider again how you rate your emotional expectations once you manifest your desired goal. Is it still a 9-10, or perhaps slightly lower, say in the 7-8 range?
Most likely, being more realistic about the future will also help increase your appreciation of the present. Perhaps not everything is bad and not everything needs to change. Consider your emotional rating in the present. If it was a 4-5 before, is it now a 6-7?
If you’re a 7, then on an emotional level, you’re already a match for your goal! That means that by adjusting your expectations, your goal now feels more within reach. You’ll experience less cognitive dissonance—that uncomfortable feeling when we hold two inconsistent beliefs, thoughts, values, or attitudes. Instead, you’ll feel resonant. As a result, you’ll experience less emotional resistance and struggle as you move toward your goal.
The experience will be more like: Hey, I’m already a 7 and the thing I desire is also a 7. I’m already a match for it so I can relax. Achieving my dream isn’t going to be earth-shattering; it will feel natural and be the next step for me.
Feeling like you’re already a match for your goal will help you pursue the goal in a much calmer and more solution-focused way.
If your current emotional level isn’t a match for your emotional expectations, this is where improving your mood comes in. What’s important isn’t that your emotional levels are exactly the same, but that you bridge the gap so that it’s smaller. If you are at a 5, see if you can get to 6, which might tip the scales to a 7, and so on. That’s when manifesting your goal starts to feel actually believable and you no longer feel stuck.
Give Up Great Expectations for Even Better Ones
At first glance, your goal might look a little less glamorous now. Reaching it won’t utterly transform your current emotional experience.
But if you think about it, isn’t that what you want?
An amazing goal that feels inaccessible is painful. A good goal that seems like it’s attainable, if not already in the bag, is both exciting and calming.
No, it no longer promises a bliss-filled future, but it offers a lot more than that right now. It helps you calm your emotions, appreciate the present, and be solution-focused. It also gives you a real shot at truly appreciating the manifestation when it does happen.
The process could be encapsulated in one simple sentence:
It’s not reaching your goal that changes your emotional experience, it’s changing your emotional experience that helps you reach your goal.
Perhaps even more importantly though, the greatest reward you gain by going after your goal in a healthy way is the emotional transformation that the process offers. You can become the type of person who believes that everything—I mean everything—is in perfect order. You can stop being swayed by how amazing things could be and how bad they seem to be. You can start to feel free from your expectations and actually be present to all of the things that are going well right now.
I’d love to hear from you. Can you feel the emotional shift that changing your expectations offers? If so, what does it feel like?