The Expectation Gap



The other week, I had an ‘Expectation Gap’ day.  “A what?” I hear you say. An ‘Expectation Gap’ day… you know, where you anticipate one thing is going to happen, and, well, it simply doesn’t.  And then your dopamine levels fall (which you don’t recognise because you’re too busy noticing that your expectations haven’t been met) and the day just rolls along a little less AMAZING than it could have.  Let me explain.  

 We were fast approaching school holidays (that, of itself, should set the scene for my mental state… panic? Actually no. I’m well practised at it now, and have it all down to a fine art.) Anyway, my daughter had decided she wanted to spend the day with her friend at vacation care. Awesome! (I didn’t even have to cajole her into going – score one for parent.) All I had to do was enrol her into Vacation Care.  And that was Expectation Gap number one…. assuming that this was going to be a 2 minute job, as opposed to an hour long, process.   

 Really, I’m not that incompetent (although at this point, many of your who have successfully completed this form, actually think I am).  You see, it wasn’t the fact that the form is several pages long requiring significant information about stuff that seems largely irrelevant, that derailed me (although I found the form ironic, as the people likely to be completing it are, by definition, time poor (thus requiring said vacation care) and certainly don’t have time to be providing several pages of useless information.  There’s a reason why sending my kids to soccer camp, which simply requires a large amount of money to be paid and can be organised in the space of a minute, has some (ok, a LOT of) appeal).  Nope, the form was long but manageable (of course – it’s just vacation care).   It was the part that required entry of my daughter’s CRN.  Yep, you heard correct, that dreaded number that now defines our precious little souls in the world of government subsidy.  The last time I needed to provide her CRN was, well, I can’t remember and I certainly don’t remember where I stored it (I’m sure its somewhere safe, cybersecurity world).   

 No worries, I thought.  I’ll go into (wait for it…) MyGov to find the elusive CRN. Yes, you heard correctly – I voluntarily entered the MyGov website and navigated several pages in the hope of finding that one piece of elusive information.  And it did prove elusive. MyGov failed me.  I decided Vacation Care didn’t need her CRN. 

 With my (almost) completed form, I go to scan it to my computer.  The scanner doesn’t connect (again).  OK, deep breath.  I can try again later, perhaps it was a momentary internet outage. 

 No problems, I’ll quickly shred the document that’s been sitting on my desk for a couple of days while I wait.  Or not.  The shredder doesn’t work.  I empty the tray, brush out the paper, turn it off and on (of course – doesn’t that fix everything?).  Still doesn’t work.  And neither does my scanner (which I’ve retried in the meantime). 

 No problems.  I’ll go downstairs and set up the new authentication process for logging into my Xero account (because, by now, I’m so in love with technology that I might as well keep going).  Xero crashes my entire internet browser.   

 No problems.  I’ll access it through another browser (ok, so I didn’t think of this myself.  I wish I did.  I asked my IT support).  Success, I can at least enter my Xero account without it crashing my browser.  But it’s not a 2 minute exercise (of course).  I need to download the app (what app? They’ve hidden that piece of information behind a few more clicks… please, no more hidden information!) I find the app, and finish the authentication step.  Yay, success.  Finally.   

 But the Vacation Care form still sits on my desk, in good old fashion paper form with no way of entering the ‘cloud’….. No problems, I’ll drop it in at school the next morning… quicker than waiting for my scanner to miraculously come back to life. 

 Ahh, and that was my Expectation Gap day (well, morning I suppose.  It certainly didn’t transgress to the entire ‘day’, but saying ‘Expectation Gap’ morning has much less ring to it.) 

 What were my lessons?   

 One.  Walk away from the computer.  Walk awaaaaay from the computer.  Put the phone down.  Get far, far away.  Go outside.  Take several, large deep breaths (preferably away from polluted city streets).  And repeat to oneself:  “Technology is part of life.  Technology causes suffering.  Be kind to yourself.”  

 Two.  Set lower expectations.  About everything.  Particularly technology and how long any single task will take.  We are incredibly dependant on technology and the stress created when it fails us sends us into unproductive panic, frustration and possibly anger.  We are conditioned to expect everything to be at our fingertips and to work seamlessly.  But the reality is that technology and equipment ‘failure’ is simply part of the offering itself.  When we accept that, and create a lower baseline expectation of its capacity, we can lessen or even avoid the dopamine crash that comes when our expectations aren’t met.  Without the crash, we are on an emotionally even-keel, primed to come up with awesome solutions instead of spiralling into negativity and shutting off our prefrontal cortex.  Even better, when everything goes swimmingly well and better than expected, our dopamine levels get a nice little spike, causing us to have warm, fuzzy feelings of joy.   

 To be able to manage our expectations, we first need to identify them (dah).  It’s amazing how many unstated expectations we have in our everyday life that we’re not aware of (For example, I expect my kids to listen and respond to my every command… ok, that one’s pretty identifiable and absolutely needs to be reduced…).  So if we can switch on our ‘expectation investigator’, we can modify these where we need to, leaving us more open to high-level and creative thinking for the tasks that really matter. 

 So, go forth and investigate, reset the expectation and live happily ever after…  

 Peace and Kindness 


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