Managing what we expect of ourselves is easy, right? We all have our expectations in check, ALL THE TIME. After all, who would we be if we set expectations too low or too high? Do these myths sound familiar?
Well, guess what? Expectations are easily overlooked and often the reason we feel like we have failed ourselves. But expectations only carry as much weight as we put on them. I’ll give you an example. I was working with a client who was a single mom raising two sweet girls, both with loads of energy and frequent meltdowns. Let’s just say she was overwhelmed and exhausted, but expected that she could do more somehow. She came in one day, exhaled a deep sigh, and confided that she felt like she failed her kiddos every day for not being “a good mom.” Again, sound familiar?
Often times it’s helpful to examine our expectations in a new light – a lighter light, a more realistic light. Sometimes this takes exploration down memory lane to figure out where the expectations began. It can take honest self-reflection through asking who the real “critic” in our mind is. Eventually, with enough strength and compassion, we can begin to realize that expectations merely hold the control we give them.
Swinging back to my single mama client: it turns out the weight placed onto her expectations came from several sources. In her own upbringing she was neglected by alcoholic parents. She experienced an emotionally and financially draining marriage (and eventually divorce). Suffering from frequent self-judgement and guilt for working 40-plus hours a week to support her daughters also contributed. These scenarios, again, may sound familiar. So want to know how she overcame the overwhelming weight of her expectations (and how you can overcome yours, too)? Read on!
- Focus on your thoughts. Every time you think to yourself you “should,” “must,” or “have” to do something or be something stop and ask yourself why? These words are extremely toxic to our well-being and self-esteem. They frequently remind us that we are “not good enough” and that if we do not accomplish everything that we thought about doing, we are a “failure.” But in reality, we’re not, we’re just human.
- Extend kindness to yourself. Every day. Frequently every day. Think about the things you say to yourself in your mind (you know you do it, we all talk to ourselves, it’s normal). Now once you have slowed down to focus on your thoughts, ask yourself “would I say this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, then change the way you are talking to yourself. Sometimes we forget that we first need to be our own best friend and treat ourselves with love and kindness. Instead of saying “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I forgot about the dance recital tonight,” say to yourself “My plate is so full, I’m having a hard time keeping track of stuff.” Here you acknowledge the fact that you missed the recital, but realistically examined the reason. It’s rooted in reality and not degrading to your self-esteem.
- Be realistic with yourself about what you can and cannot accomplish or make happen. I once had a client come in for issues related to self-esteem and eating. She consistently talked negatively about her height; she wanted to be three inches taller, because in her mind this was the perfect (and thus only acceptable) height. So every day my client was waking up with the expectation that the only way she would be happy would be if she grew three inches over night. Impossible, right? Her expectation was unrealistic and impossible to achieve, which is why she was stuck in a constant feeling of failure. I encourage you to go ahead, write down your expectations on paper, in pen (yes, so you can’t erase it). Now step back and re-examine them in a more realistic light. See anything you might want to change? Now make a list of more realistic expectations and try these out. You might just end up feeling better about yourself.
- Practice mindfulness. Seriously. Mindfulness has a way of helping us quiet our mind and find some calm amongst the toxic chaos of our thoughts. Try deep breathing, taking a mindful walk, or download an app on your smart device to help you achieve peace through meditation. A few apps that I like to use are Calm, Headspace, and Insighttimer.
If we continue walking down the road we’re on, expecting to get somewhere at the end of a different road, we won’t get there without making some turns. Taking little steps today to change the direction we are going and examining expectations will start us moving in a new direction. By setting more realistic expectations for ourselves we naturally begin to feel more confident, happier, and more balanced every day.