Reflection Friday: Falling into the Expectation-Experience Gap

April 28, 2023   |   Lesli Mones

Spring is finally in full swing, with longer days and new life bursting through.

Although… if you’re like a lot of us, the bright and shiny ambition you felt in January may be starting to fade. Perhaps you feel like your goals—whether personal or professional—are only 50-70% to where you thought they’d be by now, feeling more out of reach than you anticipated. 

Maybe you have a never-ending cold. You owed more on your taxes than you thought. Your partner is traveling, and you’re managing all the childcare. It’s only April, and you’re exhausted. 

Feeling daunted and discouraged isn’t fun at any time. But especially this time of year, when trees are blooming, the sun is shining, and the promise of summer is in the air, it’s especially frustrating to feel our goals and reality out of step. 

We call this situation the expectation-experience gap. And no matter when it happens, it’s dispiriting.

The Expectation-Experience Gap

John C. Maxwell puts it quite simply: “Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality.”

The expectation-experience gap makes you feel like a failure instead of feeling happy and content with what you have done. It keeps your eyes focused only on the mountain of work ahead of you, not on the trail of accomplishments behind you. And this creates a feeling of ennui.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to focus on what you haven’t done instead of what you’ve already accomplished—but alas, you can change this by shifting your focus and attention.

Reflection Questions

While we can’t “solve” the problem and make your goals magically complete, we can offer an alternative way of thinking about the situation to help you come to terms with the process and timing of things.

First, write down all the things you are doing and what you’ve accomplished since the start of the year. Oftentimes, it’s hard to remember and appreciate exactly how far you’ve come until it’s on the page in front of your face.

Next, spend some time reflecting on your incomplete goals:

  • Look at your list of goals and determine which ones need more forgiveness. Which ones are more subject to forces outside your control? Which ones may need to be paused while you gain more skill, more outer support, or something else? 
  • Use this opportunity to start fresh and create a new list of goals for the year based on what you now know is realistically required. Embrace goal setting as an iterative process; it’s okay to make changes as time goes on.
  • For your new list of goals, let go of the rigid time frame for each and every one. Remember there are two kinds of time: Kairos time (a moment or a season) and Chronos time (a specific amount of time, such as one hour). Some goals can and should be put on a strict, linear timeline, while others simply take as long as they take. Learn to see the difference and be okay with it. 
  • Fall in love with the process, not just the outcome. A purely goal-based mindset can quickly become a toxic thing, so embrace the steps and enjoy the journey.

While negative feelings around the expectation-experience gap are normal, sitting around feeling bad about yourself won’t help you reach those goals any sooner. So, use that energy instead to reflect, revise, and rework your perspective. If you start now, things will fall into place exactly when they’re meant to.