Updated: Feb 4
Since the lockdown started in March 2020 we have all be piling more expectations onto our already overburdened shoulders. Many of us have said to ourselves, “I should use this time at home to …” followed by a series of goals such as get fit, write that book, finally sort out the loft. The list goes on.
The reality of the social restrictions however has not necessarily been lots of wonderful, relaxed time at home but a combination of working from home, homeschooling, boredom, lethargy, and in some cases depression and despair. All exacerbated by the nagging thoughts that we ‘should’ be achieving more.
Even before COVID-19 we were living with too many personal expectations; how to behave, how to think, how to act, and what to achieve. Constantly. However, how many of the pressures that we put upon ourselves are genuine personal goals? How many are expectations driven by ‘shoulds’ piled on us from parents, peers, and society? For example;
· Do you want a boyfriend for you or because you have family pressure to get married?
· Do you want the promotion for you or because it is a ‘natural career progression’ and it is what people expect?
· Do you want to lose weight and go to the gym for you, or because society and peer pressure dictate you should look a certain way?
Consider this – you didn’t agree to live by anyone else’s expectations. These expectations are based on their beliefs and perceptions about what they want for you – not what you want for yourself.
The only expectations you agree to live by are your own, which you set yourself according to what is right for you.
How to manage your personal expectations?
Don’t get me wrong, it is great to have goals, to want to improve skills, and to grow as a person and this is in fact an integral part of being human. However, the problems occur when these expectations cause you to stress, make you feel guilty and inadequate, and eat away at your self-confidence and self-esteem.
It doesn’t help that we are our own worst critics and will berate ourselves for the slightest perceived ‘misdemeanour’. “You’re so lazy that you didn’t go to the gym today,” “Why haven’t you got a man? What’s wrong with you?,” “Why did you miss out on that promotion – you’re obviously not working hard enough.” We often speak to ourselves in a way we would never speak to one of our friends regarding our personal expectations.
This is why “managing expectations is as much a skill as cooking,” said Jill Brooke, a coach with the Stepfamily Foundation. “Each of us has an internal oven that controls the temperature of our expectations, and it needs to be monitored to produce the best results.”
In other words, we have to work at ensuring our expectations are right for us and our stage in life.
· Ensure the expectations are realistic – You can’t expect to qualify as a doctor if you don’t study.
· Ensure the expectations are yours – It’s harder to live up to others’ expectations and be truly happy. Live according to your own desires, goals, and expectations.
· Don’t compare to others – Many expectations come from our perceptions of others and the expectations others have of you based on their perceptions of others. For example, your mother saying, “if you study hard you can be like [insert flavour of the month relative or celebrity].”
· Go easy on yourself – if you ‘fail’ at something; missed the spin class or ate an entire chocolate cake, shake yourself off and know that it isn’t the end of the world. Just carry on with your goals.
· Adapt to change – Life is full of unpredictable changes which means your expectations may also have to change.
· Accept yourself as human – Regardless of what others and you expect, you are only human; not super-human. Maybe some people can have it all – the job, the family, the dog, the committees, the charity work and still have time for yoga and lunch with the girls. Good for them. But if this isn’t your life then accept that you can only do you.
When managing expectations – your own and other people’s, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of? What’s the worst that can happen?”
You may be surprised when you realise that the worst that could happen is someone may be disappointed in you, or you may be disappointed in yourself. Adjust the expectations and you’ll remove the disappointment.