Knowing how to set expectations effectively is a good stress management skill to master. (see this blog post “Are your expectations stressing you out?”). I believe it is an essential skill for 2021.
A lot of people are already dreading lockdown 3.0. We haven’t quite recovered from the whirlwind burnout of 2020 and we are straight back into it. Any hopes, dreams, or positive expectations for a better 2021 have been pushed firmly to the back burner.
But how will managing your expectations help you avoid getting to the same point of overwhelm, exhaustion, and burnout this time around?
1) I am not suggesting that you drop every expectation, including your ambitions and standards, to a base level of zero. Or that you try to stop looking to the future and having any expectations at all. It is important to be honest and open about what you are expecting and hoping for – with yourself and with others.
2) Start with the negatives – what are you dreading? One of the reasons 3.0 feels horrible is that we know what to expect! Home school, overworking, death by Zoom, raiding the fridge, the relentless stream of fear-inducing headlines, … there is a certain inevitability about them.
A lot of people talk about feeling paralyzed or helpless. But accepting them as an expectation rather than fact creates space for strategies to improve them … even a little bit.
3) Evaluate the basis of your self-expectation. For 2021 I think it’s really important to focus on “what personal purpose or value do they support?”. Without a deeper connection to the things that really drive you, digging deep into will-power and motivation resources through lockdown is going to be tough. This will also make an expectation seem less like a deadline or destination goal, more of a “journey”.
Are your smaller self-expectations / resolutions framed realistically? (e.g. Never and Always set almost impossible expectations).
COMMUNICATE AND ASK OTHERS ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
It’s easy to forget that other people have their own expectations. Failure to discuss them creates unnecessary stress, anger, guilt, and disappointment. Discussion can drive clarity, compromise, compassion, and solutions.
4) Share your expectations with others. They may be able to ease fears, provide support and cheer you on, or help with solutions. They will at least understand some of your choices and actions better.
5) Ask them about their own expectations – of you, and for themselves. Sometimes we wrongly assume people expect things of us, putting undue pressure on ourselves. Are the team really expecting you never to step away from your home desk?
We also need to put our expectations in the context of other peoples’ goals and needs – at home and at work. Ever been on a holiday out only to argue about what you do every day? For example, sharing and accepting other people’s expectations can make taking “me time” or creating balance without guilt much easier when you know that the No1 expectation/dread of your partner or kids is that you are never fully present.
6) Expect to need help – we often expect ourselves to be able to do everything. The feeling of shame that (the prospect of) not meeting expectations brings 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.
What can you do to make sure there are no expectation traps already set to cause stress and anxiety for yourself or those around you? Whether it is as a family, team, or as part of your next 1-1 manager check-in… identify and talk about them!