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365 Ways to Get Results: Day #58: Let Go of Expectations – “If only you would…”

Expectations. We hold them unconsciously under wraps until they are unmet. When they bubble their discontented heads into reality they cause resistance – decentering us from our peace and productivity. We feel irritated by friends or co-workers who don’t align with our opinion. We suffer betrayal by family who make choices we don’t agree with? We experience frustration over colleagues who don’t respect boundaries? And then relationships unravel. Toxic for others and toxic for you.

Expectations are not needs. True needs are very few. Expectations are limitless imagined realities that provide a perceived sense of security. If we get what we expect then we will be happy. The problem is that imagined realities involve entities that are out of our control: other people, career transitions, financial demands, health concerns and much more. When expectations are high and unmet, people feel as if they are losing control and often become demanding or are labeled “perfectionists.”

The fear here is that lowering the bar of expectations will compromise happiness, self-worth, and lower other people’s opinions of you. That is fiction and couldn’t be more counterproductive. Research shows that perfectionism increases stress which reduces performance, makes you hard on yourself, and detaches you from personal relationships.

A lighthouse stands firmly anchored on the jetty and doesn’t expect the sea to rise and fall to its rhythm. The lighthouse warns of the perilous rocks but doesn’t blame the ship that cannot steer clear in the storm. Neither does it rage when the sea is calm and its use thereby nullified.

Expectations are an internal drive based on external standards. Expectations indicate your desire to control the path and opinions of others and what is outside of your control. So this “yearning” you feel is interpreted as “lacking” which leads you into the “victim mode.” When you are in this mode others sense your projection of your unhappiness on them and may feel threatened, condemned, cornered or as if they are not a priority to you because of your other focuses. You tell yourself, “If you were good at your job you would….” “If you loved me you would…” Then others disconnect from you, react defensively and are unsupportive – exactly what you don’t want. Or you feel as if you are always trying to prove that you are the best or perfect, allowing external drivers to qualify your worth and never fully experiencing fulfillment. Thus you feel more and more like an over-giving victim. Dreadful.

What if your goal was no longer to “keep up” or have others “measure up” but for you to “open up?” Get out of your head and return to your heart.

How to Let Go of Expectations

1. Let go of faulty assumptions. Success, love, fulfillment, and peace are not only defined in one way. Others need not agree with your definition of these. If these are defined in your head by what you think the standards are as set by others you will feel an insatiable gluttony in trying to meet them.

2. Put down the hoops. Holding up hoops for yourself or others to jump through in order to feel worthy, loved, and successful is exhausting. You will never be satisfied.

3. Define your standards on your own terms. Don’t disrespect your own good judgment and subordinate what you know to be reasonable. Define the standards of what you need to feel fulfilled, successful, and loved from behind your own eyes and not from the view of outside eyes looking at you. Don’t allow your unhappiness to be someone else’s fault or think they are responsible to make you happy.

4. Get out of your head and define your needs in your heart while nobody is watching. Sit quietly and ask yourself, “What is it for me to be ________? (Successful, a good parent, a good manager, a leader, loved.) Before you answer, imagine that you are behind your own eyes looking out – not looking at yourself. Allow only answers that begin with “I am” or “I feel” statements.

5. Be curious and assume the best. When it comes to yourself, ask yourself who you are trying to please. The standard should be set by your own value system. If someone lets you down, drop the expectation and listen for the specific fear that is precipitating their behavior. What is their value system? How is it threatened?

6. Recognize the consequences of not changing your perspective. What has being a perfectionist cost you? What relationships have been compromised from your expectations? Can you afford to keep doing it the same way?

Blessed is the person who knows his or her limits. Life is not a series of black and white choices. Allow the shades of gray to become vibrant with color as you turn “shoulds” and “musts” into open ended dialogue while assuming the best. Start now!

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Mary Lee Gannon is the president of StartingOverNow.com – Leading Productivity Solutions for People and Organizations. With more than 16 years of experience as a CEO of organizations with up to $26 million in assets, Mary Lee consults with businesses on strategy. She is a graduate of The Duquesne University Professional Coaching Program and an alumnus of the 2010 Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital Coaching in Medicine & Leadership Conference. Her personal urnaround came as a stay-at-home mother with four children under seven-years-old who endured a divorce that took she and the children from the country club life to public assistance from where she earned success to support her family. Services include: Workshops, Meeting Facilitation, Coaching, Webinars, Speaking and Management Consulting. Areas of Specialty: Strategic Planning / Board Development / Healthcare / Public Relations / Goal Setting / Meeting Facilitation / Training / Leadership / Time Management / Life/Career Transition. Her book “Starting Over – 25 Rules for When You’ve Bottomed Out” is available in bookstores or at Amazon. Get her FREE ebook – “Grow Productivity – A Leader’s Toolbox” on her web site at www.StartingOverNow.com.