It’s the beginning of a new semester. You have set new goals for the semester, gone into your classroom or your office and gotten organized, and determined how this semester will be even better than the last one. Or maybe you went into work and realized that this season would be harder than ever before, but decided to be positive and look at all the amazing things you were anticipating learning because of the unique situation we are all finding ourselves in this year. Perhaps you simply have great expectations for a new relationship or even when you wake up in the morning and have great expectations for the day.
We are a society of expectations. We set them high, and hope to get there. I spend my days teaching students how to set high expectations and get their students to rise to meet those expectations. We call our expectations all sorts of different things:
You can search the internet and scour the library and you will find all sorts of information about setting expectations. Everyone and their brother has an opinion about it. How high should you set them? Should you write them down? How will you achieve them? You should set them higher. You should set them lower. You will never reach that goal. Don’t push so hard to achieve so much, you will never be able to top what you just accomplished.
But what do these expectations actually mean to us? Are we setting small goals that can be accomplished or are we setting huge goals that are going to take a while to finish? Are we setting expectations for ourselves or for others? Have we set an expectation for ourselves that will push us to success or push us to frustration?
There are a few things that we need to remember when we are setting expectations that will help us avoid excess frustration that could have been avoided. Make no mistake, I am not saying to set low expectations or to accept mediocrity, just that there are sometimes other things to think about when we are setting expectations. Remember, the piece that never changes, but can confound everything we try to do, is our our humanity.
So what can you do to help yourself set realistic expectations, regardless of if you are setting an expectation for the day or for a lifetime?
Think logically about the circumstances surrounding the expectation
We all have desires and wants to improve ourselves in some way. Sometimes, our want is so large that the expectation that we set is not something that can logically happen. How many of us have decided we are going to start going to the gym only to be looking in the mirror and frustrated after only a few days because we don’t see a difference yet?
I have a friend who I am constantly telling to look at the entire situation and not just the momentary issue. If you are setting expectations based purely on your desires without looking at your life circumstances, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. For instance, if your expectation is for weight loss or toning, it is setting yourself up for disappointment if you are expecting results as quickly as they used to get them on that show The Biggest Loser. Logically, we know it doesn’t happen that fast. If you are setting expectations for your semester, you have to take into account what else is going on in your life. As a student, don’t set the expectation that you are going to study for 4 hours a day when you are also an athlete and working outside of school. There aren’t enough hours in the day. If you are setting expectations for a date, don’t expect to fall in love and to have that movie moment within the first hour of the first date. I’m not saying it never happens (one day I’ll blog about how David and I met), but I am saying it isn’t a healthy expectation to have. If you are a student, think about the whole of your life before you get upset about a grade. Perfection cannot be your expectation or you will always be disappointed.
Remember the Humanity Aspect of Your Expectation
Most of the time when we set expectations, we are setting them surrounding something that involves humanity. The interesting thing about this is that it is one of those things that we absolutely cannot control, especially if our expectations involve someone other than ourselves. Humans, by their very nature, are not exactly predictable in every situation. If our expectations involve humanity, which most of them do, then we have to keep that in mind when setting them. Perhaps that looks like setting different levels of expectations based on outcomes. Perhaps it looks like doing a lot of self-reflection to determine if we are expecting our own qualities to show up in other people. We have to remember the qualities of the other people when we include them in our expectations or we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. So, what does that mean? If you are setting expectations for a date night with your significant other, remember who that person is at their core. If your SO is not romantic by nature, then having the expectation of flowers and a hugely romantic evening is probably setting yourself up for disappointment and will potentially lead to feelings of resentment.
Your expectations are your expectations, not someone else’s
One of those things that has happened as social media has become more prevalent is an increase in comparing our lives to the lives of others. When you set expectations, they cannot be based upon someone else’s situation. It is okay to set your expectations and goals based on things that are inspired by others, it is not okay to set expectations to become another person. Remember that your expectation has to go back to what is able to be accomplished in your situation, not someone else’s. This is a great graphic that I found on verywellmind.com that speaks very well to this thought process and how to avoid making expectations based on comparisons between your life and someone else’s life.
So, why is it so important to keep these things in mind when we are setting expectations? Am I telling you that if you follow these three things you will always meet or exceed your expectations? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I simply want to encourage you in this time of craziness when almost all of us are having to reevaluate the ways in which we do things to set realistic expectations that have the greatest chance of being accomplished. The downward spiral that we can find ourselves in based on not meeting expectations is just one more thing that most of us don’t need to be feeling right now as the world spins around us. Setting those realistic expectations can help us gain control in a life that sometimes feels as if we are a pinball subject to someone else’s control of the pinball machine. Setting clear expectations can give us direction when we are floundering to find our way. Setting logical expectations can help us realize when something really is disastrous and when it is just something that is not the way we wanted it at the moment.
So give yourself some grace, create some expectations, and meet those goals. You’ve got this!