The new year brings with it a lot of promise. We start to see the world as full of possibilities. We think of all the changes we want to make and goals we want to accomplish. But with this all fresh new hope comes something that can weigh us down- expectations.
Expectations are things we think SHOULD happen. This is different than hope. Hope is something we think may happen but with the knowledge that it may not. We are emotionally prepared to be disappointed but still in a positive mindset. Expectations can sometimes come with an entitled sense of thinking. I expect this to happen therefore it should happen and if it doesn’t I’m going to have a big problem with it. Danny Boyle said it best, “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.”
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have any expectations. We should expect to be respected by others. We should expect that we will meet our daily responsibilities. The problem becomes when our expectations of ourselves or others become attached to our sense of self and ability to accept those we consider as important in our lives.
Expectations in relationships is another blog post within itself so I’m going to focus on the expectations we have of ourselves mostly because this time of year is when we seem to have the highest expectations of ourselves. We list many resolutions and we place high expectations on what we will accomplish in the new year, and all of these expectations especially those we tie greatly to our self-worth can be a breeding ground for disappointment in ourselves and feelings of low self-worth.
So when you’re sitting down to write your resolutions ( and yes, please please write them), sit back and re-think your expectations. When we write things down we can not only get all of our thoughts down and out of the abyss of our minds but we can also concretize them, examine them from a different point of view, and choose to cross out those that are too lofty or not the best fit for our lives right now. For example I wrote down as one of my resolutions to hike a trail of significant length this year. After looking at it on paper next to my other resolutions I realized it wasn’t the best fit for me this year. It may be entirely possible that I can achieve this goal this year. I sat back and was truly honest with myself. Having two young children and having some professional goals I want to set aside some time for when I can secure childcare I realized it’s not the time for this goal for me. I altered the goal to hiking on my own once per month setting not particular length as a goal. So when looking back on 2018 I can feel good about the time I took to hike, something I love to do, but not feel disappointed that I didn’t conquer the Appalachian Trail.
After you write down your resolutions ask yourself the following four questions to re-think your expectations.
- Is the motive for this resolution primarily to fulfill a need for self-worth? Will I somehow feel more worthy as a person if I fulfill it? In this case cross it out. What’s more important is shifting your mindset to believing in your worth right now, accomplishments or no accomplishments, being the mother you want to be or falling short of that constantly. A better resolution in this case is to work on feelings around self-worth in this area by rejecting self-judgmental thoughts and reducing shame with self-compassion.
- Is the motive for this resolution primarily to fulfill what I believe others expect of me? Wanting to be a “better” partner or “better” parent not only is an unclear goal it’s also pretty undefinable. What constitutes better? Improving how we contribute to our relationships is a wonderful intention but we have to make sure we are tackling it with a tremendous amount of self-awareness. Choosing to become a “better” mother by adopting traits that don’t feel authentic to ourselves but rather something someone wants us to be with only set us up for either disappointment in ourselves when we can’t make ourselves be different or feelings of inauthenticity that will lead to discomfort and potential resentment in our relationships. Wanting to be more present with our children because that’s something we value is a great mindset. But forcing ourselves to be Pinterest perfect mommy because we think it’ll make the family happy or make us well-liked is only going to end up more like a pinterest fail.
- Can I cope adequately if I don’t even come close to meeting this resolution? How will it impact my sense of self-worth if I don’t achieve it? If you’re like me and have set the resolution to lose a certain amount of pounds each year and feel utterly disappointed when you don’t meet that goal this question is for you. I consistently have never met this resolution and it has immediately led me to thoughts of “I’m never going to lose weight,” “I’m so lazy,” or “I never follow through on things.” Because this became my yearly habit that sent me into a cycle of self-loathing and poor body image I’ve given up on new years resolutions that deal with weight altogether. This year my resolution is to start making healthier decisions more often than unhealthy decisions. I’m not going to focus on a strict eating or exercise plan but rather start asking myself at the end of each day- did I make more healthy decisions today? If not that’s okay, I try again tomorrow. The important thing is I’m thinking of it each day and agreeing to consider my physical health more often. This is the way I’m hoping to move towards better physical health while keeping this goal at a distance from my self-worth. Alter your resolution in a way that won’t set that self-defeating cycle in motion for you.
- Is this resolution realistic, achievable, and able to be altered and adapted frequently without becoming disappointed and easily frustrated? It’s no secret that society puts a lot of pressure on us to achieve a lot rather quickly. We’re always looking for the quickest way to achieve something and even when we do achieve it we’re barely don’t popping the bottle of champagne before setting our sights higher. Think of how quickly people asked you when you were going to have another child after having your first. Sometimes I wonder how more simplistic our lives would be if you society gave up the need for instance gratification and “never enough” thinking. So this is where sometimes our resolutions can become too concrete. If you can’t alter your resolution to become more achievable its time to re-think your expectations. For example, “I won’t yell at my kids anymore” is not only unrealistic for some parents that struggle with this but also pretty unachievable if its become a habit. Making it more realistic such as “I’ll become more aware of how I’m communicating with my children by keeping a daily diary” is not only achievable but more realistic as a first step to decreasing yelling. Also if you set yourself for never yelling at your kids how will you feel if you yell at them one day? “I failed. I’m an awful mother. My kids deserve better than me.” We begin to resent ourselves with this thinking, we feel irritable, then our kids are demanding or not listening, and we yell because we’re irritable and feeling defeated. It becomes a vicious cycle. We have to use real honesty with ourselves about what we are capable of accomplishing and be willing to alter our goals as we go along so that we can feel capable of accomplishing them.
The reason re-thinking expectations is a form of self-care is because it gives us the ability to give ourselves room to breathe when it comes to our goals. Whether it’s a unexpected injury, struggles with mental health, or just realizing we set our sights a little too high we need to give ourselves the grace and space to change our expectations of ourselves and our lives. When we alter our expectations first we’re able to prevent the cycle of shame and negative thinking that accompanies failure. We’re able to recognize that although we may not have achieved what we initially intended we are worthy of re-evaluating based on what we can handle, what there is space for in our lives, and all the while realizing that none of it has anything to do with our worth as a person.