The most unrealistic expectations we typically have revolve around ourselves. And these expectations are especially destructive because once we don’t meet them—because we can’t—we abandon ourselves. We punish ourselves. Because we didn’t get to everything on our to-do lists, we don’t let ourselves rest, we get up an hour earlier, and we basically act like drill sergeants. Because we aren’t perfect parents, we berate ourselves for everything we did “wrong,” and a heaping sense of shame settles into our bones. Which is why it’s vital to explore our expectations and work on relinquishing them.
Give yourself permission to take it easy—or at least to take it a bit easier on yourself.
Here’s a list of sample unrealistic expectations, big and small, which you might be holding and you might consider relinquishing:
- I have to work out six days a week (no matter how I feel or what the week looks like).
- I have to weigh _____ pounds.
- I can only eat ______ calories every day.
- I shouldn’t be overwhelmed over__________.
- I need to feel energized and enthusiastic every morning; after all I have a dream job and life.
- I should feel calm about __________.
- I should not take this long to grieve their passing.
- I should be able to write a perfect draft the first time.
- Everyone else seems to _________. Why can’t I?
- I have to “bounce back” after having a baby: I have to lose all the weight I gained. I have to get back to my old workout routine. I have to be as productive as I was before. I shouldn’t need additional rest. I shouldn’t need any emotional support.
- I have to wash the floors a few times a week.
- I should be able to stick to this diet.
- I need to earn _______ (rest, love, compassion, care) by ________ (losing weight, doing everything on my list, accomplishing a certain goal).
- I should be able to make everyone like me.
- I should be able to snap out of this sadness, anxiety, anger or__________.
- I need to get by on 6 hours of sleep (and be super productive).
- I should feel grateful (followed by, what’s wrong with me???).
- I shouldn’t need help for _________ (cleaning the house, working from home, caring for my baby).
- I should be naturally good at__________.
- I should just push through.
Maybe you see yourself in the above examples. Sometimes, unrealistic expectations are subtle, so they’re tougher to spot. We simply assume they’re gospel. We simply assume that this is how things are, and this is how things should be. Any time you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed or downright angry with yourself, ask if there’s an expectation or standard that you thought you had to meet. Do you really have to meet it? Why do you think you do? What will happen if you don’t?
Question these expectations and give yourself the permission to let them go, or at least to soften your rigidity. Give yourself permission to explore what life might be like minus an expectation that’s already stressing you out anyway.