It’s only human nature to have high expectations for how we want our lives to unfold. But life has a way of getting in the way. Being diagnosed with a chronic condition, for example.
A question for you: Have you taken a look at your expectations lately?
My clients often talk to me about how, because of their health challenges, their lives aren’t measuring up to their expectations. They feel let down by others, not getting enough of what they need. They feel that they are letting others down by not being able to give enough. Or they feel they have let themselves down by not doing enough.
Sure, it’s only human to have expectations of how others should feel or act towards you. Especially people who are close to you, friends and family, or the healthcare professionals that you work with. And to expect to always perform at your best.
One of the most frustrating things about living with a chronic condition is adjusting to the constant challenges to maintain your own self care, and the new responsibilities that go along with that, none of which you asked for. Along with the need to rely more on others to do their part. Can’t everybody just do their job? Including me!
Here’s what I’ve learned from my clients, as well as in my own experience with friends and family dealing with chronic conditions: Expecting 100% can be a set-up for a letdown.
Behind the science and technology of healthcare are humans. And humans aren’t perfect. Healthcare professionals aren’t always so responsive. Delays are going to happen, along with the restrictions and inconveniences of managed care.
And then there are family members, who aren’t always so supportive, because they aren’t able to or don’t know how to, or just won’t.
And you’re human too. With good days and bad days, good intentions, and your own limitations.
So, given that we are dealing with imperfect beings, what if, instead of expecting perfection, you expected imperfection? What if you started to ask yourself what parts of your life need to be functioning at 100%, and where you might begin to loosen up on your expectations? Averaging out your expectations to, let’s say, around 80%? This would mean allowing for the human factor in yourself and others. It might also mean a whole lot less disappointment. Not to mention a whole lot less stress.
Ready to give the 80% perspective a chance? Here are ideas for how to loosen up your grip and giving yourself, and others, some breathing room.
Focus your energy on what needs to be in place to take the best care of yourself. Taking care of your health is priority number one – medication, diet, rest, and anything else you need to do to manage your condition. So if you’re looking for a starting place, this is one aspect of your life where striving for 100% makes sense. After all, your self-care is the cornerstone of your life.
Assuming you aren’t superwoman/man, maintaining 100% self-care may require making some adjustments in the other areas of your life. 80% doesn’t mean have to mean an across the board cut, but doing some reallocating to take the pressure off yourself.
Let’s start with your family. Sure you want to give 100% to your family. But parents often tell me that they run themselves ragged with work around the house, trying to participate in community activities, while also trying to have real quality time with their children. If that’s you, then it might be time to look at where you can tighten up and where you can lighten up.
Could your house be a little less spotless, with the laundry waiting an extra day, the lawn waiting a few days? 80% might mean a less than perfect house, but also give you more time to spend enjoying your family? While taking better care of yourself by getting a little more rest and a little stress? And what if you asked other family members to help out, giving up some of your control and giving them a chance to give you a hand?
Keep in mind that expectations for other people can lead to disappointment. Other people aren’t always going to act the way we think they should, or hope they would. Everybody has days when they aren’t on their A-game, when they don’t feel good, when they aren’t so supportive. Instead of expecting the people of your life to be at 100%, how about cutting them some slack, too? Given that you are dealing with human beings here, 80% isn’t so bad. Patience helps.
You might also look other ways you spend your time. What do you “need” to commit to? Something that you really want to do or something that you feel like you should do? Do you need to go to that meeting or commit to that weekend activity? If you look at your commitments from the 80% perspective, you might find that good enough, and not perfect, can leave you with more balance in your life.
And what about you? Try going a little easier on yourself. When you hear that voice of self-criticism start to zero in on what you should have don’t and didn’t, or do perfectly, remind yourself of the 80% perspective. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can.
Speaking of should… Every time the word “should” creeps into your self-talk, ask yourself: “Who says?” Asking this question is a way to assess when the need to be perfect – and to live up to unrealistic expectations for yourself and others – is interfering with your well-being. In other words, call yourself out on all that “should-ing.” (With the holidays upon us, you might want to build the “Who says?” test into your daily routine.)
Loosen up on that tight grip. Show some compassion toward yourself, and it will be a lot easier to show feel compassionate toward others. We are all in this together.