There are many ways to accomplish positive change, and if what you’ve tried so far didn’t get you the result you’ve expected, maybe it’s not because you haven’t tried hard enough or because the ideology was flawed – maybe it’s because you’ve never expected yourself to succeed. Maybe you don’t need to read another book on how to talk to the opposite sex, how to start your own on-line business or how to see the world without quitting your corporate job. Maybe all you need is to raise your expectations and then do that thing which would justify having the results you expect.

I recently met with a friend I’ve not seen in some time and as we were enjoying our after-dinner desert our conversation turned to discussing different ways that self-development and self-help movements attempt to describe, explain and encourage the process of positive personal change. There are a myriad of different ways and methodologies that each school proposes as a way to fulfillment via improvements that last. After considering merits of several schools of thought popular in recent years, my friend asked how one can even achieve any improved results beyond their current abilities. On one hand if we were already able to improve certain aspect of our life, we would have already done it. On the other hand, if we were unable to make a certain improvement in the past or present, how can we somehow make sure we’ll be able to do so in the future. How is this even possible?

At first this question seems dubious. Of course the most direct way to get a different result is to take a different action. And for some things that is simple enough. If you want to loose weight, simply eat less and exercise more. If you’re not dating enough for your liking, just ask more potential partners on a date. If you want to find a better job, just update your resume and start sending it out.

All in all that is not bad advise. It might be simplistic, yet it doesn’t suffer from any woo-woo ideas like vibrational energy mismatches or spiritual manifestations, or similar quasi-scientific new-age mambo-jumbo. Such concepts, even if they resonate somehow emotionally, are tough to understand for those unfamiliar and make it even harder to apply any concrete changes in day-to-day life. Is eating cheesecake a higher vibration or lower? And why did it manifest in my refrigerator if the universe conspired to help me lose weight, anyway?

One can easily draw a parallel between introducing change and learning a completely new behavior from scratch. For example, it’s not important to know that someone adores potato chips and Twinkies in order to join a gym. It’s also not necessary to delve deep in to the unconscious looking for origins of a certain destructive behavior in order to transcend the habit. This might fly in the face of popular common-sense and long established psychotherapy doctrines but behaviors are just that – actions people take.

What is always true is that the actions one takes fall in-line with one’s values, in other words what we do falls in line with one’s expectations. If one expects to get good grades, that person would also be expected to spend some time studying. If someone expects their date to find them attractive, self-confidence we call it, there will be an expectation of at least presenting oneself well in order to receive a positive response from any potential partners.

What people do, and as a consequence of those actions, the results they get are largely dependent on the expectations individuals set for themselves. This is, perhaps, the shortcut to developing confidence in a specific context that was previously lacking. Once that core confidence level is established, all other habits and actions will rest on that foundation.

This is also one of the best ways to introduce change that sticks: create better expectations and then simply find or create an environment in which those expectations will be justified.

I would also like to point out that although this counters the most common advice – being outcome independent – this method addresses the fact that it’s actually impossible to be outcome independent while pursuing anything worthwhile. If something isn’t important – then why pursue it in the first place? By working towards a goal, we implicitly acknowledge that it is important enough to pursue.

When we raise our own expectations, there is no need for selective ignorance or white-lies which are unavoidable (even required) when using such techniques as affirmations or the “law of attraction.” Because our personal expectations must be justified to avoid cognitive dissonance, the actions (followed by appropriate results) would follow naturally. Skinny people have an expectation of staying in shape, smart people have an expectation of doing well in school, productive people have an expectation that they will be able to accomplish a lot, attractive people have an expectation of themselves that they will groom and style and present themselves in a favorable light.

The only prerequisite for this method to work is that people need to be aware of what their current expectations are regarding a certain behavior or situation, and what their intended goal and behavior would be in that environment. After that it’s only a matter of either creating or finding supporting evidence – any change in behavior would take care of itself.

If this seems confusing, here is an example illustrating how this would work in real life:

John just graduated from college and his internship will be coming to an end soon. After that he would need to find work and he would like to get a well-paid position in a prestigious firm. Because he still hasn’t worked in “the real world” he is hesitant and he believes that it will be very difficult to convince the hiring manager to hire him because he (John) doesn’t have a lot of experience.

Instead of relaxing in this situation and allowing the universe to manifest him a new well-paying job or reciting affirmations similar to “I have enough knowledge to work at this firm” or “I am relaxed and confident at a job interview” John would instead raise his expectations. Instead of expecting to get hired off the bat by woo-ing the hiring manager he would set an expectation that he is the type of person that such firm would want on their staff.

Because John decided to raise his expectations from someone who is lucky to get this type of a position right after his internship, to an expectation of himself that he is the type of person who is pre-qualified and would excel at this job if hired – John’s actions would be drastically different.

Now that John has an expectation of excelling at the new position he applied for, he has decided to do more research on the industry and clientele of the firm in order to be more productive if hired. After all, that’s what he would expect someone who is good at this job to do already. He would also raise his own expectation of how he would behave at the interview and the specific skills he would need to convey to the manager during the interview in order for the firm to recognize him as a good fit for this opening.

More importantly, when John decided to raise his expectations of himself to the level of someone who would be able to apply and get hired by the firm, he began preparing for the interview and learning more about the organization – with those and other, smaller and less obvious actions, he created a situation where his expectations are fully justified. Instead of “hoping,” the universe vibrates his job in to existence. That is something affirmations would never allow him to do because without spending some time to prepare for this job he wouldn’t have expected himself to do well at the interview, no matter how many times he would have recited the affirmations to himself.

Interestingly, not only would you be able to find that this method works for the individuals themselves, but raising expectations also, auto-magically, works on those around you. You might not have been aware of this before consciously, but it’s hard to argue that kids of parents who expect their children to behave and do well in school, tend to behave and do well in school. (Surprise!) And a boss who expects his employees to produce quality work on time would also lead his team to be more successful.

As individuals we are free to raise our expectations of ourselves at any time – expectations of what we’re willing to eat, how we expect others to treat us, how we expect to treat others around us, how much we expect to earn and how we expect ourselves to spend those earnings.

These personal expectations are also closely tied with an individual’s self-esteem level. Raising our own expectations of how we behave and what we’re willing and not willing to do or accept from others has a direct impact on how confident we feel, our expectations indicate how much we value ourselves. It is the expectation that each one of us is a successful, worthy consideration and respect individual, that ultimately defines the level of self-esteem one would develop. People with low self-esteem don’t expect much from themselves or anyone around them.

It turns out that people who are confident also have an expectation of themselves that they will be confident, and so they do things that affirm their self-worth. People who have an expectation of not being worthy take actions that result in their contribution not being valued. Those who expect to look good spend time and effort in order to justify their expectations by exhibiting attractive behaviors, dressing well and keeping in shape. Friendly people expect others to be friendly in return because they make an effort to not be offending to others and because they take a healthy interest in those around them.

Changing behaviors, while definitely a significant effort, would be a lot easier and smoother if instead of fighting our expectations or distancing our desires to the point of indifference we would instead decide to raise our expectations instead.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of strong arming our behaviors and patterns in to something better we could instead simply raise our expectations of what we can do and what we expect, and then start doing something to justify those expectations.

Imagine how different would your life be if instead of expecting yourself to live in your parents’ basement you instead expected yourself to live on your own? And if you expected to be a parent that your children would respect and take pride in? And if you’re disillusioned with how your career or your relationship is going, what would it be like if you only expected better – because you’ve earned it by being a better worker or a better romantic partner?

That’s the only way that any lasting progress can be made. That’s how anyone before you who achieved lasting change did it. Of course achieving certain kinds of goals takes years or even decades of sustained effort. But if you have raised your expectation then it usually isn’t difficult to find the reasons why such expectations are justified.

And maybe, just maybe, when someone asks you how you’ve managed to lose 50 pounds, find a great spouse, visit a country you’ve been dreaming about since you were nine and score that ideal job for you – instead of saying how you kept reciting affirmations you could instead say: “I’ve raised my expectations a few years ago and things have gotten much better since then.”

And I hope you will achieve more of what you want for yourself now that you’ve decided to raise your expectations of what’s possible as well.