How to manage self-expectations

Carmen BryceBlog posts

“New year, new me”. Sound familiar? I thought so. This term seems to be more popular at the start of a new year or season. Even as we head into the third month of the year, this expectation is still continuous.

We live such complex lives that we tend to use a set of standards and assumptions to inform our observations of reality. These standards or expectations have a big impact on who we trust and speak to and even how we expect ourselves and others to behave.

Every year, people set different expectations, be it to attend more yoga classes, learn five languages, eat healthily, exercise more, meditate every day and so on. These are positive things that have been shown to help us to focus our energy, live a purpose-centred life, form plans and give us a feeling of accomplishment.

The downside is that if we don’t meet our expectations, this can leave us with many negative emotions such as disappointment, shame and sadness.  This is completely normal. It is human nature to feel down when we do not achieve the things we aimed for. The key to overcoming this, is to understand what is in your control and what is not.

Grogan (2010) states that, “It is having flexibility in our expectations and being willing to change track without self-blame that has been shown to increase well-being”.

Acknowledging that life is full of disappointments and confronting them head on can increase your ability to modify your behaviour to match a situation’s demands. This is known as psychological flexibility and it doesn’t grow overnight. Like preparing for a race, mental flexibility is achieved through practise.

As spring approaches, the pressure to shed our winter skins and start to “spring clean” mounts and again the term, “new me” resurfaces.

However, before you set your unrealistically high expectations consider:

  • Who are you trying to be?
  • How much of the “old” you really needs to change?
  • Are you changing for yourself or others?
  • Do you have to do a big change? Why don’t you change little habits?

You need to decide. You are the only one that can control your expectations of yourself, don’t allow the opinions of others or society to influence your expectations of yourself or what you want to achieve in life.

As Psychologist Mary Grogan writes, “setting high expectations may be a good strategy, if you can also allow the experience to be different from what you imagine”.
We only have one life to live, so aim to live a life that empowers you. Failure might occur but rather than dwell on it, use it as a learning stage, a time to rethink, regroup and replan.

Something interesting to try out this year, Why not fill an empty jar with notes and good things that happen daily, whether expected or not and at the end of the month, empty it and read all the amazing things you did that month.

Discussing your goals with someone outside your circle such as a counsellor or psychotherapist might also be helpful.

Here at MyMind, our mental health professionals offer therapy for a range of different issues.

So if you feel you are struggling with any issues around the pressure of  self-expectations or just want to discuss your goals with someone, call our team at (+353) 76 680 1060 to arrange an appointment, or email us at hq@mymind.org

By Cynthia Ebere-Anaba