The Thorny Maze of Expectations, Part II--Take Care When Deciding What Not to Expect of Yourself

There is a hidden source of power or pain that often goes unaddressed by many individuals. Truth is, Expectations can have a far-reaching impact on how people live their lives and the goodies they reap along the way. Expectations are assumptions about the future – what will occur or what should occur – and they can profoundly influence your relationships, your self-confidence, your happiness and your ability to navigate your path in life.

What a huge mistake it is to ignore, deny or simply cling to expectations that have little or nothing to do with how things really work. Expecting too little or too much, or expecting inappropriate things of ourselves, other people in our lives and the world in which we live, can cause utter chaos and confusion. Such a thorny maze!

Unrealistic expectations can set you up for disappointment, ineffective behavior and even depression. Expectation minus reality = frustration! Changing your expectations to those that are smart and adaptable will serve you well and is not as difficult as you might imagine. Doing so involves paying particular attention to reality and possibility, flexibly negotiating the two again and again. By choosing carefully, your expectations can lead to powerful plans and behavior.

Let’s take a look at the second of three installments on Expectations: What not to expect of


• Don’t expect to be perfect

It’s not going to happen, no matter who you are or how hard you try to make it so. Expecting to be something that’s impossible is a straight shot to trouble and disappointment. It consumes so much energy to follow this particular brand of dead-end thinking. You can be excellent, but not perfect, at some chosen goals and just plain mediocre at others that don’t matter much at all. Make the decision to be selective about what endeavors merit your finest efforts, and then plan to revel in your accomplishments, even the ones that may fall short of the mark.

I have witnessed the emotional turmoil of too many people who have this particular belief system with its ridiculous expectations. Believing that only one outcome (the perfect one!) is acceptable is incompatible with emotional health and creative living.

Think about it for a moment. If something has to be done to a tee, there’s not much room for exploration, discovery, spontaneity and joy. Costly, debilitating and not much fun! Keep in mind that the perfectionist is worried about all the details of the outcome. That’s a powerful way to put out the fire and marginalize whatever gains you make. This also makes it hard to be open to unexpected and/or disguised opportunities.

As David Burns, psychiatrist and author of Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy (1992, 1999), explains, “Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person.”

• Don’t expect to achieve your goals and dreams without some failures, obstacles and prickly interruptions

If you live by the misguided philosophy that goals and dreams should be achieved without incurring any difficulties or stumbling blocks, let me encourage you to get acquainted with what really goes on in this world.

When you don’t anticipate that intervening twists of fate will occur (and they inevitably do), you put yourself into a reactive, helpless mode. This approach, often laced with disappointment and disillusionment, can put a dent in your self-confidence and lead you down a road to the blame game. Your energy becomes directed at blaming someone or something: yourself, your luck, the weather or any person within striking distance. What a colossal waste of momentum! Instead of getting on with things, your persistence takes a real hit.

Adopt a winning strategy for normalizing life’s curve balls as just part of the game; expect them, look for the silver lining in each one. Jon Kabat-Zinn, psychologist and expert in Mindfulness-Based Stress Management, suggests, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Be an optimist who sees the possibilities in every mishap and shapes her expectations accordingly.

• Don’t expect success on your time schedule

If you expect success in a time frame of your choosing, you may well be in for a large dose of disappointment. More often than not, things just take longer than you prefer – just one more of life’s pesky realities. In this fast-paced world with so many things immediately available, it’s no wonder people get all mixed up on this one. You may feel entitled to have your dream today without all the wear and tear – an expectation of quick, easy results. This often differs markedly from what will actually happen. The healthy thing to do is to develop flexible, realistic expectations regarding the time variable.

Don’t make your choices because of the expectations of others

We’re often held hostage by the way others see us and expect us to behave. By caring too much about what other people think is right for you, you may lose sight of what really matters. When it comes to your potential and fondest desires, other people may understand and support you, or may be clueless, or may not care or may even have contravening ideas that serve their own goals and agendas.

The point of power for you is to make decisions for yourself. If someone is in your corner, evaluate his or her recommendations in terms of what kind of a fit they are for you. The only person to whom you owe complete allegiance about your life is you. Period.

Bottom line – figure out what expectations are conducive to supporting your philosophies and paving the path of your heart, and then proceed with them. Be assertive with others when they are over the boundary lines of your personal rights and responsibilities. You, and only you, get to decide what to expect from yourself.

Author's Bio: 

She has served as a hospital staff psychologist and has lectured on topics ranging from stress management, meditation and relaxation training to assertiveness and sleep management. Today, her private practice in San Diego is dedicated exclusively to Positive Psychology Coaching.

Her first book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon… 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life," was Dr. Esonis’ initial contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and personally-defined happiness.

In "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life -- Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person," Dr. Esonis identifies eight “Thematic Belief Systems” that, in her experience as a psychologist and life coach for over 30 years, prevent individuals from building healthy, long-lasting relationships and extracting maximum happiness from life. She examines these “crazy beliefs” with all their negative implications and offers practical, persuasive arguments for why – and how – they can be replaced with healthy alternatives.

Dr. Esonis is a member of the San Diego Professionals Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) and is a Founding Member of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).