In this episode, which follows Chapter 4, Section 3: Embrace Realistic Expectations, I review how this culture’s unrealistic expectations support your feelings of inadequacy. You’ll learn how to
- Spot your specific unrealistic expectations.
- Get rid of them
- Embrace realistic expectations to help you grow and succeed.
My goal is to encourage you to be kinder and gentle with yourself and see your abilities and agency instead of your inadequacies and shortcomings.
As opposed to Unrealistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations immobilize, invalidate, and stress you out. Many of them are affecting you under the radar. They are taken for granted as truths and needs. But, they aren’t. Unrealistic expectations are a product of Western culture. In this episode, I show you how they came into your life and then take you through an exercise to pinpoint them and shift them into realistic expectations (like goals and commitments) that charge you up and motivate you.
“When you think of things as experiences instead of problems, you see yourself as less of a victim and more of an experiencer (or experimenter). This is, for sure, empowering. But it also frees you from urgently making meaning to restore order in chaotic situations. When you see things as “problems,” you make meaning with the purpose of finding out, “How do I get out of this feeling now?” And, when you have to make meaning urgently, blame is the most common place to land. But blame sucks and makes the problem worse.” – Dr. Jodi Aman
Listen to Embrace Realistic Expectations: Episode 4-3:
Resources for Embrace Realistic Expectations
Transcription of the Embrace Realistic Expectations:
Hey, you’re here with Dr. Jodi, and this is Season 4 of “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!” This podcast is a teen and young adult guide to ditching toxic stress and hardwiring your brain for happiness. If you’re new here, grab a copy of my book “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!” because this series goes section by section through it, going a little bit deeper, giving more examples, and telling more stories. In this season, which follows Chapter 4, we’re finally focusing on you making peace with yourself.
Because you can’t get rid of anxiety when you’re still being your own worst critic. Most likely, you have been your own worst critic, even though you don’t deserve it. You deserve kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. In this season, I will give you the practical tools to do that for yourself. Thank you for listening, subscribing, and leaving me five stars on Apple Podcasts. Please spread the word about this book and series because mental health problems have dire consequences that inflict more pain on young people, their families, and their communities. And I would be grateful if you could help me turn the tide by sharing these tips for embracing self-love.
Welcome to Chapter 4, Section 3: “Embrace Realistic Expectations”
Welcome to the episode that accompanies Chapter 4, Section 3: Embrace Realistic Expectations.
In this episode,
- We’ll review how this culture’s unrealistic expectations support your feelings of inadequacy.
- We’ll expose your specific unrealistic expectations.
- And then, go over a method for embracing realistic expectations that will help you grow and succeed.
Chapter 4, Section 3 in the book is very simple and short because most of it is a review until you get to the What’s in Your Hand? activity. I am a practical learner myself. I like to learn by doing. (I get frustrated with teachers who tell me what to do later.) I want to try it right now and feel what it feels like to do it. I learn through experience, so that is how I’ll teach you about unrealistic expectations.
I facilitate an ongoing therapeutic support group for empaths. Empaths are highly sensitive people. They’re sensitive to people’s emotions and often feel feelings from people and places around them in addition to their own. I teach them how to tell the difference. On January 1st, 2023, one of the members texted the group chat. She said for this new year, and she intended to see things as experiences rather than problems. It made me think about how we make meaning through our Western culture’s lens of fear, high expectations, and deficit mentality significantly. Those negatively inform how we think about what happens to us, causing unnecessary emotional turmoil.
Experiences Seem Different, Here’s Why
When you think of things as experiences instead of problems, you see yourself as less of a victim and more of an experiencer (or experimenter). This is, for sure, empowering. But it also frees you from urgently making meaning to restore order in chaotic situations. When you see things as “problems,” you make meaning with the purpose of finding out, “How do I get out of this feeling now?” And, when you have to make meaning urgently, blame is the most common place to land. But blame sucks and makes the problem worse.
When you think about things as experiences the meaning-making purpose changes. The question you are asking, in this case, is, “What is this experience?” You may not even need to make meaning, but instead, let the meaning show up when it wants to. You can keep observing, feeling, intending, and responding in the meantime.
Naming it an experience puts you in the witness role, which, as you know, if you have been listening to all previous episodes, gives you an immediate distance from the chaos. It gives you a big-picture view with a unique perspective to understand and relate to everything in a purposeful and intentional way rather than being blindly driven by negative emotions.
That group member had a brilliant, simple idea: to think about problems as experiences. I like the word experiences because it doesn’t insinuate that we must see it positively somehow. Like, “Instead of problems, they are blessings,” or “Instead of crisis, think of them as opportunities.” I don’t think those are helpful.
Ixnay the unhelpful beliefs
I also don’t believe “Everything happens for a reason.” And, I don’t think “everything happens for a reason” is as helpful as people think it is. Sometimes it can be harmful because accidents happen, some things are nonsensical, and life is much more complicated than that!
When you use the word “experience,” it doesn’t dismiss injustice, abuse, or oppression like the words “blessings” and “opportunities” do. Experience doesn’t suggest that it doesn’t matter that bad things have happened to you because it does matter. Thinking about it as an experience allows you to be upset because you are human. However, you’re not panicking, nor are you drowning in the chaos of a problem, which means you take less stress into your nervous system. That way, you’ll have more access to your inner wisdom to respond to what is happening in ways that support you and your future.
When I was recovering from my anxiety, I started to think about life as experiences instead of problems, too. My anxiety had me afraid of future possibilities of trauma. I was terrified of something awful happening to me or someone I loved. But something shifted when I thought I would have experiences instead of traumas. It changed my perspective of them. I felt empowered as a witness of my life rather than a passive recipient of these terrible things. It was the utter helplessness that triggered my anxiety. The power I held as a witness instead of a victim meant I wasn’t totally helpless. I could respond.
Listen to Embrace Realistic Expectations on YouTube
I learned this while studying A Course in Miracles, which is a spiritual text that touts, “Everything is love.” It teaches that false meaning-making, including judgment and fear, gets in the way of experiencing everything as love. When you go through the book, there are daily practices that help you strip off your lifelong history of meaning-making, so you can see everything as love. The first exercise in the book tells you to: Sit in a room and look around. Whatever you see, say:
This table does not mean anything.
This chair does not mean anything.
This hand does not mean anything.
This foot does not mean anything.
This pen does not mean anything.
During this, you are removing the meaning around these everyday objects. Letting go of what you know opens space for new meaning to come forth that is not from your ego. The practice is challenging because it equalizes everything. Your grandma’s necklace means the same as the tree outside the window and the same as the cupcake you baked to bring to your friend for their birthday.
Okay, let me tie it all together with the unrealistic expectations I am supposed to discuss in this episode. Expectations have the meaning you give them. You think you have to be this way, or that way to belong, and then, you begin to believe it is true that you have to be this or that. It’s an idea, but your mind gives it a truth status. For example, “My hair has to look perfect today,” can easily become a truth about what you need to do. Here’s a tip: Always question expectations, wants, and desires that use the words need, must, should, or have to.
How meaning affects us
Sometimes these words are just a figure of speech, but most of the time, the brain hears these expressions as a standard of success- as if they define whether we are acceptable or unacceptable. That, my dears, is black-and-white thinking. There is no absolutely acceptable or absolutely unacceptable. The word “acceptable” is relative (I mean acceptable to who or for what?). We don’t even know. These expectations sound truths, but there’s no substance to them.
You give unrealistic expectations meaning because you have been encultured to believe you need to have them and meet them, or you will be kicked out of society. From this belief, you end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Plus, you don’t really know how high the expectation is supposed to be, so you overshoot to get it “right.” You can’t overshoot perfection, but you can try. But it’s like being on a hamster wheel. All efforting and not getting anywhere will not feel good or do anything good for you.
People often think that unrealistic expectations keep them motivated. They mistakenly assume that they would not get anything done if they were kinder to themselves. But, I witness unrealistic expectations getting in the way of people’s productivity all the time. The pressure and stress about them make people’s resistance rise. It even brings out obstinance, making people refuse to try at something, even something they want to happen, saying things like, “There’s no point! I am going to fail anyway. Why put the effort in?”
Okay, not everyone lets that stop them, but even if the undercurrents are there, and even if it just makes you feel guilty, but you keep going, your bandwidth is used up for no good reason.
Unrealistic vs Realistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations are the basis of all negative self-judgment. Because we have these unrealistic expectations, people in our culture judge ourselves so much.
Sometimes, we don’t think about these unrealistic expectations as expectations. They are so ingrained and much of the time implicit. Again, implicit means that they are unseen but still there and affecting you. You feel the pressure of unrealistic expectations even when you don’t explicitly think about them. However, once you take them out into the open and look at them, you can change them to realistic expectations.
Realistic expectations are good for you. They keep you charged up and feeling purposeful. They help you grow by having you push the edge between what you can do and what you desire––to expand the bounds of your consciousness, skills, understandings, and relationships.
Do you have any adults in your life who expect you to do well? You know those teachers who are gung ho and believe in you. They don’t come across as stern or pressuring but uplifting. Do you know those kinds of teachers? They motivate you, don’t they? They have confidence in you and your abilities. It is as if they hold the candle of that confidence and pass the flame to your candle. You can see your success through their eyes, which gives you the confidence to put the effort in and succeed.
People don’t need to be “fixed”
That’s great if you have adults or friends who believe in you. It helps if you have that because sometimes you probably get down on yourself and need someone to hold the candle for you for a bit. They can re-light your candle when you need it. You can also be that person for someone else––that cheerleader who believes that your friends can do what they want and need to do.
Over the years, the most meaningful feedback that my clients have given to me is that they feel my belief in them. People have mad skills; they can do so much. When I get to know someone, I learn about their uniqueness and, through that, learn how they can overcome the problem they came to me for. Over the decades, I have honed the ability to discover people’s skills quickly. This is how I do it: I don’t try to fix them as soon as they come in my door. When people are upset, it scares the people around them, who then respond out of fear, trying to fix it. It decenters the person upset, taking the focus off of them.
When you are not afraid, because you know people get better and listen as they talk, you see that people have so many skills. I hear them, recognize them as skills and then, reflect them back to them. That is when things start to shift for them. I don’t make up their skills. They have them. I just know how to ask and discover them, and so they show them to me, even when they are not visible to themself. I simply reflect back what I have heard. It’s authentic, which is why it works so well.
Believing in Yourself
Believing in yourself and having that build confidence is the opposite of getting stalled by unrealistic expectations. At the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he is able to produce a powerful patronus because he knows that he had before. Knowing you can is a powerful confidence booster. Watch the clip here.
Alternately, your mind can make “not KNOWING that you can” stall you. You might think, I’ll do it when I know I can. How will you know you can unless you do it? You need to do it to see that you can. The best way to do to build confidence is to keep trying new things. That way, trying things you are unsure of becomes familiar rather than foreign, decreasing that biological and mental resistance.
Okay, back to the exercise in the What’s in Your Hand? activity of this Section of the book. You are visibilizing your unrealistic expectations. In the book, I give many examples, because they are so deep inside you need to warm up seeing them, so you can get them out from the depths and visible where you can do something about them.
Here are some examples:
I need to act cool at all times.
I need to hide my femininity.
I need to know what the teacher means.
I need to have perfect makeup every day.
I can’t make waves.
I need to ace this test.
Please read the whole list I gave you in the book.
Because we want to make these implicit expectations explicit so you have control. And then, begin a list of your unrealistic expectations. Once they start coming out, you may think of more and more. Write them all down and then read them over. Ridiculous? Read these over with a friend, too. You will be surprised by how many you have in common. It’s sad to think of your friend putting that pressure on themselves. Seeing it through how it is happening to them gives you the distance to think of your own as ridiculous too.
Have compassion for yourself. You are not crazy for having this list of unrealistic expectations. It is a normal part of growing up in a colonized culture. However, now that you know these are NOT TRUTHS, and not necessary for you to reach, you can re-write them. (Or, you can get rid of them altogether, which is okay, too.)
You cannot get rid of some of them because there is something there that is important to you, for example: “I need to know what the teacher means.” You want to do well in the class and don’t want to throw that value out. But, implicit in “I need to know what the teacher means” is a lack of trust in yourself. You are judging that you didn’t grok it from the first way they gave directions. You are worried that you won’t figure it out on your own.
Separating from Your Thoughts
When you re-write this expectation, it looks like this: “I am interested in understanding, and I can take some action to research or ask questions, but I can also be patient because as I begin the homework, the directions will probably start to make more sense.” You can hear in my voice that there is less energy and attachment than I need to know what the teacher means!!
When you say, I am interested in understanding, and I can take some action to research or ask questions, I can also be patient because as I start the homework, the directions will probably begin to make more sense; there’s a plan of how to go forward, but nothing to hook judgment on. The book has more examples for you to help you integrate this. I also added them to the blog post to assist you.
Keep going. List all your unrealistic expectations–– and dig deep here. While you are doing it, you might as well clear out as much negative thinking as possible. Use this time while it is at the top of your mind to adjust all the unrealistic expectations that you can. Expose them and debunk them, and be free of them.
Thank you for reading
Thank you so much for listing to this episode of Anxiety… I’m So Done with You! with me, Doctor Jodi.
In this episode,
- You learned how expectations have the meaning that you give them.
- You heard how that meaning is influenced by your past and cultural standards of being good enough
- You learned that once you visibilize expectations, you have the power to change them.
- Lastly, I gave examples of how you do that.
The next episode will cover Chapter 4, Section 5: Embrace Hope. Read or listen to that, and I will see you there.