In a world driven and measured by ambition and success, high expectations are praised and encouraged – “aim high”, ”dream big”, ”have it all”. They are taken as a sign of confidence and self-worth.
But our expectations – how we set them, where we set them, not meeting them (or even the prospect of not meeting them) – can also be a major source of stress when things don’t go as we thought, other people have different ideas or disappoint us with their action/inaction, the outcome doesn’t make us happy.
Expectations can start running your life, and taking you off course rather than guiding your dream.
This can make you
– Overly critical, perfectionist, obsessed on details
– Easily thrown off course by small things (running 2 mins late, a dying phone battery)
– inflexible in your thinking (checklists for your future)
– expecting too much of yourself leading to feelings of guilt
– feeling people “let you down” often, become resentful (you expect too much from others)
– feeling frustrated or dissatisfies by life, “empty”
Most of the time our expectations are for exact outcomes rather than a good one.
The way we set our expectations is susceptible to “expectation traps”.
1) Not taking time to recognize and evaluate your own expectations – are they realistic? What goal or value do they support?
2) Failing to clarify or say what you expect to others – do you expect others to mind read and are disappointed when they don’t meet your expectations or make choices that take you in a different direction? (this happened to me – I expected and deserved a promotion. I thought it was obvious, but I didn’t make this expectation clear to the people who made the decisions). Say what you expect to happen, what you need, and why.
3) Failing to ask what other people expect – you “mind read” or are so focused on what you want it doesn’t occur to you that they may have other ideas. Does this lead to arguments, sulking, feeling put upon,… (This is common at family gatherings, holidays, but also in the workplace).
4) You don’t remember what is really expected of you – under pressure, we can lose sight of what was expected in the first place. Write them down (based on known facts).
5) Expecting perfection rather than accepting that setbacks and mistakes are inevitable – acknowledging what might be hard to achieve, what might trip you up, and planning ways to overcome this will make the stress of meeting expectations easier when life throws you a curve ball.
6) You don’t think it’s ok to accept help – we often expect ourselves to be able to do everything. The feeling of shame that (the prospect of) not meeting expectations is just that: a feeling! Going it alone doesn’t make it easier, or more likely that you will succeed in achieving expectations. Ask for help and accept help when you need it.
Even better, share your expectations with someone so they can be there for you, give you support, share the burden of the expectation, and not take it personally when your reaction to a set- back impacts them.
When you look at what stresses you, do you set yourself any “expectation traps”?
Embrace Stress course
Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.