Learning to set realistic expectations for yourself is learning how to avoid disappointment and frustration while achieving success. With a few practical solutions, anyone can get a better handle on attaining their goals.
How To Set Realistic Expectations
Most of us expect a lot from ourselves. We should be the perfect employee, the doting spouse, the generous friend, and the ever-patient parent. We should also be able to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, limit our screen time, have a fantastic sense of humor, and have plenty of time for relaxation. It’s just not realistic.
While having high expectations for yourself can be a good thing, it’s important to make sure that those expectations are reasonable and achievable. After all, setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment, burnout, and serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Between logical, emotional, and psychological practices, there are ways to bring your expectations back to reality. These are attainable and measurable things that anyone can do to have a happier and more productive life.
1. Determine Your Values
Before placing your entire focus on all of the many things that need to get done, it’s crucial to decide what is the most important to you.
We all have only 24 hours in each day. And while that may seem like plenty of time for work, errands, responsibilities, and a few good things, it really isn’t if you have unrealistic expectations of accomplishing everything every day.
Think about what is truly important to you. If you have to rank the individual experiences in your daily life, what means the most?
Is attending your child’s music lessons a dominant priority? Does having that morning coffee from the local coffee shop help start your day well? Is studying for your natural sciences class foremost in your mind? Only you can answer these questions.
There is only so much free time in the day, so setting expectations for what you want and need to do most will help you rank your priorities. Maybe grocery shopping can wait until the weekend so that you can focus on developing healthy relationships with your coworkers. Decide what speaks to your values.
2. Break Down Your Goals
Once you have an idea of your hierarchy of priorities, it’s time to develop a more realistic expectation of what can be accomplished and when.
Divide your goals into smaller, more achievable tasks so that you can track your progress and celebrate your accomplishments. You can do this on paper, in a journal, or in a spreadsheet on your computer, but break things down so that you can see them. You can always add or subtract.
When you think about your overwhelming amount of responsibilities, it can be enough to make you feel like you’ve been hit by a figurative truck.
Whether you are focusing on life in a general way or very specific stressors, we can all have a hard time getting out from under the pressure. But defining some clear expectations by breaking down your goals can be a huge assist.
What do you want to accomplish by the end of every day or week? Do you want to make specific time for any romantic relationships? Do you want to look for new jobs? Is getting 20 minutes of alone time each day something that you need? Pencil it all in.
Defining your goals and seeing them in front of you will help you let go of some of the chaos in your mind and get you on a track that is moving forward.
3. Set Deadlines
The best way to maintain a sense of stability and accountability for yourself is to set a schedule. This doesn’t have to be a minute-by-minute accounting of your entire life, but you will always have unreasonable expectations if you don’t give yourself some sense of order.
Determine when you want to achieve your goals while being realistic about the time frame (do you need two days or a month?) and maintain some sense of urgency.
For example, you are planning a trip for your family in six months, but you haven’t booked anything yet. There is plenty of time to find a hotel and figure out some family activities, but you haven’t decided if you are going to drive or fly.
It is a perfectly realistic expectation to have to make that decision within the week. Think through the options and decide. If you need less time than a week – excellent, make it happen. But if you are feeling indecisive, give yourself a due date and hold to it.
The first time you don’t meet a deadline that you’ve set for yourself, hold yourself accountable – don’t let it slide. If we expect good communication and boundaries with other people, we have to have them with ourselves. Give yourself until the end of the day (or week) to accomplish the goal you didn’t meet.
4. Be Flexible
Life is full of surprises, so be prepared to adjust your expectations if a situation doesn’t go as planned. The best thing that you can do for yourself when things go awry is to take a deep breath and try to find a solution with a new perspective.
This is especially true in today’s fast-paced world where change is constant. It’s important to remember that setbacks and obstacles are a normal part of life, and they don’t mean that you’re a failure.
Remember that there is a difference between having your own expectations and having healthy expectations. It is important to be adaptable and not so stuck in your ways that life’s twists and turns cause serious emotional distress.
Things will not always go the way you want. And if they did, be careful what you wish for. Maintaining incredibly specific expectations will likely burn you in the end, so do your best to roll with the punches.
5. Know Your Limits
One of the biggest obstacles in setting realistic expectations for yourself is not knowing your limits. It’s important to understand that you are not invincible. You have limitations just like everyone else.
When setting goals for yourself, it’s crucial to take into account your physical and emotional well-being. Don’t set unrealistic expectations that will only leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. You are not a fictional superhero, as much as you’d like to believe that you could be.
When we set high standards for ourselves, the choices usually range between satisfaction with our accomplishments and disappointment in our inabilities. But no one is perfect. And sometimes the only way to get something accomplished to your standards is through delegation.
Is there someone else that you can team up with or ask for help? A best friend or loved one who may not have the same blind spot that you do?
The best leaders are those who know how to delegate, so instead of taking everything on yourself, figure out where you can get a helping hand.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
It’s natural to look at someone else’s accomplishments and wonder why you haven’t achieved the same level of success yet. The grass is always greener, as they say.
But constantly comparing yourself to others can quickly lead to the exacerbation of an anxiety disorder, negative emotions, and low self-esteem.
When you compare yourself to others, you’re essentially trying to fit into someone else’s mold. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, so it’s time to wonder why you aren’t recognizing your own excellence for what it is.
This is where the social media issue comes in. At almost all times, social media presents an unrealistic image of success and happiness. People only share their life highlights, which can make us feel inadequate and like we’re falling behind.
What we don’t see are the struggles and challenges that they faced to get there, as well as the 183 photos they took before getting the perfect one that you now see.
Remember that everyone has their own journey, and what works for someone else may not work – or be good – for you.
7. Let Go Of Fear
Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of unmet needs – all of these can hold us back from setting goals and expectations that are truly achievable. But it’s important to recognize that fear is just an emotion and it doesn’t have to control you.
Fear can hold us back in every way. Whether you see it impact your professional ambitions, a long-term relationship, or just the general ability to move forward, it has a way of paralyzing us in our tracks.
Focus on what you really want. Hold tight to your boundaries while still trying to connect with others. Don’t let your fear of rejection or the unknown come between you and your personal growth.
Another thing to consider is whether your actions – or inactions – are due to an unmet need in your own life. If you’ve decided that becoming a multimillionaire will make you happy because you were raised with little money, evaluate whether it is the money itself that will buy you happiness.
You can have a successful job, go back to school for higher education to earn more, and be extremely happy with a fulfilling life and family without being a multimillionaire.
If your fear of not reaching this specific goal is keeping you from having a social life or a long-term partner, evaluate what you will still have left when you finally achieve your desired end results.
8. Give Yourself Grace
We all make mistakes and we all have days when things don’t go according to plan. And while we all want to do our very best all of the time, it’s important to acknowledge that you are human and you’re doing the best you can.
Giving yourself grace means being kind to yourself even when things aren’t going the way you had hoped. It can be particularly tough to show yourself or someone else compassion during stressful situations, but this is when it is the most important.
Your mental health is vitally important to the way you interact with the world around you and if you can’t give yourself grace, you won’t be able to receive it from anyone else.
If you can approach life with an open mind and heart, your day-to-day experiences will be easier. You’ll be able to achieve a greater sense of well-being and happiness while also being more resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks.
Remember that complications and failures are a natural part of the process. Be kind to yourself and don’t give up.
Setting realistic expectations for yourself is an important skill that can help you achieve success while also maintaining your mental and emotional well-being.
Things won’t always go as planned, so do your best, be flexible, and be brave. It’s about progress, not perfection. Go out and live a happy life, not a formulaic one.