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Replacing "Expectation" with "Intention"

In today's world of constant psychological exploration, how we work together through mindfulness has evolved from personal development and taken its respective place in the professional world. Through the lockdowns of the pandemic and the move to remote work and learning, we've all become more aware of our levels of anxiety, tolerance, and how we manage conflict and stress.

Something I've come to realize is the distinct difference between setting expectations and setting intentions. In the past we've been taught to set expectations in our careers. The old "performance reviews" of the past were always centered around expectations of ourselves, our leadership, our direct supervisors, and our staff. And we were judged on the performance of those expectations: did we meet them or exceed them? Meeting them was never good enough, we were all expected to exceed expectations or we could kiss that raise or promotion goodbye.

Webster's Dictionary defines expectation this way:


n. The act or state of expecting or looking forward to an event as about to happen; wishing with confidence of fulfillment. Synonyms: outlook, prospect, anticipation

Now let's look at the definition of intention:


n. A clearly formulated or planned intention; the state of mind with which an act is done. Synonyms: purpose, goal, plan, desire.

Here is the thing about expectation: only the person holding the expectation is responsible for the expectation itself. If I have a certain expectation of another person, but don't try to understand the other person's intention, then I am doomed to be disappointed.

If I'm your boss or client and I have certain expectations of your deliverables, our combined success or failure depends on whether or not your intentions and my expectations are aligned.

Instead of my list list of expectations and your list of intentions, what if we first each set our own individual intentions?

  • What is my purpose?

  • What do I want to achieve?

  • What do I want to learn?

  • What is the skill I want to master?

  • What is the challenge I want to overcome?

Then, share our intentions and talk through them to gain a stronger understanding of how we each define success. Being mindful about each other's intentions creates a core strength in our relationship and how we work together. How do achieving these intentions help us grow and succeed? How do they reduce our anxiety and stress? How do they bring us closer together as a team?

Once you accept and embrace each other's intentions, and commit to supporting each other to achieve them, there's really no need to set expectations. Sometimes intentions are derailed for reasons out of our control. Sometimes intentions are reengineered or they shift because of unforeseen circumstances, so we reconnect, regroup, and adjust. The trick is to do this together, not in silos. That's what teamwork is - you shift and adjust, support and align together as one.

It's a conversation worth having with your team. Chances are, most of your coworkers are probably already doing this in their personal relationships. In psychotherapy and counseling, and in countless books, articles, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok videos addressing anxiety, "setting intentions" is an important part of the healing process and has become a regular practice in uncovering our inner selves - particularly with people struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. It helps our brains focus, identify and simplify our basic emotional needs, and take responsibility and ownership for connecting to them versus deflecting and expecting others to feel or respond the same way.

Putting the burden of our expectations onto others is unfair, unreasonable and unrealistic. Every person on earth has had their own unique life experience. We've all led different lives, experienced different childhoods, live different lifestyles in different cultures and environments, so the life perspectives that shape our expectations are different. So how can we possibly expect everyone to meet our personal expectations? When we do that, we set ourselves of for disappointment, and we judge and punish the people who have disappointed us, and sabotage any hope of happiness and satisfaction.

When we start to replace "expectation" with "intention" we are in control of the outcome, we stop expecting the unreasonable, the world around us becomes a more peaceful place.

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