Expectations of ourselves are meant to be energizing, motivating and serve like a guiding light towards living a purposeful life – very much like a lighthouse is to a ship sailing in dark seas. As people mature from infancy to adulthood, they begin to understand the differences between appetite satiety, and the deeper emotional appreciation of fulfillment, after accomplishing a cherished goal.
What is a goal?
Goals are based on what is valuable to people at certain points in life and they vary according to personal priorities, relationships and professional challenges. People change from being self-centered as infants, to meeting needs and expectations from a wider perspective, so much so that family, friends, and work are all factored in as people mature. Far from being static, expectations are ever changing in value, and, should be viewed as being based on a life continuum.
Failing to come to terms with unmet needs or not being able to achieve a daily goal is the perfect set-up for frustration, anxiety and stress. Whether to raise the expectation bar or lower it a bit for the moment is a personal decision, but it is a choice. All people want to experience their efforts inching towards getting what they desire, the dream, and the expectation. What truly matters is the sense of fulfillment that people receive, at the end of the day which reinforces the fact that efforts were not in vain. This also means staying grounded and focused as failures have a way of eroding self confidence. As people check the box on the list of items to do, recognize that stress and anxiety are part of the process of attaining any goal. Try not to let the pressure erode the sense of inner joy over accomplishing daily goals. I am going to be discussing a structured plan that can be put in place, allowing people to meet their goals and expectations.
How to Accept Faults
People need to forgive themselves for having some shortcomings. There is no need to beat yourself up or be needlessly embarrassed over a failure or some imagined ill-doing. I have known people who finished law school but never took the bar exam out of fear. They paralyzed themselves into ruin by an overly active imagination of failure.
How many times have we heard these three defiant words, “deal with it” when people are annoyed at shortcomings, and endlessly remind us that we are not perfect, every chance they get? This strain of constantly trying to measuring up to fit a certain mold, just to get the affection, triggers an uncomfortable feeling that does not go away. This feeling of not measuring up gnaws constantly until some people despise themselves just a little bit, and then, a little bit more. The craving for love, acceptance, belonging and approval is normal, and is ingrained in people’s psychological make up, but the cravings may go on overdrive, if people can not cope or accept their own humanity in a kind, mature, rational manner. Simply put, no one of is perfect!
Expecting Too Much From Others
To have expectations is a double edged sword concept, and sometimes people can find themselves holding the bag, and feeling disappointed that the other person did not measure up, or at the very least keep their word. Again we have to be able to look at the bigger picture, and benefit from hindsight, and lessons learned from the past. When people face multiple disappointments or abuse, hopefully, they will run out of excuses after they tolerated one incident after another. Paying too much attention and trying to please those unworthy of your time and concern, only reinforces their unruly behavior at your expense.
Smart people know that the only change they can manage, control and be responsible for are their own decisions. It would be better for all concerned if people learned to set boundaries right from the start and firmly expect them to be respected.
How to Cope with Failed Expectations
Failed expectations and not being able to love or accept shortcomings is a common thread that runs through addictions, binges, depression and that feeling people have when they are stuck. The tragic death of Amy Winehouse and the deaths of Robin Williams, Karen Carpenter and Heath Ledger clearly demonstrate the painful emptiness amidst financial success when inner expectations are not met. Practice self love and acceptance. In fact, the success of Alcoholic Anonymous rests on self-acceptance encapsulated in the serenity prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
How to Meet your Goals and Expectations
SMART is an acronym for a process which can be easily adapted to anyone’s personal life. Over the years, the letters have undergone several transformations. However, the concept remains as relevant today as when it was first coined. To fulfill an expectation requires people to transform the virtual dream into a real world reality. To “SMARTen” expectations assists in making decisions and keeps up the motivation, therefore, people are more likely to have those win-win scenarios.
S – Make Specific Goals. Which includes answering these questions: Why do people want to attain the goal? Who are the people involved? What are the challenges? What is the structured game plan?
M – Measurable and Meaningful. An Expectation should include a timetable of sorts, otherwise, progress and the fulfillment that goes along with daily progress is difficult to track. This timetable also gives people a heads up when things are going slower than expected and displays when people wander away from the path. Distractions are career and relationship choices, and though people may consider this path, the decision should be made with mindful awareness, especially if people want to meet their expectations quickly.
A – Attainable Expectations are Crucial to Feeling Contentment. Dreaming is fun, but if people do not want to fall prey to a lot of psychological problems, set your star to being able to reach that achievable goal. Let smaller goals be the stepping stones that allow you to reach that higher star, and give yourself credit after reaching every successful milestone towards the final expectation. This is the dream.
There is a significant advantage to keeping goals achievable, as smaller achievable goals can provide an emotionally energizing turbo boost. It is much easier to tackle projects by piecemeal rather than jump right in, and get lost in the struggle. The idea is to consider the big picture, and then analyze how this big picture can be broken down into manageable parts or tasks. This way, enthusiasm remains high, and people do not have to cope with becoming overwhelmed, or contend with the “fatigue factor”. It is also easier to move forward from a minor set back than from a major failure.
R – Relevant and Realistic Expectations at all times. It is also smart to take an occasional break to assess if all efforts are going in the right direction. Are you being swept away by some random wave, or are you hanging in there focusing strongly on the goal.
T – Timebound. Channel energies to keep your dream alive, but give yourself a timetable to accomplish what you set out to do. Sure, people can modify the set deadlines but try not to make that adjustment a comfort zone. Success is after all a balance between flexibility and persistence. Focus your energies on what you passionately want to accomplish today.
What are you promising yourself to do today? Expectations are like an agreement with the inner self. For example, some may find themselves putting on a few pounds here and there over a span of five years, or growing more sedentary with just the commute between work and home as the only form of exercise. Suddenly that school reunion is upon you, and while that wispy waistline is surreal at this point, it is possible to lose a number of pounds, at least significant enough to keep your dignity intact. People can put the SMART guide to use, and document the plan of attack.
S: What’s the simplest way to go for the burn?
M: How much can you realistically lose within the span of time – be specific 10 pounds in 2 months?
A: Is the loss attainable and how? Will cutting back by 500 calories daily and regularly exercising at least 3 times a week do it? Can you take this cut and lay off sweets and deep-fried goodies?
R: Reality bites – are the pounds coming off? If not, revise the plan fast! You might just be re-doing the errors of past dieting episodes. Adjust the plan until your clothes feel a bit looser. Once you start losing the first few pounds you may find yourself on a roll.
T: D-day comes and as you inch your way towards it, visualize yourself as being thinner and the toast of the party! Worse comes to worst, tuck in your belly, straighten your shoulders, and keep that smile bold and wide, just because you certainly tried.
In conclusion, fulfilled expectations or self-actualization is said to be at the top of the hierarchy of meeting emotional needs. Not all people experience the highest level. Going for second best can be viewed as copping out and believe me this steals some happiness from life. Managing or learning ways to cope with expectations and going for the gold in life is the best scenario. The choice is yours to make, however, the price people pay for not attempting to reach the gold at the end of the rainbow in my opinion, is too costly. We only have one life try to strive to meet our expectations and dreams. Health Psychology for Everyday Life, the book.
© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald
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Alessandra, A., Alessandra, T., O’Connor, Ph.D, M., & Van Dyke, J. (n.d.). People Smart: Powerful Techniques for Turning Every Encounter Into a Mutual Win. N.p.: Alessandra & Associates, Incorporated.