How Expectations Threaten Your Reality

Skylar Wooden

November 12, 2017

Mini Series Part 1 of 7

In the days leading up to my flight, I dreamt of what my life would be like in France. Not just what my life would be like, but what I would be like. Somehow, I had conjured up this person who had only my best qualities and none of my worst.

I very much believed that once the plane touched down, I would be a better version of myself. You know, because your geographical location changes your whole sense of being.


Well, yes and no. Mostly no.

See also: Why I Dropped Everything to Teach Abroad


I expected to spend my days writing, exercising, traveling, and self-reflecting. My mindfulness practices would make my anxiety nearly nonexistent. My day would start with a hot cup of tea, of course. I would then move to thought-provoking work, take a long walk, and end the day with a glass of wine.

The list of expectations could go on for pages: my eating habits would improve, I would make an effort to read more, and I would become more connected with myself. Oh, and I would take more photos.

I have taken five photos so far, so you can see where this is going.


My reality isn’t miles away from my expectations, but a few feet.


  • Zero writer’s block
  • Daily exercise
  • Frequent travel
  • Hot tea and wine
  • Zero anxiety
  • Seriously improved eating habits
  • More reading
  • Self-reflection
  • More photos


  • All the writer’s block
  • Some exercise
  • Semi-frequent travel
  • So much hot tea and a little wine
  • Less frequent, but still present, anxiety
  • Sort of improved eating habits
  • Have yet to order a new book
  • Disorganized self-reflection
  • Maybe 5 photos in an entire month

What I Don’t Account For

I forget to factor in the realities of life, and sleep, and feelings.

I don’t account for any obstacles like, lack of heat, walking to a laundromat, or learning to cook pasta in a kettle. I can’t fathom that writer’s block would be an issue (which is hilarious since I have it all the time at home in the US). Ordinary obstacles never cross my mind because this new, better version of my life won’t be ordinary.

My days in France have been spectacular, but in such a different way than I expected.

Why Reality is Important

Understanding and preparing for the reality of any given situation is vital. Expecting miracles threatens your reality because you risk feeling disappointed when your expectations and reality don’t match. Reality is not pessimism; it’s a way to frame your experience, giving you the ability to incorporate your fantasy.

What I’ve Learned

If I want my fantasy situation to [loosely] mirror reality, it requires a conscious effort. In my fantasy world, I believe that when the plane lands, I morph into everything I’ve ever wanted to be. In my mind, my location is always the only thing holding me back from greatness.

Nothing will change unless I change it because, ultimately, I am the same person in France as I am in the US. Yes, people change constantly. I’ve changed plenty in the last month; but, not in the very specific ways I imagined.

How do I integrate my fantasy life into my reality?

I’ve committed to starting my days with intention. I cannot expect myself to change based on location alone. If I want to change, I can, but only if I put in the work. The first step is understanding what I want and how to get there.

How I’m Taking Action

The tool I’ve found most effective is The Happiness Planner. Incorporating the planner into my mindfulness practice has helped me to understand myself better and see, specifically, how I want my life to change. More than opportunities for change, the planner helps me understand and appreciate what I love about my life.

Another tool I’ve found useful is basic list writing. I write my goals and create action plans to reach them. For example, I originally expected daily exercise. I didn’t account for my days off when I’m not traveling, and especially when it’s dreary outside. My list now includes “daily exercise” and my action plan is to require myself to walk at least one hour per day, regardless of my work schedule or the weather.

Here is an example of my most recent list:

What I can improve:

  • Writer’s block
  • Daily exercise
  • Frequent travel
  • Anxiety
  • Improved eating habits
  • Reading more
  • Self-reflection
  • More photos


  • Read a creative passage before writing
  • Walk at least one hour per day
  • Book one trip per month, at minimum
  • Start with a cup of tea and mindfulness
  • Make a grocery list before going
  • Choose one book before next week
  • Write in The Happiness Planner every day
  • Take at least five photos per trip

Completing the list isn’t always the goal. Writing the items down is more to think through what I should do and remind myself to incorporate it in my daily life. This list also serves as a reference for me to see how much I’ve improved in the weeks to come.

I hope you find these tools helpful. If you are reconciling your expectations versus your reality, I’m confident this will help you get there.

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