What you expect could impact your health and well-being.
The only thing that is predictable about life is that it is unpredictable. Remy (Ratatouille)
Funny thing about humans is that we thrive on routine even though life can be unpredictable. No, this post is inspired by a fortune cookie saying. It’s just how things are.
I love my routines and structure but I act a little like a baby when my routines become challenged. Life, other people, the weather, the markets, and circumstances are unpredictable. Plans become interrupted all of the time and sometimes it is tempting to avoid making plans at all.
This is not about being more productive
I used to plan my life down to the minute. Over time, my Daytimer became Daytimejail. My expectations became unmanageable.
What you will read here will go against most articles on the topic of getting things done. I am not trying to provide advice to get more done, you can find that with a simple Google search. If you want to get more done, you will probably want to stop reading right now.
The high impacts of high expectations
I want you to consider the impacts of your expectations. I am not advocating having NO expectations, just that you and I consider how our expectations affect our wellbeing.
High expectations can have a positive effect; people need a high bar to stretch towards. But I think many of us take it too far. We slip so easily into criticisms of ourselves and those around us — family, friends, coworkers, public figures — that we no longer expect people to be human beings. And when we shame ourselves and others for failing, we make things worse. We contribute to pain while nurturing impotence. Peter Bregman
Expectations have their place when they motivate us to push towards a higher goal. They can become a problem when:
- We have high expectations all of the time and in every relationship or project.
- We take the expectations too far and do not appreciate how far we have come.
- We have a set of ideas about how it should be done, the “right way.”
- We want to be the best, at everything.
- We criticize ourselves or other people.
- We expect people to be workers, public servants, human resources rather than human beings.
- We shame ourselves and others for failing.
Chinese students are poster children for high expectations. Studies show that at times they may be successful, however, they are pushing themselves so hard it is having a negative impact on their wellbeing, creating:
- Feelings of despair
- An adversarial relationship with others, rather than a collaborative approach
- Increased anxiety
- A preoccupation with failure
- Feelings of shame when experiencing failure
Attempting to live up to the expectations and plans of others left me overwhelmed with stress and therefore contributed to the decline of my mental wellness, which evolved into moods of depression. Reshawn Miller
Loosening the reins: Unplan your life
Can you really unplan your life? You and I are ingrained with structure from an early age.
My wife runs a preschool and some of the developmental specialists that visit her school tell her that they love visiting her school because it is so structured. Even at 3 years old, we are planned, and structured and we thrive within it.
I suppose you and I could just go around and make a mess of things everywhere and this would be a good way to unplan. It probably would backfire and make the neat-loving people hate us.
The idea is not to completely unplan, rather the goal is to be flexible. Life happens, and we can determine our response.
Realistic expectations can change your life
I admit it, I am an expectation junkie. I make my plans then my mind gets to work on the unrealistic expectations. I am a work in progress in this area of my life. I can attest that high expectations can have a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Why not unplan parts of your life?
Unplanning is not about inviting chaos, or not having any plans at all. Have your plans, but also include unplanned time and space in your life.
1.Plans are good and sometimes they can save your life
In addiction and mental health recovery, having a plan (and acting on it) will help you minimize or even prevent relapses. In fitness, having a plan (and following it) will help you lose weight, improve your muscle development and feel better. In education, a plan will help you to know how to take notes, study and improve your grades.
Plans are important, they can save your life. Not every area of life needs to be accompanied by high expectations.
Practicing acceptance begins by taking a breath and letting life unfold. You plan a flexible response rather than expecting a result. It is not passive, but an active response, a belief that you can manage things and that there is a good intent to your life.
3.Practice compassion towards yourself
Pick five minutes today and pay attention to how you talk to yourself. This is why self-compassion is so important.
It does not matter how you do it, but for your well-being practicing self-compassion is a cornerstone. You may practice self-compassion as you sit and meditate, as you go for a walk, or as you drive your car. Just be intentional with how you speak to yourself.
This is one of the times when you WANT to think negatively.
When I make plans, I naturally skip the process and go right to the outcome that I want. I imagine that my plans will work out well for me (I know that I am not alone in this one). Imagination rarely has us thrown in the middle of problems, sweating it out and frazzled.
Intentionally envisioning problems and obstacles to your plans will keep your expectations realistic and help to develop a reasonable plan of response.
5.Make lists of items rather than set a rigid schedule
Lists are a great way to unplan your life because you have a list of things to do, without attaching them to specific times of the day. A list will allow you to accomplish the major priorities and have flexibility to your day.
6.Unplan and unplug
Taking time away from your phone will help to relax your mind. Cell phones seem to trigger an expectation of always being “on.” We all know we need to unplug, you and I just need to do more of it.
7.Remind yourself of your themes and try to live these out
Rather than high expectations or goals that may not turn out, pursue your themes. Themes are broader and help to guide your decision making without being too specific. You may want to read more about having life themes instead of goals.
It is simple: High expectations are costly to your health. The answer is not to have no expectations, just to be intentional about your expectations and create space in your life where you practice healthy self-care.
To help you in this process, I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. I deliver the best content I can: inspiring, informing and entertaining. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing.
For more resources, see the resource section below.
Keep it Real
Bregman, P. (2012). The Problem With High Expectations.
Louise Geraghty, L. (2014). Academic Stress in China: Coping with High Expectations in School Environments.
Molander, A. The thing with high expectations.
Photo by Greg Balzer