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Expectation Versus the Open Mind

24 February 2021

We’ve all experienced it – the let-down, when we feel when our expectations aren’t met. When a highly-recommended film, or book, or restaurant disappoints us.

But what are our – possibly unrealistic – expectations actually doing for us? Are they perhaps closing us off to new experiences we might enjoy if we went into them without high expectations, just to find out what they actually are, what they might have to offer us? Are we perhaps suffering, some of the time, from the “I like what I know” syndrome?

That’s a comfort thing, and I’m all for comfort – up to a point. But I wonder where that point tips over into complacency and stagnation – I don’t think any of us likes the idea of stagnating in place.

If our idea of a good restaurant, deep down, is where can we get an excellent burger, and nothing beyond that, we won’t want to try fine dining, not American, French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, etc. Perhaps we line up regularly at Port of Call. But what if we do open ourselves up to the new? Jettison our expectations, and discover what unfamiliar food actually tastes like?

Maybe we won’t like it. Maybe we’ll love it. But we won’t know for certain if we don’t allow ourselves to experience it, freed of our regular habits and false expectations.

If we read a glowing review of a play, a film, a restaurant, a wine, maybe we shouldn’t take that to have universal application. Our tastes may be very different from the reviewer’s, and assuming the reviewer is “right” can lead us into high expectations which may let us in for disappointment. Taste is only taste, it’s neither “right” nor “wrong,” it just is, and we are each entitled to cater to our own.

On the other hand, some of my greatest pleasures have come from visiting a restaurant, hearing a band, reading a book which was entirely unheralded. When I had no expectations at all, having nothing to base them on, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Happy surprises bring their own particular brand of pleasure.

Not that we should have anything against the tried and true, either. I know people who re-read favorite books regularly, and I myself have been known to revisit a film or two I’ve loved. There are certainly favorite restaurants and vacation destinations I frequent.

Still, as someone who has had many transformative experiences when I wasn’t looking for them, I do think we do well to allow ourselves to be open – to let, as the legal maxim has it, res ipsa loquitur – the thing speak for itself.

Perhaps it’s a question of balance – like the old song goes, “make new friends, but keep the old.” I think that balance – the equilibrium between expectation and the comfort we feel when our expectations are met, and keeping our minds open to the new – is something each of us may have to work out for ourselves.

How do you achieve that balance? Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your strategies and stories.

Until next Wednesday –



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