Returning to Disneyland: Managing Expectations

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This may be surprising to hear, but research has shown that it’s difficult for us to actually predict how we will feel and respond to various situations. We tend to overestimate our levels of happiness or disappointment. An expectation is a strong belief that a situation will happen a certain way. Having expectations can cause us to look forward, anticipate, or dread a certain experience. Research also shows people do not fully appreciate the moment because they are comparing it to what they believe it should feel like. Or worse, to what we don’t have and instead, highly desire. When we’ve developed a history with an experience, we are skewed regarding the beliefs around the experience. We start to gain unrealistic “certainly,” about that thing.

Expectations can be reasonable, but often they are unrealistic. They are assumptions that feed into our belief systems. They may be crafted from knowledge gained by past history. They may even at times, be correct. Still, expectations are often based on our exaggerated predictions of experiences, as opposed to mindfully experiencing the moment for what it truly is.

So what does this have to do with Disney? As a previous Annual Passholder, I had certain expectations about my Disney parks experience. I grew used to short wait times, discounts, and the ability to have a regulated structured Disney park experience. After a pandemic shut the park down for over a year, and I had gone 532 days without a visit, I knew the outlook I had grown accustomed to, would be different. I had to manage my expectations about my return to the park.

Managing expectations can be one of the most difficult skill-sets to harness. Once obtained, however, it can help create a fulfilling life. Below are three ways to manage expectations:

  1. Build awareness of your expectations: Take a moment to pause and look at how your expectations compare to reality. See how your expectations affect your mood, your ability to communicate your needs, and your ability to connect with those around you. When we don’t question our expectations, we can lose out on experiencing the moment. We can also lose out on developing safe secure attachments with those we care about. Therefore, it’s critical that we gathering information from ourselves regarding our expectations. The more we build awareness, the easier it will be to learn to manage our expectations.
    • Ask yourself:
      • “What do I expect to happen?”
      • “Is this expectation grounded in realistic views?”
      • “Where did I develop this belief that I would expect this outcome?”
      • “Would I be willing to share this expectation with others?”
  2. Separate your self-worth from outcomes: It can be really damaging to your sense of self when you believe your happiness is obtainable only after a target or goal is achieved. When we start to consider happiness as a benchmark earned or given only after the completion of an achievement, we start to slowly lose an understanding of our intrinsic value. When we define our self-worth through achievements or usefulness, we undermine our happiness and bypass feelings of peace. The emotional-mental harm can feel like a punch in the gut when we’ve finally reached our goal, and yet feel numb to the achievement. Separating ourselves from the outcomes of an experience will allow us to, not only be fully present but find that we are always worthy of joy.
  3. Give yourself the gift of grace: Grace is an emotional, mental, and spiritual gift we must give ourselves when expectations aren’t met. Though expectations can lead us to disappointment and grief, it’s still human nature to expect things. Reminding ourselves that we still have honor and value, even after we’ve taken the sting of an unmet expectation, will create healing. Remind yourself that expectations can be changed. Remind yourself that expectations are part of human existence. And lastly, remind yourself that this moment does not define you, because you have intrinsic value.

Listen to Episode 12 of Happiest Pod on Earth, where Stefanie and I discuss my experience of returning to the Disney parks during the pandemic. I share the fun, the challenges, and the hype. Most importantly, I share how I gave myself grace, as I managed my expectations of the experience.