Positive Vibes — Expectations
John: William James said that “human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. And lately, mine have been the type of lowered expectations. I am no longer saying all these mantras every day, or thinking that if I just put it out to the Universe, that it will manifest itself with the law of attraction to me. I am not a brand, a sexy influencer, and I am certainly no longer the “Cat that gets things done.” That’s repulsive now actually. What I am is the new me, which is back to the old me – quiet, reserved, unassuming, hard working and doing what I want to do with whom I want to do it. I am still making lists, but these lists are the things I need to get done today, immediately, and if I don’t do them all, I no longer see myself as a miserable failure, nor will I compare myself to you or think I am better than you because I can do 2,000,000 more things than you. That’s dumb. My whole life I have been an overachieving, Type A perfectionist. The sort of person who obsessively stresses about getting work in on time, yet also compulsively turns in assignments a week ahead of their due date.
While my discipline and work ethic are certainly qualities I’ve come to appreciate, they haven’t always served me well. My relentless drive toward perfectionism and often mile-high expectations have actually held me back from doing many of the things I’ve wanted to do. And now, what I want to do is work, write, yoga, pushups, Strat, be alone, do what I want to the best of my ability. I don’t want to go to Boston, participate in career coaching, redo my resume with an expensive package, post a motivating meme here to implore someone to take action. Don’t care.
My expectations are horrifyingly lowered. And now, thinking about it, lower expectations initially run counter-intuitive to everything I believe about getting better. My mom used to say, no blood, no sympathy and I felt the same about self-improvement. If I wasn’t bleeding, I obviously was not trying hard enough. Again, dumb.
According to science, however, low expectations might be the secret to success when it comes to creating positive change and building healthy habits. This often and unfortunately gets in the way of real self-improvement when we overestimate things like how quickly and easily we can enact change, or how much change we’re capable of.
When we set our expectations high and then can’t quite reach them, it feels like we’ve failed, discouragement sets in, and we tend to give up. However, right now, this really doesn’t feel like I am lowering expectations, just breaking things down into more manageable pieces. I am not your Superman. I don’t want to be your Superman. I don’t want to be MY Superman. I still want to do curls though. Because good looking arms are SWEET. Don’t judge. Or do. Again, don’t care.
If you’re feeling frustrated about all the things you’re not doing—especially big, time-consuming activities—ask yourself if you really want to do this or just think you should. If it is something you want, try lowering your expectations of yourself and doing only what feels manageable, and see if that helps you get going. Like me, you may find that taking the pressure off makes it a lot easier to get and stay motivated. Now, let me turn it over to Sandy, so I can go do, well, whatever I want to do.
Sandy: Hey John. I love the way your mind works! You’re always thinking fun things, and it sounds like you are rediscovering the person you really are. This is wonderful! As you can imagine, I have a lot of thoughts about your post.
First of all, striving for perfection is a recipe for disaster, because there really is no such thing as perfect. Yes, you can do things ‘right’, and feel pleased with the result, but you can also feel pleased to have things done even if they’re not ‘perfect’. I believe that there are a few really important things that have to be done as correctly as possible, (brain surgery, for example), but in the overall scheme of life, the majority of things don’t need to be 100%, all the time. It’s important to triage, do 100% on the big things, and then give yourself a break on the others.
I also don’t use the word ‘fail’. Every time something doesn’t work the way I expected or hoped it would, there is an opportunity to learn. I feel that a learning opportunity is a success, not a failure.
Instead of saying your expectations are “horrifyingly low”, I’d say they are healthy. There again, have the high expectations for the few major things where the outcome is hugely important, and then back off and enjoy the rest without beating yourself up about it all. That is a much healthier way to go.
I think what your mother was saying about “no blood, no sympathy”, is that it’s not necessary to whine or complain about every bump or scrape. However, if you have a big need (blood indicates a bigger problem), then it’s OK to bring it to people’s attention. There again, we’re talking about triaging the situation and deciding how big a deal it is.
You’re definitely not lowering your expectations! It sounds to me like you’re getting realistic about them. A few things you can really go for, but most you don’t have to do it full tilt. Re-evaluating and choosing your response is healthy.
You used the word ‘frustrated’, so of course I need to say again that when you feel frustrated, what you’re really feeling is powerless. To get rid of frustration you need to find a way to gain some power and control over the situation. Often you can do this by making different choices or shifting your attitude. Of course, to do that you might need to look at and re-evaluate your ‘shoulds’. I always say, “Should according to whom?” If the answer is someone else, society, what I was taught, my family and friends, etc., and I don’t like it, I have the power to change that ‘should’ into what fits for me.
I hope you had fun doing whatever you wanted to do. :+)
Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience.
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