Expectations can cause pain, but they can also be useful. An expectation should be a hypothesis. Where we go wrong is when we mix our expectations with our hopes or fears.
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What would happen if you removed your expectations? In today's episode, we're going to talk about why your expectations can be used as a tool and how it can go wrong. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Expectations are the source of suffering. This is according to the Buddhist tradition. And whether you believe that that's true, whether you follow a Buddhist practice or not is not really the point. Instead, it is to look at this idea of expectation to inspect the concept of expectation and see what we can pull from it. As it turns out, I don't modify what I believe about expectation for this show. That is, an expectation is a useful tool that can be abused and it can be kind of a painful tool, a painful tool if it's abused. So what do I mean by a tool? When we have expectations, when we set expectations, when we develop some kind of future thinking or future kind of predicting outcome, we can both set what we believe could happen. We can also kind of set an expectation for what will happen and then we can test it. If this sounds familiar, then hopefully it is familiar, actually. Hopefully you recognize it as a hypothesis. An expectation in many ways is simply a hypothesis. What do we think will happen? And this can go wrong in a lot of ways. But first I want to talk about the connection of expectation to pain. Let's imagine that you're walking along the road, just on the sidewalk on a nice day, and you look down and you find a $10 bill. This $10 bill gives you a lot of happiness in that moment, possibly. Depending on how much you value $10, for most people, it's not a bad event to occur to find $10 on the ground. And part of this is because you did not expect it. Something good happened when you didn't expect it to happen. Now, interestingly, when you lose that $10 bill, let's say that right at the moment that you picked it up, somebody walked up to you and said that $10 is actually theirs and they can somehow prove it to you. Maybe they wrote their initials on it. And in that moment, you feel a sense of loss. Once again, your expectations have been subverted. You expected to keep this $10. Maybe you decided what you were going to do with it already. Or for whatever reason, you had already developed some kind of expectation that that $10 was yours. Now, interestingly enough, research has even shown through a mechanism that has been labeled loss aversion. This is something that's observable in human behavior. That you're more likely to be sadder about losing the $10, then you were happy about gaining the $10. In other words, your expectations when you get a good thing that you didn't expect, it is outweighed by when you lose a bad thing unexpectedly. So let's imagine that we have perfectly average expectations and that they are met half of the time and they are not met half of the time. We have some expectation, kind of normalcy, where what we expect to happen happens half the time and half the time it doesn't. This is going to leave us in more pain because of this asymmetry, because of our loss aversion. So when we have expectations, simply adopting even normal expectations can leave us in a sense or having a sense of pain, having a negative experience. We're going to take a quick sponsor break. We're going to come back and talk about how we can change the way we think about our expectations into more of a tool rather than an emotional experience. Today's episode is sponsored by Retool. After working with thousands of startups, Retool noticed that technical founders spend a ton of time building internal tools, which means they spend less time on their core product, the thing they care about, the thing they started all of this for in the first place. So Retool built Retool for startups, a program that gives early stage founders free access to a lot of the software that you need for great internal tooling. The goal is to make it 10 times faster to build the admin panels, the crud apps and the dashboards that most early stage teams already need. They bundle together a year of free access to use Retool with over $160,000 in discounts. That will save you money while building with the software that is commonly connected to internal tools like AWS, MongoDB, Brex and Segment. You can use your free Retool credits to build, for example, tools that join product and building data into a single customer view, maybe something that converts manual workflows and a fully featured apps for your team, tools that help non-technical teammates read and write to your database and so much more. Retool will give you a head start with pre-built UI components, integrations and other advanced features that make building from scratch much faster. To learn more, check out Retool site, apply, join webinars and much more at retool.com slash startups. That's R-E-T-O-O-L..com slash startups. Thanks again to Retool for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. One of the hardest things about expectation is that we often get it mixed up with hope or with fear. In fact, expectation is very much like belief in this particular way. Beliefs get mixed up with hopes, beliefs get mixed up with fears. The things that we believe about the world around us often are confirmations of things that we already believed before we experience some kind of new input. And our expectations tend to be in a similar form, something that is based on our previous experience, our previous idea, something that we want. And so when we expect something that we want, rather than moderating our expectations by what we believe we should expect, and we can talk about should a little bit more in a second, we focus only on what we want and we expect what we want to occur, then we're setting ourselves up for a long and difficult road of broken expectation. Now what should we expect? Well, this is a harder question to answer, but it might make sense to start with the way that you develop a hypothesis. How do you develop a hypothesis in a given experiment? There are a few kind of important steps. One is to kind of separate yourself away from those results. And in experiment, you theoretically should care very little about which way the particular result goes. It's important that you don't influence that particular experiment, right? You don't influence the outcomes, otherwise it's not really a true experiment. And so if you manipulate the experiment, then you're actually kind of manipulating what the experiment supposedly says about reality or about the thing that you're testing. In the same way, when we try to hope for something, when we try to set an expectation for something, sometimes we don't have the agency to manipulate the reality in the same way that we might be able to manipulate the reported results in a given experiment. And so we set up our expectations in the same way that we should set up a hypothesis. Try to take in the most information, the prior information that we have, some kind of picture of the world, picture of reality, evidence, data, and set our expectations accordingly. It doesn't make sense, for example, to believe that your team is going to suddenly perform twice as good as they did in the last iteration. If you expect your team to perform twice as good, it's likely that your expectation is going to be let down. Now I want to make sure that you're hearing me correctly. I'm not saying to not have ambitious goals. Goals and expectations are different things. We often use this word expectation when what we really mean is a goal, a stretch, something that's difficult. We know it's difficult. We affirm that reality. We affirm the possibility of failure. We can reach for something that seems to be out of reach and still expect something more realistic to occur. I don't expect us to double our productivity, but I'm going to set a goal to any increase our productivity significantly. Maybe that's a way that you could approach that if you're a manager of a team like this. If you start saying, I expect it. Now the entire conversation has changed because not meeting expectations, that is a totally different prospect than simply not meeting a goal. These words matter the way that we understand how we develop our expectation matters and realistically how you relate to your expectations is going to determine a lot of your personal happiness, your sense of worth in your work, so much hinges on this. I hope that you will start looking at your expectation as a tool and avoid getting it tangled up with your hopes and your fears. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Retool. You can get started, especially if you're a part of a startup. This is probably something that you need. Virtual tooling made extremely easy, retool.com slash startups to get started. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. We haven't been doing Friday episodes recently this week, by the way, Developer Tea. will roll over 1000 episodes, which is an incredible number and the only way that we've been able to do this. I still can't believe it. A thousand episodes is just so much content and the only reason we've been at it, we have been able to do this, that I've been able to do it personally, is that you keep on listening. You keep on sending in, thank yous and you send comments and you participate in the Developer Tea. Sorry, not Developer Tea. Wow, we used to have a Slack a long time ago. The Developer Tea Discord, that is such a meaningful and important conversation and I couldn't do this without your support. Thank you so much for being a part of this audience and for always pursuing becoming better, becoming a better engineer and pursuing your purpose and pursuing your clarity and your perspective. Thank you so much for listening to the show. Until next time, enjoy your tea.