Margaret Marcuson: Lower Your Expectations

My husband, Karl, says, “If you want to be happier, just lower your expectations.” Along the same lines, I recently discovered in a file a list of rules from family therapist and genogram expert Monica McGoldrick for relating to your family of origin. Here’s one that struck me: “#7 Lower your expectations for other people changing to 0, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.” 

Wow. That’s a hard one for those of us in the people-change business. However, in the years since I stashed that list away, I’ve come to see the benefit of letting go of expectations of others. And I’ve gotten a little better at lowering my own.

Here’s the deal: when we have high expectations for other people to change, it works against any change happening. That’s the paradox. The more we want them to change, the less likely change is. We have to change in order for other people to change. Cultivating a curious, neutral presence with others can give them the space to figure things out for themselves.

When you want others to change, you are often chasing after them trying to get them to hear the message, and to take advantage of your wisdom and your good advice. Mostly, they don’t want to hear it.  You may have noticed that already. When my kids were teenagers, I tried to notice when their eyes glazed over, and Stop Talking. It helped. BTW, even if people do want to hear it or even ask for your advice, they still won’t change just because of your good suggestion.

How to use your time and energy instead? Focus on yourself and what you think, believe, and want--for you. Do one thing toward your own goals, or simply do something you love. Isn’t that selfish? Not necessarily. When you are clear about your own purpose and values, you are in a position to be present with others in a more fully grounded way. You are clearer about the boundary between you and others. You are more able to allow them to make their own choices. That’s good for everyone.


Get Margaret’s Sustain Your Ministry checklist here.