What is the best watermark, yard stick or whatever other metaphor you use to measure yourself!
Setting and managing expectations is imperative. Set them too low and you’ll feel like you haven’t achieved anything, set them too high and you’ll be disappointed if you don’t reach them. Make them too boring and you’ll give up too easily, make them too difficult and you’ll give up before you get there.
So what is the best balance?
Firstly though, what are expectations?
Google defines expectation as – a strong belief that something will happen or be the case.
Well that sounds promising! According to that definition, and so many fucking motivational posters, all we have to do is expect and the clouds will open and riches, happiness and cars will rain down on us.
“Riiiiight” – Doctor Evil
Goals are like a gourmet meal, you cannot cook it without a recipe and a recipe takes more than one ingredient! A pinch of strong belief with a dash of motivation, a sprinkling of planning and a whole lot of determination. Forgive me, I seem to have channelled Jamie Oliver for a moment, but you get the point.
When we look at the synonyms for expectation, we begin to see its true and ugly face: assumption, presumption, conjecture. Accepting something to be true without proof is not going to get you anywhere. You wouldn’t let a blind man lead you across the street! So why would you blindly follow something you have no proof of, or at the very least, are not willing to prove to yourself?
So, then, what is the best balance?
Your goals should be compelling yet achievable. Everyone wants to be the next Elon Musk, Richard Branson or Meryl Streep, that last one might be just me! The point is that not everyone can achieve everything they want to, at least not on the first try. So if, for example, you wanted to invent a car that runs on the smiles of children, while turning carbon monoxide into the fair trade peace lilies of change and prosperity, you are going to have to put in some serious hard graft!
I have been guilty of expecting too much of myself, I used to think that I could do it all and if I said no to anything I would have missed out on an opportunity. I would sacrifice sleep for work and that is why I ended up standing in the middle of the kitchen with a cup full of cornflakes and a bowl full of coffee. Burnout!
So, how to manage your own expectations?
- Set SMART goals:
S – Specific: make your goal so compelling and planned out that it literally pulls you towards the outcome. Make it exciting, make it tangible. Yes things might not go exactly as planned, but at least you will have a defined path to follow to get where you are going. You can correct course as you go and manage your expectations in the process.
M – Measurable: what gets measured gets managed. By having clearly defined yard sticks or measuring points you will remain on track to achieve what you set out to. Your expectations will be managed as you see how far you have come each time you measure. This also helps break things down and allows you little victories along the way.
A – Actionable: taking action is the opposite of expecting. Taking action ensures there is forward momentum, it makes things happen. Expecting is waiting around and hoping for things to happen.
R – Realistic: this is the difference between the trying to make the car that runs on the smiles of children compared to making something that is within the realm of possibility. This has to be the most important factor in managing expectations, if it’s not realistic it just won’t happen.
T – Timeous: this is the time limit you set for yourself. There is no point in setting a goal without a deadline. Otherwise you are just expect things to happen, you are just dreaming and what needs to get done never will.
- Don’t make assumptions!
We’ve all heard the saying “Assumption is the Mother of Fuckups” and “if you assume, you make an ass out of u and me!” These sayings hold their weight. Don’t assume anything, be sure about something. That is the only way you can be certain something will happen. Question everything, there is no such thing as a stupid question. It is better to be perceived as stupid now, than to realise you have missed something when nothing can be done to change it!
Managing your expectations is important to ensure you don’t build yourself up too much and possibly let yourself down. This can lead to anxiety and depression in the long term. By managing expectations you manage your stress levels and ensure you have a clear picture of the outcome.
I’m in no way saying that you should not aim for the stars! I am a huge advocate of thinking big and trying to do something great, but just remember nothing worth having comes easy, and managing your expectations allows you to be easier on yourself to allow you to get to where you want to go!
Resources and other cool reads and listens: