Great Expectations: Don't Let Them Ruin Your Life

Reviewed Feb 22, 2017

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Summary

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations. 
  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • Choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances.

Have you ever taken a close look at what’s important to you or what drives you? As Rick Warren asserts in The Purpose Driven Life, “Everyone’s life is driven by something.” You have, as we all do, certain expectations about yourself, others and life in general that influence your attitudes, choices, and reactions. Sometimes, however, expectations can be unrealistic and cause you much misery. Are you willing to consider that some of your goals and values are impossible to live up to?

Seeds planted

Where were your expectations formed? Life has offered you many “attitude coaches,” but primary influences are likely:

  • Your parents or guardians
  • Your own experiences and circumstances
  • Your peers
  • Society—the culture and times in which you live

In his book You Can Be Happy No Matter What, Richard Carlson, PhD, points out that the factors that combine to influence our thoughts and attitudes are endless.

Problems arising

Dr. Carlson cautions against labeling expectations and beliefs as “right” or “wrong.” Instead he proposes this question: “Do you believe that the way you see life represents the only actual and indisputable reality?” Try instead to understand that your expectations are born of a variety of influences and that a single change in one of those influences could have led you to think differently. Perhaps a few of your expectations, although not wrong, are very hard to live by.

The tyranny of unrealistic expectations

You’ll know which expectations are problems if you stop and ponder where the strife is in your life. Which of your attitudes rob you repeatedly of peace and joy? See whether any of these impossible beliefs look familiar:

  • You must be perfect.
  • You must always get your way.
  • Everyone must approve of you or like you.
  • You must never be bored.
  • You must always look, feel, and be good.
  • Life must be fair.
  • You must fill your life with activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • You must always be in control of every aspect of your life.

It’s doubtful that you walk around with these expectations or others like them on the tip of your tongue. Rather they lurk quietly but persistently underneath all that you do.

Making changes

Before attempting to change something, heed Dr. Carlson’s advice from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and “gently remind yourself that life is OK the way it is, right now.” If you get too focused on what’s wrong and how you’re going to fix it, you may find yourself still imprisoned by expectations of perfection or control. See if you can:

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations.
  • Allow yourself to experience whatever the moment has brought you, even if it’s pressure or distress.
  • Wait for a calmer moment to reflect on your values; they’ll still be there.

If you are ready for realistic change, consider a shift in attitude:

  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • You won’t always get your way.
  • Most people will like you or approve of you, but a few won’t.
  • It’s OK to be bored sometimes.
  • No one can look, feel, or be good all the time.
  • Life sometimes is not fair.
  • Your life has meaning even without lots of activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • Many aspects of yourself and your life are simply out of your control.

Are you feeling like you can’t help the way you think—that it’s just part of you? Gillian Butler, PhD, and Tony Hope, MD, authors of Managing Your Mind, assure you that you can choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances. They encourage you to search for different and wider perspectives of yourself, others, and your life—ones that will help you cope realistically and flexibly with difficulties as they arise. After you admit that your expectations could be unrealistic, you can:

  • Ask others what they think.
  • Read books about spirituality, philosophy, and human behavior.
  • Explore other cultures that differ greatly from yours.

Accept that there is always more than one way of seeing things; that opens you up to many more options for peace and joy in your life. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, PhD. Hyperion, 1997; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1992.

Summary

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations. 
  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • Choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances.

Have you ever taken a close look at what’s important to you or what drives you? As Rick Warren asserts in The Purpose Driven Life, “Everyone’s life is driven by something.” You have, as we all do, certain expectations about yourself, others and life in general that influence your attitudes, choices, and reactions. Sometimes, however, expectations can be unrealistic and cause you much misery. Are you willing to consider that some of your goals and values are impossible to live up to?

Seeds planted

Where were your expectations formed? Life has offered you many “attitude coaches,” but primary influences are likely:

  • Your parents or guardians
  • Your own experiences and circumstances
  • Your peers
  • Society—the culture and times in which you live

In his book You Can Be Happy No Matter What, Richard Carlson, PhD, points out that the factors that combine to influence our thoughts and attitudes are endless.

Problems arising

Dr. Carlson cautions against labeling expectations and beliefs as “right” or “wrong.” Instead he proposes this question: “Do you believe that the way you see life represents the only actual and indisputable reality?” Try instead to understand that your expectations are born of a variety of influences and that a single change in one of those influences could have led you to think differently. Perhaps a few of your expectations, although not wrong, are very hard to live by.

The tyranny of unrealistic expectations

You’ll know which expectations are problems if you stop and ponder where the strife is in your life. Which of your attitudes rob you repeatedly of peace and joy? See whether any of these impossible beliefs look familiar:

  • You must be perfect.
  • You must always get your way.
  • Everyone must approve of you or like you.
  • You must never be bored.
  • You must always look, feel, and be good.
  • Life must be fair.
  • You must fill your life with activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • You must always be in control of every aspect of your life.

It’s doubtful that you walk around with these expectations or others like them on the tip of your tongue. Rather they lurk quietly but persistently underneath all that you do.

Making changes

Before attempting to change something, heed Dr. Carlson’s advice from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and “gently remind yourself that life is OK the way it is, right now.” If you get too focused on what’s wrong and how you’re going to fix it, you may find yourself still imprisoned by expectations of perfection or control. See if you can:

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations.
  • Allow yourself to experience whatever the moment has brought you, even if it’s pressure or distress.
  • Wait for a calmer moment to reflect on your values; they’ll still be there.

If you are ready for realistic change, consider a shift in attitude:

  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • You won’t always get your way.
  • Most people will like you or approve of you, but a few won’t.
  • It’s OK to be bored sometimes.
  • No one can look, feel, or be good all the time.
  • Life sometimes is not fair.
  • Your life has meaning even without lots of activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • Many aspects of yourself and your life are simply out of your control.

Are you feeling like you can’t help the way you think—that it’s just part of you? Gillian Butler, PhD, and Tony Hope, MD, authors of Managing Your Mind, assure you that you can choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances. They encourage you to search for different and wider perspectives of yourself, others, and your life—ones that will help you cope realistically and flexibly with difficulties as they arise. After you admit that your expectations could be unrealistic, you can:

  • Ask others what they think.
  • Read books about spirituality, philosophy, and human behavior.
  • Explore other cultures that differ greatly from yours.

Accept that there is always more than one way of seeing things; that opens you up to many more options for peace and joy in your life. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, PhD. Hyperion, 1997; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1992.

Summary

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations. 
  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • Choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances.

Have you ever taken a close look at what’s important to you or what drives you? As Rick Warren asserts in The Purpose Driven Life, “Everyone’s life is driven by something.” You have, as we all do, certain expectations about yourself, others and life in general that influence your attitudes, choices, and reactions. Sometimes, however, expectations can be unrealistic and cause you much misery. Are you willing to consider that some of your goals and values are impossible to live up to?

Seeds planted

Where were your expectations formed? Life has offered you many “attitude coaches,” but primary influences are likely:

  • Your parents or guardians
  • Your own experiences and circumstances
  • Your peers
  • Society—the culture and times in which you live

In his book You Can Be Happy No Matter What, Richard Carlson, PhD, points out that the factors that combine to influence our thoughts and attitudes are endless.

Problems arising

Dr. Carlson cautions against labeling expectations and beliefs as “right” or “wrong.” Instead he proposes this question: “Do you believe that the way you see life represents the only actual and indisputable reality?” Try instead to understand that your expectations are born of a variety of influences and that a single change in one of those influences could have led you to think differently. Perhaps a few of your expectations, although not wrong, are very hard to live by.

The tyranny of unrealistic expectations

You’ll know which expectations are problems if you stop and ponder where the strife is in your life. Which of your attitudes rob you repeatedly of peace and joy? See whether any of these impossible beliefs look familiar:

  • You must be perfect.
  • You must always get your way.
  • Everyone must approve of you or like you.
  • You must never be bored.
  • You must always look, feel, and be good.
  • Life must be fair.
  • You must fill your life with activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • You must always be in control of every aspect of your life.

It’s doubtful that you walk around with these expectations or others like them on the tip of your tongue. Rather they lurk quietly but persistently underneath all that you do.

Making changes

Before attempting to change something, heed Dr. Carlson’s advice from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and “gently remind yourself that life is OK the way it is, right now.” If you get too focused on what’s wrong and how you’re going to fix it, you may find yourself still imprisoned by expectations of perfection or control. See if you can:

  • Forgive yourself for having unrealistic expectations.
  • Allow yourself to experience whatever the moment has brought you, even if it’s pressure or distress.
  • Wait for a calmer moment to reflect on your values; they’ll still be there.

If you are ready for realistic change, consider a shift in attitude:

  • Try your best—but expect imperfection.
  • You won’t always get your way.
  • Most people will like you or approve of you, but a few won’t.
  • It’s OK to be bored sometimes.
  • No one can look, feel, or be good all the time.
  • Life sometimes is not fair.
  • Your life has meaning even without lots of activities, possessions, achievements, etc.
  • Many aspects of yourself and your life are simply out of your control.

Are you feeling like you can’t help the way you think—that it’s just part of you? Gillian Butler, PhD, and Tony Hope, MD, authors of Managing Your Mind, assure you that you can choose your attitude or expectations in any set of circumstances. They encourage you to search for different and wider perspectives of yourself, others, and your life—ones that will help you cope realistically and flexibly with difficulties as they arise. After you admit that your expectations could be unrealistic, you can:

  • Ask others what they think.
  • Read books about spirituality, philosophy, and human behavior.
  • Explore other cultures that differ greatly from yours.

Accept that there is always more than one way of seeing things; that opens you up to many more options for peace and joy in your life. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, PhD. Hyperion, 1997; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1992.

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