Woman with great expectations

Great Expectations? Are your goals adding to your stress?

We’re in the middle of a month focused on stress over at Head Set Go! and also here on our blog. Not because we’re enamoured of the stuff, but because it’s a sizeable issue for many of us. This week I want to invite you to consider if you have too great expectations of your life, and whether that’s adding to your stress load.

The launch point for my pondering is some research I’ve had sitting round which points out that the average Aussie’s quality of life is 25% better than it was thirty years ago. That’s a big improvement in a relatively short space of time. Household net wealth grew by 10% cumulatively between 2012 and 2014 alone, according to an OECD report last year. We all drive better cars, wear nicer clothes and live in bigger and nicer houses. If you lived through that era, you’ll know what I mean.

Yet at the same time we’re more stressed! When did life get so draining and stressful, and why?

Do great expectations add to our stress?

I think the answer lies, in part, because we’re trying so hard. You see, higher standards create higher expectations. Because we succeeded in upgrading our car, we now wonder if we can get a nicer house or a new couch. We don’t want to settle for second hand and we don’t really want to wait. Encouraged by the marketing giants, we want more and we want better and we want it now!

That in turn means more work, cos there’s more to achieve! We’re busier than ever before, doing the right things. We’re studying, going to the gym, and trying to give our kids opportunities we never had. And we’re saving money and working hard too!

All these things require extra  components of our energy, focus and time. And, added to the random ‘challenges’ of life such as relationship breakdowns, ageing parents, sickness or loss of work, we’re loading ourselves up. With pressure.

Self inflicted stress

A conversation with a bank manager I had recently highlights this. He commented that he really doesn’t worry too much about the length of housing loans, as the majority of his customers pay them back in 7-10 years. Amazing, right? Well yes, except for the fact that to do so puts a great deal of stress on the average household budget. I mean, it’s logical to do and if you can afford it, excellent. But is it worth the arguments and the extra time at work and the exhaustion? – especially if you just intend to start it all over again in the next suburb up?

Great expectations can help us rise to better levels of living, but they come at a cost. Sometimes it’s with our health, sometimes it’s relational, sometimes it’s in other ways. Such as a great deal of extra stress. Have you factored that into your goals?

Other forms of stress

Not everyone’s loading themselves with financial pressures. Some of us can’t, and some of us choose not to. But there’s other ways to have too great expectations of ourselves as well. How about for our own person?

Thirty years ago we weren’t so obsessed with our own personhood. Or, at least, I don’t think we were. The term ‘positive psychology’ wasn’t invented and – emotional intelligence? Wasn’t that two separate concepts? It was in some ways harsher to be living then, but it was also simpler. Now we’re reading the books and watching the videos and wondering why we can’t stop ourselves being so tired and stressed and miserable. Nobody wants to be normal anymore. Normal isn’t allowed. We have to match our social media images. We have to be stepping up.

And it’s worse for our kids. Our kids are pumped full of terms and ideas and, on the back of our own upward climb in the world, our great expectations for them to be even more amazing than us.

If you’re feeling challenged about this being a little too close to your reality, here’s three ideas possible ways to readjust things and bring some stress relief into your life.

1. Lower those ‘great expectations’

It’s probable that at least some of the hopes and dreams and plans you’ve made for improvement push beyond the bounds of reasonable. But if you made them then you can also edit them! Which of your expectations will take the most pressure of you, should you wind them back a little? Or drop them altogether? Give this question some hard thought – by which I mean don’t just gloss over it for 10 seconds and think you’re done!

If you don’t want to leave your goals behind completely, maybe you could lighten the load in other ways. Why not take another semester to finish your study, or buy the car next year when you’ve saved a bit more? Can you lengthen the time or cut the goal in half and still move enough in the direction you choose? You’re not a machine and it’s better than breaking down…

2.  Step out of the performance ring for a while

Once every now and then, give yourself the day off. Stop responsibly chasing your goals and let your hair down. Go for a walk or find some other way to relax, preferably out in some sunshine. Leave your phone behind so you’re not tempted to post your non ‘achievements’ and go with a friend or family member instead. Connect without an agenda, and feel how good it is for you.

Leaving your great expectations behind even for an afternoon can lower your stress! Which is, after all, what you want.

3. Set a maximum height on your achievement bar

Some of us aren’t prepared to let go of the goals we currently hold, but a final option for lowering your stress is to pre-set the upper limit of your success bar now. That way, when you reach it, you can feel justifiably pleased with yourself and hopefully resist chasing yourself in an ever upwards spiral of stress. Whilst this sounds limiting to some, it’s also one of the ways to boost your self-esteem (we’ll be looking at that another month!) and increase your happiness.

Which makes it worth your while to at least think through.

In conclusion, I think our ever rising great expectations of life can be both a benefit and a curse. It all depends on whether they help spur us on or simply add another layer of stress to our lives. Do you think we’re biting off more than we can chew? I’d love to know what you think…

PS We have a few options for extra training in the area of Un.stressing over at our sister training site. Check them out and see if they suit either you or someone you know.