“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.
Related: The Key To Bliss: Let Go Of Expectations and Avoid Suffering
“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.
Related: How To Manifest Desires Freely By Having No Expectations
Take a deep breath, focus on savoring the present: it is part of the journey, of ‘paying your dues.’ The current effort and toil will become part of your life story and will make later success all the sweeter.
Look around at what others have had to do to win in their careers and personal life. Get some perspective. Reaching big goals requires hard work. Setbacks along the way are inevitable.
After coming to terms with that truth, take the next step. Life does not revolve around any one of us. Be humble. Humility keeps one grounded and provides much-needed perspective. Part of this perspective includes accepting that many of the things we desire are not necessarily things we deserve.
“I’m not sure why, but deep inside I know that I’m lacking. In some way, I am just not enough. But I’m uncertain what is missing, so I’ll look around, maybe check out Instagram and Facebook to see what others have which makes them so happy. Then I’ll know what’s missing within myself.”
My advice for someone who struggles with this distortion (closely related to the “Imposter Syndrome”) is to stop with the comparisons. Stay away from Facebook (go cold turkey, start a Facebook Anonymous group, whatever it takes, but stop comparing your life to that of others).
Do a ‘cleansing fast’ of Instagram. Take a break, a very long break, from social media. Now that you have more time in your life, devote it to building deep, genuine relationships with a small number of friends and family.
They will value you for who you are, warts and all. These relationships should convince you that, like all of humanity, you really are lacking, and paradoxically you really are still ‘enough.’ Good enough to be loved, good enough to be valued, and good enough to bring joy into the lives of others.
To live life to the fullest we must overcome those obstacles that hold us back. Some of these obstacles include the thoughts we embrace. Thoughts we unthinkingly assume to be true.
Once we begin to notice these thoughts and challenge them, new paths for pursuing a full and rewarding life begin to open up. This takes a little work, but the rewards make the effort well worthwhile.
Related: How to Stop Being Sad and Start Feeling Happy
Take a moment to see if any of the barriers to happiness listed above might apply to you. Don’t spend another day struggling with unrealistic expectations that hold you back. Push them aside, and see how much happier life can be.
Written By Forrest Talley Originally Appeared on Forrest Talley
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between realistic and unrealistic goals?
Unrealistic goals are goals that may not attain fruition most of the time, and realistic goals are the ones that have a considerable high chance of being attained.
What happens when you set unrealistic goals?
When you keep on setting unrealistic goals for yourself, after a point in time, you will find yourself getting burnt out and quitting early. Unrealistic goals tend to drain your energy and happiness.
How do social expectations affect mental health?
Societal expectations can cause significant mental, emotional and psychological distress, which can ultimately lead to crippling anxiety and depression.
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