“The idea that positive illusions are in the service of self-esteem virtually requires that they stay in check. If one develops substantially unrealistic expectations regarding the future that greatly exceed what one is actually able to accomplish, then one is set up for failure and disappointment, leading to lower self-esteem.” – Shelley E. Taylor
So how to deal with unrealistic expectations and take better care of your mental health?
Beliefs That Hold You Back
I’ve listened to hundreds of men and women talk about their biggest fears and their most exciting triumphs. They have spoken about the things that bring the most joy into their lives, and that which creates clouds of discontent.
Through these privileged conversations, I have detected a common thread. A set of core beliefs that lead to frustration and self-doubt.
Conclusions that many people accept as basic truths about what needs to happen in life so that they can be happy. So they can be successful. That life can be richly enjoyed and filled with purpose.
When we rid ourselves of these unrealistic expectations, we become more receptive to the joys of life. We feel much freer. Let’s look at just three of these toxic beliefs and what can be done to reduce their influence.
“I have to reach some goal, possess some object, win someone’s approval. What’s more, that needs to happen right now! If I don’t succeed right away, then I cannot be truly happy.”
Keep in mind that no one succeeds in consistently meeting major life goals in the timeframe that they would like. Impatience is an impediment to savoring the moment, a barrier to happiness.
Many of us struggle with impatience: the feeling that we need to succeed RIGHT NOW in order to enjoy life. The first step to changing this unrealistic standard is to take a moment and recall those times when you failed to reach an important goal.
It may have seemed that the world was crashing in on you. But, the fact is life did not end. Important lessons were learned. You may have even grown wiser and stronger because of the setback. Reflecting on your past in this way will go a long way to challenging the idea that you must succeed at some endeavor within a short period of time.
It may also convince you that your greatest strengths were built during times of struggle, rather than periods of success. Life is filled with both of these elements.
“I deserve…” Then fill in the rest of the sentence. It may be “I deserve to have that job” or “I deserve to have that nicer car” or I deserve to have that person’s affection.” This thought is often followed by “If I don’t obtain it, then life is not fair.”
When we feel as though that which we deserve has been kept outside our reach, resentment is likely to grow.
And why wouldn’t it? If we deserve to have something, then naturally we are inclined to expect that we will eventually possess that thing/status/object that we deserve. But what happens when it remains outside our reach? Resentment takes root.
As Anne Lamott has written, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Resentment does not make a merry companion on the road of life.
That does not mean it is wrong to have goals – far from it. Goals are important. That much is obvious to each of us. It is the unwarranted sense that we deserve the prize of winning a particular goal that should be guarded against.