Expectations and Experience

I have just been listening to a podcast on NPR radio, about how expectations shape our experiences. This fascinating show discusses how low expectations limit people and create “realities” that are. That’s a simplified summary; really you need to listen to the show to grasp what they are saying which is…can we influence our world, change it, even change our reality, by changing our expectations?

In the podcast, a study is discussed in which the expectations of researchers actually influenced the apparent intelligence of lab rats. If the researcher believed the rat was smart, the rat performed well. If they believed the rat was stupid, the rat performed poorly. This was because their expectations led the researchers to behave in small but different ways, which affected the rats.

The podcast goes on to explore how expectations of blindness can hold people back. We believe blind people can’t ride a bicycle, for example. Yet there are many blind people who can and do ride bicycles. Blindness itself is not as much of a barrier as low expectations are.

Naturally as a family nurse & therapist, I think about expectations in human relationships. How often do we shape the reality of a relationship by having low expectations? By expecting little of our partner or other family member, we tend to behave in ways that invite the other to fulfill our expectations. This is not news to family therapists. It’s part of reciprocity, the give and take of relationships.

But it is thought provoking nonetheless. In what small ways am I creating a limited reality by having limited expectations? Do I “help” others too much sometimes, not believing enough in their capabilities? Do I set up situations where there are limited opportunities? Do I need to open up my expectations to a wider range of possibilities?

Check out the podcast here http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/ – the episode “how to Become Batman” on January 23,2015

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