“The quality of our expectations determines the quality of our action.“
– A. Godin
We always hold onto conscious and unconscious expectations when it comes to our friends, coworkers, superiors or subordinates, or from other personal or professional relationships . These expectations we all tend to hold onto, about ourselves, others and about the situations we find ourselves in directly influence us. As these expectations become targets or plans for the future. They not only influence what you are going to attempt and your confidence but also your attitude, decisions, behaviours, perspectives and your interactions with others. So, when we hold onto realistic expectations, they direct us in positive ways and towards our goals. However, many of us have a habit of often holding onto unrealistic, negative or sometimes to failed expectations that not only distort our perception of reality but they also lead us away from the goals and objectives we want to achieve.
In general, expectations are required for us to function. It is a good thing to set standards and expect for them to be met in our personal or professional endeavours. But problems arise when we fail to give the right balance to expectation, such as expecting more or less from others or ourselves, than we ought to. It is then that we set ourselves up for disappointment. There is a difference between having realistic standards for behaviour or performance and expectations. Because sometimes our expectations might be based upon strongly held assumptions.
Downside of having unrealistic expectations:
Some of our expectations are may be unrealistic or unreasonable because of the unjustified assumptions and conclusions we make. Such expectations make you think that things will go your way and create unnecessary stress and disappointment when things don’t work out. Sometimes they drive deception because of your past perceptions. For example, your worries are often built upon a set of unrealistic expectations and beliefs that end up influencing your behaviour negatively. Also living up to others unreasonable expectations creates stress and frustration. Expecting others to do what is in your interest also leads to resentment when the outcome is less likely than what you imagined it would be. Also when you try to live up to others’ expectations, the gap that arises between what people expect from you and who you are leads to frustration of yours and others as well.
Low expectations vs high expectations
Setting our expectations high or low generally has objective consequences. Many think one way to avoid disappointment and unhappiness is to have low expectations. This gives rise to a notion that you should lower your expectations to increase your well-being. But this may not hold true factually. Research shows that people with higher expectations are generally happier, whether they succeed or fail. Their findings were based on the result of three cognitive processes.
First, what matters for your well-being is how you interpret the events you encounter. For instance, a student with low expectations who got an A might attribute to his luck and not to his effort. But another who expected an A but got C might put in more effort next time and even turn hopeful that he would eventually get an A. But a student with higher expectations who succeeds, he attributes it to his personal potential. Second, adjusting people’s expectations upward led to bettering their performance. For instance, most of the times it is enough to encourage students with the word ‘clever’ to make them score higher. And the third, having high expectations about the future made them happier in present.
So, the key to increase our productivity and well-being is not to lower our expectations but is the ability to identify and release unrealistic or unreasonable expectations or assumptions of ours and others. It has more to do with the ability to interpret negative outcomes in a positive way. setting high expectations for yourself and working hard towards achieve them proves to be more productive. Setting high expectations not only improves your productivity but also makes you more inclined towards learning from your mistakes. On the contrary, if someone is basing his/her performance on low expectations or on unhelpful or unrealistic expectations, then he/she will be more likely to fail, less productive and will be less inclined to learn from their errors.
We cannot get rid of our own and others’ expectations as they play an important role in our everyday interactions and in achieving our objectives. Be it an individual or as an organisation’s expectations, they play a crucial part in our planning and productivity. This is because many times optimism bias tends to influence our future success. To achieve your goals, you should be able to effectively manage your own expectations and of others. Handling failed, unrealistic and negative expectations in positive ways can help you achieve your goals and objectives. Here are some ways to manage your own expectations and others’ expectations of you.
Managing your own expectations
unrealistic expectations. At times, we hold onto unreasonable expectations about ourselves both personal and professional situations we find ourselves in. This is mostly because of inaccurate information we have or due to our unjustified conclusions or preconceived notions. Such expectations may distort our perception of reality and lead us down the wrong path. Asking right kind of questions can make you aware of the conclusions we are drawing at any moment and helps you to handle your expectations. It is important to challenge such expectations by asking yourself what your expectations are, are you basing them on assumptions or facts and whether or not it is reasonable to hold onto such expectations in the first place. Check as to what set of expectations would be more helpful for you in that situation. Challenge your unreasonable expectations to set realistic and helpful expectations in a specific situation.
Negative expectations. Sometimes certain negative expectations manifest from self-doubt and pessimism creating failure scenarios. Recognising the possible consequences of such expectations can help you handle them positively. In order to handle your doubts, challenge your limiting beliefs. What do you expect will happen? How do you know for sure that things will turn out this way? What if the way you are thinking about is flawed? Look for more empowering ways to think and handle such negative expectations. The more you challenge your doubts and limiting beliefs, the more confident you will be to develop more realistic and positive expectations that align with your goals.
Failed expectations At times, you might have set a goal that you believed that you would achieve but didn’t quite turned out that way. In such situations, instead of giving into limiting emotions like fear of failure and disappointment, or thinking that you are inadequate or incapable, look for what you can learn from them. The result is not what you expected but it doesn’t change what you are capable of. Treat it as a failed attempt that you must learn and grow from. In order to deal with failed expectations, check whether your expectations are flexible or are you expecting very specific results based on preset conditions. When your expectations are not flexible, there won’t be enough margin left to allow you to make changes when conditions change. Check how your expectations turn out if conditions change and how you need to adapt to these changing conditions.
It is good to set goals and achieve them. But it is important to note that expectations aren’t the same as targets and you should ignore brain’s need to expect the same thing over and over. Identify where your expectations are coming from and look for any confirmation bias. Do not let your past experiences dictate your expectations. Instead of seeking evidence to confirm your perspective of how things are same, make an effort to look for what is different in a situation the second time you come across it.
Managing other’s expectations
Sometimes, we make certain decisions based on how others expect us to perform. Others can help us raise or lower our productivity levels. However, when we fail to live up to others’ expectations or when their expectations don’t align with our goals, we experience disappointment and it gives rise to frustration and resentment. Here are ways to manage others’ expectations.
Communicate with others to clarify. Expectations if not clearly defined or expressed can lead to failure and frustration. Communicate with the person setting the expectations for you. A person who is setting unreasonable expectations might be unaware that he or she is putting unfair pressure on you. When in doubt ask whether it is your friends, coworkers or children as to what it is that they want or need in that particular situation. Talk to the person and be clear about what’s expected, how it might be accomplished and make them aware of your boundaries are. For instance, what your limitations are, your flexibility, or your availability and so on. Let others know about your preferences and your plans so that they don’t expect anything that is unreasonable or unrealistic. Communicate with everyone involved in a frequent basis to avoid any assumptions they have of you.
Anticipate worst-case scenarios We are aware of the expectations others have of us, but in an effort to impress them, we forget to take into account setbacks, obstacles or other interferences that come in our way. Do not assume that things will go as you expect. For bigger tasks or projects, anticipating every possible outcome and being prepared for worst-case scenarios will help you in making your expectations more realistic.
Be aware of biases and perspectives of others. Expectations from your relationships, both personal and professional might lead to unhappiness if they are based on preconceptions and other biases. Having a clear understanding of others expectations gives you an opportunity to improve or correct your decisions and choices. Make sure you understand the context and avoid falling into the trap of their biases and preconceptions. Do not assume that others have the same understanding of a situation as you do. Gain awareness of others’ assumptions, biases and perspectives if there are any. This gives you a proper perspective of what they are expecting of you.
Finally, Manage your expectations of others
Sometimes, our expectations of others can also be unreasonable. Such expectations also put pressure on people to meet those expectations. Challenging and pushing them to raise their personal standards can be very empowering. But the key is to avoid putting unreasonable and unnecessary expectations onto others. When you place unreasonable expectations on others, you place yourself at a high risk of getting disappointed. Such disappointments can lead to an increased anger toward the person causing the disappointment. Be mindful of what is it that you are truly expecting from others. Think of what’s unreasonable to expect of other person given their ability and their current circumstances. Ask yourself whether would you expect the same of yourself if you are in that particular situation. This will help you to make your expectations of others more reasonable and realistic.
So, what expectations are you holding onto? Are your current expectations helpful and realistic? Are your expectations too low or too high? Are you being reasonable in your expectations of others? Do you communicate clearly to others what you expect and about your limitations? Are your expectations flexible? Do you focus on communicating who you are or Are your conversations full of expectations of who you should be? Do you strive to fulfil others’ expectations at the expense of your needs? Ask yourself the above questions to be more aware and mindful of your expectations.
Our success and failure can be largely defined through how we manage our expectations of ourselves and of others. At the same time, managing your expectations of others is also important to navigate yourself through your work situations and in your personal relationships. Instead of getting bogged down by various expectations, use the above strategies to change your expectations to ones that are more in line with your goals and to manage them effectively.
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” – Mandy Hale
We all at times feel stagnated or emotionally stuck, worthless, and confused. These feelings often build slowly overtime and may evolve into anxiety, fear, depression or overwhelm. We all experience that feeling where we just don’t feel like ourselves anymore or we feel stressed, exhausted or irritable as though we are trapped and starting to question ourselves as to ‘is this the real me’? And we have all these goals we desperately like to achieve and somewhere along the way we have lost our drive and we lack forward momentum. It is like you’re doing the same old thing, but it doesn’t seem like you are actually getting anywhere. Instead of moving forward toward your goals, you feel as though you are just stuck at the same point going in circles. You then struggle and force yourself to work, to come up with ideas or to make things happen in such a state.
When you are stuck, things feel immovable, entrenched and even hopeless. This constant feeling of life should be different than it is makes you force yourself to do something and words like ‘should’, ‘have to’ and ‘must’ appear in your thinking. Being stuck is like you getting stuck in quicksand, the more you try to get out, the deeper you sink as your mind tends to push, control, and manipulate. We feel as if we simply cannot move on with our goals as if there was something that kept us from pursuing our dreams. As a consequence, we feel limited and held back without an idea how to break free from such invisible obstacles or limitations.
If you’re feeling stuck, this may be why
When you feel stuck, your mind is filled with confusion and inner conflict and you cannot see the possibilities all around you as you get caught up in the negativity, mistaken assumptions, and limiting beliefs. There are some valid reasons why you feel like you are stuck at the moment. Understanding these reasons can help you become aware of how you got yourself into such state.
Toxic emotions like shame, fear, guilt, anger or flawed can stifle your energy and prevent you from being yourself. When you get stuck, may be you spiralled off into a cascade of regrets about the past, worry about the future, or judgment about yourself. You keep repeating old thoughts and behaviours that no longer fit the current reality. Sometimes, your need to be right leads to conflict with others rather than understanding. You try to protect yourself from these unpleasant feelings by being overtly defensive in a way to avoid taking responsibility for your behaviour. These hidden toxic emotions often serves to keep you stuck.
Stuck in the past. When you want to move forward, our mind has a tendency to look to the past and tries to find solutions based on past or what it already knows. It might be your past failure or a deep-seated belief that might be keeping you stuck.
Fear of unknown. Whatever you fear limits you from moving forward. Fear of unknown sabotages your own progress. Living a life without risks might seem like a logical thing to do. But gets you used to your comfort zone and makes it difficult to ever break free from it. This habit leads you to become stuck in life.
Physical and mental exhaustion. We all try to fulfil our dreams through relentless effort and overcoming obstacles. While determination and focus are valuable qualities, expending need less energy, stress and exhaustion take over your life. When you are stressed, your attention gets scattered to pursue meaningful and purposeful goals making you feel stagnant.
Self-doubt and feeling unworthy
Self-judgment is one of the greatest reason that people get stuck. When you judge yourself as unworthy, you don’t believe in yourself or in your abilities. You keep your expectations low and resist the positive changes because you fear that you are incapable of reaching your desired outcome and remain stuck in an unchallenging position.
Constant disappointment. When you fail to meet your expectations or when you make mistakes or fail, you get disappointed. Constant disappointments make you feel helpless. As a result, you are stuck in the same situation unable to move forward towards your desired goals.
Lack of focus and purpose. May be you are stuck because you lack focus and purpose or you’ve set no goals. May be it is because you have no active passions or you have too much to handle and are unable to focus on your priorities. Lack of direction keeps you stagnant.
Limited perspective and hope. Wallowing in pessimism and constant worrying can keep you stuck in the same place. This not only limits your possibilities but also generates unhelpful emotions like frustration and hopelessness. Limited perspective holds you back from reaching your highest potential.
Lack of motivation. When you are not motivated intrinsically or if you are pursuing things that you are not passionate enough, you lack enthusiasm to take positive action or to move forward.
Being in ‘stuck’ state further manifests into
• Avoidance of people, situations and tasks
• Unproductive habits
• Criticizing others
So, what can you do to get unstuck?
“Getting stuck is not a problem. Staying stuck is. Good learners practice getting unstuck.” – Alistair Smith
Having a clear understanding why you are stuck is the first step towards moving forward. Now since you have identified that there are changes that need to be made, the next step involves willingness to change and to make those changes to break free from feeling stuck. Here are some more strategies to get unstuck.
Certain emotional responses might cloud your perception of reality. Sometimes feeling stuck could be a response to exaggerated expectations. Be mindful and accept your difficult emotions to improve your emotional agility. Identify your toxic emotions to understand what they are telling you- what you can learn about your desires, boundaries, or needs. One way to get perspective on difficult emotions is to write them down. Call it, name it, and define it. Putting your emotions into words gives them less power. This doesn’t mean they won’t return, but you will be more prepared to not to get stuck. Also negative emotions can be clues to your deepest insecurities and to your inconsistencies. So, you can make small course corrections to move forward in right direction. Emotional agility is choosing how you will respond to your emotional warning system by loosening up, calming down and living with more intention.
If you want to get unstuck, acknowledge your fears and accept the situation you are in. Changing how you perceive your fears might not make your fears disappear but you can move ahead inspite of them. Don’t allow your fear of losing what you have to stop you from moving on. Try to think about the worst possible outcome of that which is causing you anxiety or keeping you stuck. It might be just your fear trying to persuade you to do nothing about your situation that is keeping you stuck. It is important to realise that you would be still be able to find a way out and can initiate positive change. Do not allow your perceived fear discourage you from making changes.
Limited perspectives can decrease your ability to see existing opportunities. You feel as if you have seemingly impossible options to implement. Your limited thinking patterns and an array of unhelpful choices can contribute to the feeling of being stuck. It is your inflexibility what keeps you stuck. Instead of getting trapped by your limited perspectives and thinking patterns, try to explore new possibilities by learning new skills, insights, knowledge and information. Break yourself from negative beliefs and explore new perspectives by asking yourself, what reasons am I telling myself? What excuses am I making? What patterns am I seeing? Your excuses might be keeping you from moving forward. Think long-term and reconnect to broader perspective and improve your possibilities by opening yourself to new experiences and people.
Let go of past mistakes
Holding onto past failures and mistakes leads to self-doubt and decreases your self-belief. You might be holding yourself back from making certain decisions and choices because of your past regrets. This leads to indulging in unproductive and unhelpful habits like procrastination or self-sabotage. Do not allow your past mistakes and failures to keep you right where you are. stop rationalising and focusing on all the different reasons that keep you stuck. Learn from them by reflecting on them and put things in perspective to make sure that you don’t make the same mistake again. Taking some time out to reflect on all the successes you had and things you achieved can also help you to get unstuck.
Break unproductive routine
Feeling stuck can be the result of your unhelpful and unproductive habits or restraining routines. While we are creatures of habits, our habits can quickly become stale, leaving us feeling stuck or unsatisfied in certain areas of our lives. Developing certain habits and routines can be quite helpful as they provide a structure to work with. But at the same time, they can also limit your possibilities as some of them can be time-wasting and unhelpful. Stagnation often results when you continue to do the same thing over and over again for long period of time. Your usual routine can develop into restrictive rules and obligations. This regular routine can turn unproductive and needs to be broken in order to free yourself from feeling stuck.
Reevaluate your goals
At times, you might be stuck for all the wrong reasons. May be your goals are not serving your purpose or you are stuck because you are doing for someone else’s benefit. Asking yourself as to whether your goals are serving your present purpose or do they need to be modified provides forward momentum. Also prioritising those that are in alignment with your core values and life purpose can help you find the right motivation you need to move out of your stuck state. Gain clarity on why and what you are indulging in and what would you prefer to do instead. Set some new goals that you are passionate about and create a plan of action to get unstuck.
Do you feel that you have no traction in your life and that you are just spinning your wheels? What is stopping you? Is it your mindset, belief, fear or an excuse? Are your current patterns helping you in making progress? Or are you feeling stuck? Are your negative emotions dominating your life? What specific fears are keeping you stuck? How are your existing habits hurting you? What new habits could you develop to support your goals? Why must you get out of this stuck state? What changes can you make to get unstuck?
Asking yourself above questions can help you in arriving at possible solutions.
It is natural to feel stuck during some points in our life and these moments exist to remind us that we are always growing and evolving. If you feel stuck in some areas of your life, you don’t have to remain where you are. Remember that “stuckness” never has to be permanent. Even if you feel like you’ve been stuck forever, you always have the freedom to choose new goals by making small changes in your life to find your way out. With the help of the above strategies, identify the reasons and areas you need to work on and choose to make the necessary changes to create the forward momentum you need to achieve your goals.