When I was getting married, someone told me, “Every argument in marriage will be because of an unmet expectation.” I nearly immediately discredited this statement by the user’s term “every”…I very rarely endorse using such extreme words. However, the longer I am married, and the longer I walk through life in general, I see this more and more as truth. Any time I stop to think about the cause of an argument with my husband, or hurt feelings at the hands of a friend, or disappointment in my job or myself, I can nearly always find its source at an unmet expectation I have of myself, the situation, or the person.
Have you ever thought about this? When you are feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry…why? I imagine you can draw it back to a failed expectation. Our expectations are not always bad or inappropriate – often they are a necessary tool to identify our standards for ourselves, situations, and people we allow in to our inner circle. And standards help us to reach goals, hold values, and live the lifestyle we feel is important to us. But sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and cause us more grief than they do help. So then, what next?
Becoming aware of your expectations
The first step in determining which expectations are worth holding on to is simply to become aware of them. Many of us don’t even realize we are holding ourselves, or others, to a certain standard. When you find yourself experiencing disappointment, anger, or frustration, I encourage you to trace it back. Some people find it helpful to concretely make a “map” of the situation that led to the feeling (ask yourself “What happened before that? And before that?”). When you arrive at the trigger of the sequence of events or feelings, ask yourself “What did I expect of the situation/person/myself?” or “What did I want to happen?”
The next step is discerning where your expectation originated. Most often, we anticipate the world to turn in a way that was taught us from childhood. Even if we have determined to live a different life than what was prescribed by our culture, religion, or parents, often these teachings have deep grips on our worldview without our awareness.
What to do with your expectations
Once you’ve determined the origin, you can then decide whether this is an expectation, or value, that is worth your energy to hold on to. Sometimes we feel it most certainly is and must then walk forward in the work of holding something true to us while giving grace to those who may not agree.
But sometimes, we discover the expectation is not something worth our time and energy. Sometimes, we realize our expectations are unrealistic and must begin the work of reframing what is reasonable for the situation. If our expectation was formed from childhood, this can be difficult work. But it is possible. Eventually, we can decide to release the situation/ourselves/someone else from this standard. The irony is it may seem in the moment as if we are releasing some one/thing else, when in reality, we are freeing ourselves to more possibilities and opportunities.
Whatever your expectation or mental framework for a situation, be open to exploring where it came from. You may just find freedom to experience life more fully in doing so.
Here we are, already at January 12...how are your New Year’s Resolutions going? I don’t know about you, but, historically, my attempts at them have been less than stellar. In fact, I gave up on even setting them a few years ago in anticipation of my failure. Sound familiar? Perhaps a mindset shift is in order to reclaim the beauty of turning over a new leaf this year…
Resolutions vs. Goals
Think about the word “resolution” for a minute. Perhaps because of the connotation it has with New Years, it feels romantic and full of grandeur, doesn’t it? When I think about “resolution”, I am filled with a feeling of excitement and wonder at the possibilities of something new. But New Year’s Resolutions have a way of filling us with hope in the theoretical and disappointment in the practical. Now think about the idea of “goal setting” – it has a more down-to-earth feel to it, doesn’t it? To me, this idea isn’t quite as exciting. However, sometimes emotional excitement doesn’t translate into practical application. As less exciting as it may seem, I know that “goal setting” entails all the practical tools I need to achieve the result I desire.
Goals are really just resolutions if they aren’t “SMART”. I mean to say, when setting goals, aim to make it Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Oriented. As an example, let’s take the common New Year’s Resolution of losing weight into this model.
Specific: Instead of saying “I’d like to lose weight”, say “I’d like to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year”. Resolutions are often big-picture oriented and don’t have the specificity of goals.
Measurable: By specifying an amount of weight you’d like to lose, you are giving yourself something to measure. You can practically compare any weight loss to your initial scale reading. It is often hard to know whether or not New Year’s Resolutions have been met because they are broad, vague, and immeasurable.
Attainable: Essentially, don’t set yourself up for failure. If losing weight is your goal, don’t set a broad goal of 100lbs. A better way would be to break your larger goal into smaller, more easily achievable ones. With our example, you may say you’d like to lose 5 lbs in 2 weeks to start you off. Aim for a “success snowball” – once you’ve felt the satisfaction of achieving a smaller, more attainable goal, you’ll be more motivated to continue setting goals and ultimately reach your larger goal.
Realistic: Be honest with yourself about what your situation will allow you to achieve. Aiming to lose 50lbs by summer is near impossible for most, if not dangerous. Be honest about the time you have to go to the gym, for example, or to make healthy meals. Plan ahead and set the bar high, while being honest about what you’re able to do to reach your goal.
Time Oriented: If you don’t give yourself a timeframe, other things will creep in and take priority. By giving yourself a deadline, a goal becomes more certain and more of an expectation you have for yourself.
The best part of setting goals instead of making New Year’s Resolutions is you don’t have to wait until January to start or until next January to recover a mistake. Whatever your goal, be SMART. Best wishes to you and yours this year.