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Why You Shouldn’t Live up to Expectations and How to Let Them Go


By Lynn Adamsen

Great expectations. That sounds so powerful, doesn’t it? No; I’m not talking about the novel by Charles Dickens. I’m talking about our own expectations. Some people have bigger, others have smaller expectations. Can anyone say they’ve never had any expectations?

Where do we get them from? In my case, it was my parents. They always had to have the smartest children. They expected the best grades. They expected competition and victory. When I used to get an A on a paper, they asked: “What did your friend get?” I had to be better than many of my schoolmates, then my fellow students in college, and this was oppressive.

It took me a long time to realize that life wasn’t about competition and exclusion. It’s not about setting myself above everyone else. It’s not about setting and meeting expectations. Let me tell you: I’m much better off without living up to anyone’s expectations. I’m better after I let them go.

How Expectations Undermine Our Happiness

1. They Stress You Out
A research study showed that up to 30% of adolescents have had at least one episode of severe depression. 50-75% of adolescents have developed with anxiety, hyperactivity, and impulse control disorders during their teenage years. The most common stressors were social stress, isolation, traumatic events, and drugs. However, there were few other stressors that get our attention:

  • Demands of school or work
  • Overly high expectations
  • Negative thoughts and self-doubt

High expectations impose a terrible pressure. Instead of support, we’re getting demands. Instead of self-appreciation, we gravitate towards self-doubt. Stress and anxiety are the inevitable effects from that state of being.

2. They Ruin Your Motivation
Great expectations are not the same thing with realistic goals. They are all about overstrain and cumbersome supervision. First, we get them from our parents, teachers, and other people. Later on, we learn how to set great expectations for ourselves.

When we realize those expectations are impossible to meet, we lose the motivation to proceed with any activity. When I realized I couldn’t impress everyone with my answers in class, I chose to stay quiet and not give any answers. If I couldn’t meet those high expectations, I wouldn’t bother being average.

3. They Lead to Disappointment
Do you know what the most common high expectations are?

  • Everyone should like me.
  • Everyone should admire me.
  • I must be better than everyone.
  • If I do this, it will make them happy.

No matter what you do, you can’t live up to these goals. Some people will like you and some won’t. Many people won’t admire you. No matter how good you are at what you do, there will always be someone else to beat. You cannot be the best in everything. It’s just not possible. And no, success won’t make you or others permanently happy. Once, working as a remote writer at a professional writing service, I made an amiss decision and took on too many assignments I couldn’t complete till the deadline. But I wanted to be better than others and to come off with flying colours. However, that was the moment of huge disappointment not only for me, but also for the company and for the clients. Believe me or not, but high expectations are the perfectionist’s motto. They are always focusing on what’s wrong. As a result, we become stressed, anxious, and obsessed. This creates an endless cycle of being constantly discontent.

Letting Expectations Go: The Ultimate Key to Happiness

Expectations are not always bad. When they are realistic, we can turn them into achievable goals. The key is to let go of the unrealistic, imposed expectations. We need to realize what we want for ourselves. What would truly make us happy?

How do we destroy the negative expectations? That can be a huge challenge. Since I was told by my parents that I was destined for greatness, I had no backup plan. When greatness didn’t happen, I was lost in mediocrity and disappointment. Let me tell you: there is a way out of that state.

1. Identify the Unrealistic Expectations
We have to start from somewhere. What expectations are you trying to meet? What expectations are you creating day after day? You have to understand the motivation behind them. If you’re setting unrealistic expectations because you want to make other people happy, you’re doing it all wrong. Those are the ones you want to eliminate. If you’re setting good goals because you’re aiming for personal growth and happiness, you’re on the right track.

How do you identify unrealistic expectations?

  • Is there a likely outcome?
  • Do these expectations fit your honest needs?
  • Are they stressing you out?
  • Would you take failure too seriously?
  • Can you be okay with any outcome?

These questions will lead you to the answer.

2. Understand the Love Language
In his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman teaches us how to develop our love language profile through words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. It basically instructs us how to love other people. What does this have to do with high expectations? Our aspiration to meet the expectations they impose does not fit in the definition of love. We can still love our parents, partners and other people even if we are not everything they expect us to be. Surprise, surprise: they will still love us, too.

3. Practice Humbleness
We have to catch the moment when our ego activates and shows disappointment. When we set high expectations and we fail to meet them, that’s what we get – a slap from our ego. At that moment, we must practice humbleness as much as we can. This doesn’t mean we should go to extremes and stop trying. A mindful person just stops trying to show they are better than everyone else.

The solution? We should still move the boundaries of personal growth. However, we need to stay within the limits of what we can do, and that should be enough. Great expectations bring great disappointment. That’s exactly what Charles Dickens was trying to tell us.

Lynn Adamsen is a freelance writer and editor from Edinburgh who has helped individuals and businesses with their writing challenges for almost a decade now. For the time being, she is taking full advantage of the web copywriting course and blogging. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter.
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