Mental clutter – expectations

A while ago, I made a note for myself that I wanted to write a blog post about expectations, and over the last few days I’ve been reminded of that by a couple of things.

  1. I was in touch with someone who said they were feeling the pressure of their parents’ expectations, but at the same time did not seem to be meeting their own expectations. For example, they described their job as “mundane”.
  2. My mum showed me a TV programme called “Child Geniuses”, where a number of children had been entered into a national competition, in most cases by their parents.

Both these reminders summarised the two issues of expectations for me:

  • Other people’s expectations
  • Your own expectations

When thinking about other people’s expectations, there are number of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you accepting someone’s expectations because you value their opinion and believe that they are motivated by the best for you? e.g. a coach or trainer who pushes you to do as much as you can because they believe you are capable of more?
  2. Are you accepting someone’s expectations because they are in a position of authority over you? e.g. a parent or teacher who wants you to go to Oxbridge
  3. Do those expectations match up in any way with what you want for yourself? e.g. a parent who wants you to become a doctor because it’s prestigious and well paid, although you faint at the sight of blood.
  4. Do you know and accept the reasons behind their expectations? e.g. do your parents want you to become a doctor because that’s what they wanted for themselves but weren’t able to achieve, or because they struggled with money and don’t want you to be the same, or because they worked in a low-status job and felt disrespected by others, or because their friends’ children are doctors, or because they are doctors? Most of these reasons could be valid, but only if they fit in with your own priorities.

When thinking about your own expectations, some of the questions can be similar.

  1. Do your expectations match up with what you want for yourself? e.g. do you push yourself to go running, although you actually don’t enjoy it at all?
  2. Do you know and accept the reasons behind your own expectations? e.g. do you want to become a doctor for the salary, or to help people, or to make your parents proud, or because you think it will make it easier for you to get married? What’s interesting here is that a lot of the reasons behind your own expectations can be very difficult to tease out, and when you do discover them you may not agree with them, but you’ll still find them hard to let go. For example, I was very slim as a child, and I received a lot of praise for this within my family, because of my parents’ personal issues with weight. Nowadays, I feel disappointed with myself for being overweight. I’ve internalised the message that thin = love and that makes it hard for me to let go of the expectation that I be below a certain measurement or clothes size. On the surface, I recognise that it makes no difference to my daily life whether I weigh more or less, and that it makes no difference to my husband, who has seen me at heavier weights than now. I abhor body shaming at any weight, avoid it in my speech and try to cut it out of my thoughts. In the depths, however, I can’t quite shake the belief that fat people aren’t worth quite as much as thin people, since that was the implicit assumption in the way that I was raised, and in the way that society around me functions even today. If your expectations are based around something similar, you may not be able to get rid of them completely, but you may be able to cut yourself a bit of slack if you recognise where they came from.
  3. Are your expectations unreasonable? The key to this is asking whether you’d talk to a friend or colleague in the way you’d talk to yourself. Do you punish or criticise yourself more severely than you would criticise someone else doing what you did? In a lot of cases, the answer is yes. If you get into the habit of asking yourself, “Would I say this to someone else?”, it can help you to recognise if you’re setting a double standard for yourself.
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