As the new year begins, are you making resolutions you'll abandon in a month or setting achievable goals? Are you basing your goals on unconscious expectations, or looking forward with a sense of expectancy?
Making Resolutions and Meeting Expectations
At the beginning of a new year people often make resolutions–promises you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad. We tend to see the beginning of the new year as a turning point and an opportunity to make some improvements to our lives.
According to a Nielsen poll published in January 2016, Americans' top 5 resolutions were:
- Stay Fit and HealthyLose Weight
- Lose Weight
- Spend Less and Save More
- Live Life to the Fullest
- Spend More Time with Family
I would guess that if they took a poll now at the beginning of 2017, the results would be much the same.
The Challenge of Keeping New Year Resolutions
The problem with new year's resolutions is that most of them are abandoned by February. There are lots of reasons why that might be:
- The resolutions we set are unrealistic.
- There are too many resolutions at the same time.
- We aim for too drastic of a change.
- We expect to change too quickly.
- The resolution is out of sync with the stage of life we are in.
- The resolutions we make aren’t truly important to us–we're “resolving” to do things we think we ought to do.
- The resolutions are poorly defined. Goals need to be specific and measurable so you can know when you have achieved them.
Achieving Our Goals is a Matter of Mindset
In order to set ourselves up for a successful year, we need to take a close look at our expectations — what they are, how we come to them, and what impact they may have on us.
Expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or will be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something
Expectations can be negative or positive, realistic or unrealistic, conscious or subconscious. To develop truly productive plans and goals, we need to be aware of our expectations, which requires that we be aware of ourselves, our abilities, and the world around us.
Our expectations (especially those subconscious ones) are shaped by our background and our experiences. According to one source, “Expectations are determined by a combination of experience, cognitive processes, communication with others and cultural norms.” That is, the culture we live in impacts our expectations of ourselves, of others, and of the world. Our life experiences also impact our expectations. If we’ve endured a lot of challenges, those difficult experiences may create negative expectations of how the world works. If, on the other hand, we lived a sheltered and privileged life growing up, that may lead us to expect that things will always come to us easily.
What is the relationship between expectations and resolutions?
Our expectations drive, often without conscious thought, many of the decisions we make, including our resolutions and the goals we set for ourselves. So it behooves us to become more aware of those expectations and evaluate whether they're realistic or not, negative or positive.
For example, say I resolve to lose ten pounds. What may be driving that is the expectation that I’m going to be happier if I’m thinner.
Or maybe I resolve to spend more time with family because I expect that I will feel more connected if I do.
But if we make a resolution based subconscious expectations about how we'll feel if we keep that resolution, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Our feelings aren’t really created by what happens outside of us; our feelings are created by the things we think about.
If we set a resolution that we don’t really believe we can keep — maybe we’ve set it because we think we ought to — we are setting ourselves up for failure. More about that later.
What do we expect?
We have expectations of ourselves. And that's not a bad thing. For instance, I expect myself to live with integrity and to be kind and generous to the people around me. But the truth is, I'm a fallible human being, and I don't live up to my own expectations all the time. It’s important to remind ourselves that our worth as human beings is not based on whether or not we meet expectations.
In an article published on Oprah Winfrey’s website, Brené Brown wrote, “When we develop expectations and base our opinions of ourselves on meeting them we can invite feelings of shame.” It’s good to expect ourselves to live up to certain standards of behavior, but basing our self-worth on our ability to always meet our expectations–or anybody else's–is a sure road to shame. Give yourself some grace and realize that your value is not dependent on your living up to anyone’s expectations.
We have expectations of others. We expect that if we do “A” our spouse will do “B.” We expect our children to love us. We expect our employees to be grateful for their jobs and work hard. It’s okay for us to ask the people in our lives to do things for us, but it’s not productive to let our happiness be dependent on whether other people live up to our expectations. People will let us down; it’s part of the human condition. In the same article I quoted above, Brené Brown says, “When we allow our happiness to be contingent upon others, we set ourselves up for resentment.”
We have expectations of life in general, and it’s really important to be aware of what those expectations are. A lot of us expect life to be fair, and sometimes it isn’t! Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, and there’s something in us that says, “That’s not fair,” but life isn’t always fair. And so again, we need to be aware of our expectations and realize that life isn’t always going to live up to those expectations. We need to be willing to control our own thinking and not let our happiness be dependent upon whether life lives up to our expectations.
What do they expect?
In addition to the effects of our own expectations, our decisions can be impacted by what we think others expect of us. This can lead us to make choices that don’t serve us (or them, for that matter). We do things that don’t fit in with who we really are at our core, and don’t fit in with our priorities. This will lead to unhappiness of one kind or another. So again, it’s important to think, “Am I doing this because it has meaning for me?” The answer to this question will certainly have an impact on whether our resolutions last past January.
One of the things that I want to talk about in future episodes is the consequences of our expectations and how we react when they are met–or when they're not met. In the meantime, check out this article on Forbes.com that talked about some unrealistic expectations that will “ruin you.”
An alternative to expectations: expectancy
I don't mean to say, “Don’t have expectations, because life will just disappoint you all the time,” because that’s not what I believe! I just mean to suggest that we not let unmet expectations (especially unconscious expectations) put us in the wrong frame of mind, thus sabotaging our progress on the things that actually matter to us. My thought? Consider replacing expectations with expectancy.
Expectations: a belief that something will or should happen a certain way
Expectancy: the state of thinking or hoping that something, especially something pleasant, will happen or be the case
Think of when you are a child on Christmas Eve and you are expectant that wonderful things will happen the next day.
Choose to cultivate a sense of expectancy rather than expectations imposed on yourself or others.”
The most important thing, I think, is instead of letting ourselves be disappointed by unmet expectations (especially of other people or of life), we choose to focus on what we can control. And we certainly can’t control other people. The world doesn't always respond to our actions in the way we want it to.
One writer on the ZenHabits website said, “That’s not to say you never act. You act in a way that is in accordance with your values, and influence the world, but never have an expectation of how the world will react to your actions.”
Instead of focusing on outcomes we cannot control, we can choose to focus on the things that we can control.
- We can control our own actions.
- We can control our own emotions.
- We can control our own thoughts.
Those are the things we should focus on as we make resolutions or set goals. The great value of setting goals is they create a destination for our life, a direction for our daily choices. It’s important to have a destination, but we need to keep in mind there are lots of ways to get there. If you have an expectation that it’s going to happen a certain way, that may be less productive than having a sense of expectancy that you're going to get there, while holding the plan loosely, as you may need to change direction a little bit along the way toward that destination.
If you believe you will achieve your goals, it is more likely that you will. In order to believe you will achieve your goals, set goals that are described in terms of things that you can control. So, for example, adjust a goal to lose weight to be a goal of what you will eat each day and how much you will exercise — things that are in your control, actions that you can take. Adjust a goal from “I'll make X number of sales” to “I'll contact X number of prospects to talk to them about my product or service.”
Look at your past achievements as evidence that you can achieve your goals. Make an inventory of the skills and abilities that you have that you can use to achieve the goal you are setting for yourself.
Look at the resources you have available to you — the internet, mentors, friends who have the skills you wish to develop.
Look at the times in the past that you've learned something new or have persevered through challenges.
Think about the evidence that you can do what you want to do, instead of thinking about your doubts. Think about it on purpose, to create that sense of expectancy.
What about you?
What are the things you want to accomplish in this new year? I would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and what you are working toward accomplishing this year. Share your questions or feedback in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Expectations Article from GoodTherapy.org
- The Life Coach School
- “3 Keys to Setting Great Expectations,” by Brené Brown
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