Tag Archives: unreasonable expectations

If You Truly Want to Be Exceptional, Go For Being Average

As far back as I can remember I used to be a perfectionist overachiever, and this was greatly due to the meaning I had derived from my life experiences growing up.  I was surrounded by people who, with the best of intentions, expected the best from me.  They had high hopes for me, and they wanted me to rise above average, to be exceptional.

It wasn’t long before I learned what I deem to be one of my most important life lessons.  I found out that when I set off for being exceptional, always striving to be the best, always reaching for first place, always pushing myself to do more, more, more, I found it more and more difficult to feel happy or even content about my current and past accomplishments; in fact, I could not even bring myself to acknowledge them, let alone enjoy them.

Whether they vocalized it or not, the expectations of those around me always rose above the results I produced.  Whenever I showed them I could do more, they expected more. The more I showed them I could do, the more they expected of me.  And if I ever I fell short of performing at my newly set standard for whatever reason (maybe I was just having a “bad” day?) the spectators around me cut me no slack.   They frowned and showed signs of disappointment, which in turn caused me to feel disappointed in myself.

As a result of this, my own expectations on myself rose high above my accomplishments; even the times when I excelled at something, I always told myself, “You could have done better. You must do better next time.”  This caused me a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety, not to mention feelings of never being “good enough” or “special enough.” Needless to say, I was unable to find satisfaction in my accomplishments; they felt like empty victories to me. I was literally unable to be pleased with myself. How sad it was to go through life feeling like no matter what I did, I was not good enough even in my own eyes.

In his book “Supercoach” Michael Neill shares with us the concept of going for “having an average day” as a way for being exceptional.  When I first read this I was skeptical because I thought, “This goes against the conventional belief of making every day exceptional!”  And indeed it does.  At first glance it may seem like we’re being encourage for settling for an average life and being conformists or having a mediocre attitude.  But as Michael explains,

The paradoxical promise of the “average day” philosophy [is that] the cumulative effect of a series of average days spent doing an average amount of what loves and wants to do is actually quite extraordinary

It took me a bit to digest this concept but the more I thought about it the more sense it made to me.  I realized then that whenever I wanted to accomplish something or do something I wanted to do, my perfectionist overachieving attitude kicked in and suddenly the task seemed too daunting or complicated. I could anticipate my own expectations about it and felt anxious rather than motivated.  As a result, I tended to put it off!  “If I’m going to do it, it has to be perfect” – I thought – “otherwise I am not going to do it.” And then I felt burnt out before I even started.

Well you can imagine how many things got put off or postponed as a result, from making sure I spent quality time with my kids, to working on the next chapter in a book I was writing. I knew I wanted to spend quality time with my kids every day, but I always believed that it had to be this whole ordeal that would take at least a couple of hours each day in order for it to be done right.  In the case of my book, I often focused on the fact that I needed to do additional research and get all the words and all the paragraphs perfect, which again would take a long time to do.

But after reading Michael’s tip I saw how my perfectionist-going-for-exceptional attitude was actually working against me and holding me back.  So I decided to implement his suggestion and shoot for having average days instead.  This simply meant that there was no more pressure to get it perfect. The goal was just to get it done.  So I made it a point to spend at least some quality time with my kids on a daily basis. That time was sometimes spent playing a few rounds of go-fish, or talking to them while I was cooking dinner (yes, I’m a dad who loves cooking for his kids), or sitting with them on the couch with my arms around their shoulders asking them about their day.

Was it ideal? Far from it. But I realized that if I waited for the “ideal” I would rarely (if ever) get to spend any time with my kids!  At least now, I got to spend some real quality time with them, talking to them about their needs and their dreams, and really giving them my attention.   If during the time we spent together I was able to make even the tiniest bit of difference, the impact this would have over the course of their lives would be far from average!

So now, whenever I find myself putting off something I want to do or postponing it until the stars and planets align and everything is perfect, I apply Michael’s tip and get right to it.  I’m finding that as a result of that I am able to accomplish more, and get more satisfaction out of my accomplishments.  My wife and I have also made it a point to convey this attitude to our kids.  They know that we are effort-oriented rather than results-oriented, and that we don’t expect straight A’s in their report cards.  We’re making it a point to take the pressure of perfection off of their shoulders and encourage them to just give things their best shot.   We’re reminding them constantly that if they’re not pleased with the results, they can always try again. But at this point it becomes a choice rather than an expectation, and this allows our creativity and our energy to flow freely and shine.

Remember the fable of the (average) tortoise and the (overachieving) hare, and the moral of the story?   “Slow and steady wins the race!” It really is true!

What do you think of this “going for an average day” tip?  Drop me a line in the comment box below,

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , ,

How to Determine If You Should Keep Holding On To Your “Shoulds”

Not very long ago I felt very disappointed in myself.  There were several things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t doing them, and this made me feel like a hopeless failure.  I had been carrying around those “shoulds” for several years and every time I thought about them I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame for not being strong enough, and for not using my will power to force myself to do the things I knew I should be doing.

I later learned that these “shoulds” are very damaging to our sense of self-worth because they make us feel incompetent and less-than; they give us the impression that we are wrong or that we are doing something wrong. They weigh us down just as if we were carrying actual weights tied around our neck and shoulders, and cause us to look down on ourselves and blame our lack of discipline or will-power.

One day I came across the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. In one of the chapters Louise mentions an approach that she uses in her sessions with some of her clients.  This approach involves taking a close look at those “shoulds” we have carried around on our shoulders for years, and really assessing whether they should remain with us or be discarded once and for all.

Louise’s approach works as follows:

  1. Fold a piece of writing paper in half. On the first half make a list of all the “shoulds” that come to mind. Begin each sentence with “I should [fill in the blank].”  Really take the time to find all those “shoulds” you’ve been carrying around and bring them to the forefront of your mind, and write them down.
  2. On the second half of the paper, write “Why?” as the heading; now, for each “should” that you listed in step 1, write down the reason why you should be doing it. Don’t second guess your answers; simply write whatever first comes to mind.
  3. Now you are going to go down the list of your “shoulds” one more time, except this time instead of beginning your sentence with “I should [fill in the blank]” you are going to begin each sentence with “If I really wanted to, I could [fill in the blank].” Notice that this puts a whole new light on the matter.  See if you experience any difference in the way you feel when you state your “shoulds” as “coulds” instead. After each of these statements ask yourself this question. “Why haven’t I?” And answer it honestly.

This exercise was very revealing to me.  It allowed me to clearly see that many of the things that I was beating myself up for all those years weren’t even my idea to begin with. These were ideas that were put there by other people in my life who thought that I “should” do them.  And many of these I didn’t even really want to do!  I remembered how inferior I felt when a member of my family said I should “be smart like so and so who is younger than you and already bought a house.”  What a load of baloney! Anything that fell in this category I discarded immediately, and oh what a relief that was!

As Louise explains,

There are so many people who try to force themselves for years into a career they don’t even like only because their parents said they “should” become a dentist or a teacher.

If you have been carrying around a bunch of “shoulds” that have caused you to develop guilt, shame or low self-esteem, I encourage you to give Louise’s approach a try.  If you find out that these “shoulds” shouldn’t be part of your life, don’t carry them around any longer! Write them down on a separate piece of paper, ball it up and burn it. You’ll feel tremendous amount of relief once you let them go.  If you can’t get rid of a “should” for whatever reason (be sure it’s a valid one), then at least see if you can reframe it in a way that does not cause you to feel any negative feeling when you think of it. You’ll love yourself more in the process.

Do you have any input on the subject that you would like to share?  Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Pursuit of Happiness

Do I have the right to be happy?  That was a question I asked myself several years ago, on one of those days when nothing I did seemed to make me happy and I felt empty and unfulfilled.  I had worked so hard to be a “good” person and not follow the negative patterns I observed as a child.  I had embarked on this self-improvement journey which had helped me to overcome many negative tendencies. I was married to a wonderful, supporting wife and was blessed with 3 beautiful children.  Yet, I always felt like something was missing in my life.

You see, before I got married I used to think, “Maybe when I get married I’ll be truly happy.”  And when I got married I thought, “Maybe when I have kids I’ll be truly happy.” But don’t misunderstand; of course I was happily married, but I’m talking about lacking that deep sense of well-being that seemed to be missing within me.  When my first child came I thought, “Maybe when I have more money I’ll be happy,” and on and one the cycle went, and each time that the desire was fulfilled, the deep sense of well-being I craved kept eluding me and seemed unreachable.

But it wasn’t until later in my journey that I discovered that the things and people on whom I placed the expectation to make me happy were not to blame for my not attaining my happiness.  That was an unfair and irrational expectation placed on them, because it was not their job to make me happy.  I realized that I was not attaining the level of happiness I was looking for because I was looking for it in the wrong place.

You see, I had learned very early on – when I was a baby, in fact – to connect my source of happiness to the people and things that I believed were the cause of it, whether it was my parents or siblings, my toys, my activities, etc.  It’s the most natural thing in the world for all of us to do when we’re growing up, because those things do seem to help bring us back to the state of bliss in which we’re born.

As we grow older it becomes second nature for us to continue attributing the source of our happiness to those things outside of us; we place expectations on people around us such as our spouse, our children or our friends; we spend much time and energy trying to obtain the material things that we believe will make us happy such as the new car or latest gadget; we invest so much of ourselves on the activities we engage in such as our jobs or our hobbies.

As Michael Neill puts it in his book Supercoach, if we believe that our happiness comes from a particular person, we’ll put up with all kinds of nonsense we wouldn’t ordinarily put up with just to keep that person around; if we believe it comes from our work, we’ll invest more time and energy in that job at the expense of our health or even our principles. In other words, whatever it is that we attribute our happiness to will determine how far we’re willing to go to get it.

This approach seems to work, and that’s the primary reason we keep trying it.  However we soon find that the results are only temporary and the happiness is short-lived.  As the novelty wears off and we lose that temporary state of happiness, we begin craving it once again and, just like an alcoholic or a drug addict, we search anxiously for our next “fix” to bring it back. Because it did work, if only temporarily, we believe that this is the right approach; we just haven’t found the thing, the real thing that will make us happy. So we try it again and again whatever the cost may be for the sole purpose of finding that happiness.

But the problem is that we’re going about it the wrong way to begin with, because we can never find something that was never lost.  We are born in a natural state of bliss, and the real source of happiness is within us at every moment. Therefore, when we feel like we’ve disconnected from that state of bliss, we do not need to look outside of ourselves for something to bring us back to it. What we need to do is look within, and focus our attention and energy in realizing our highest and truest self. Michael Neill puts it beautifully:

“Well- being is not the fruit of something you do; it is the essence of who you are.  There is nothing you need to do, be or have in order to be happy.”

This is not to say that we should not engage in activities that bring us pleasure, or spend time cultivating friendships with pleasant people, or do things to please our spouse, or buy that new car or that new gadget, or go after whatever goal we want to accomplish.  But as Michael Neill puts it, we should focus our energy in being happy going for what we want, rather than going for what we want in the hopes that one day it will make us happy.

I believe that this is something we are meant to discover on our own at one point or another in our lives, when we are ready. And when we do, it’s like an awakening, an aha! moment that causes us to truly assimilate this truth in a way that no amount of teaching or preaching can.

I will close with an Old Sioux Legend that seems to fit here:

In ancient times, the Creator wanted to hide something from humans until they were ready to see it. The Creator gathered all the animals and sought their advice.

The Eagle said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the highest mountain and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will conquer the highest mountain, and find I, but they may not be ready for it.”

The Salmon said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the deepest ocean and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will explore the deepest depths of the ocean, and find it, but they may not be ready for it.”

The Buffalo said, “Give it to me. I will bury it in the heart of the great plains, and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, humans will rip open the earth and find it there, but they may not be ready for it.”

The creatures were stumped, until an old blind mole spoke up and said: “Why don’t you hide it inside them? That is the very last place they will look.” The Creator said, “It is done.”

Do you have an aha! moment related to happiness that you’d like to share? Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , , , ,

The Painful Trap of Unreasonable Expectations

Black and white; ones and zeroes.  As a person who enjoys working with computers, understands and enjoys programming languages, and is guided primarily by logic, that is how I see the world. Black and white; ones and zeroes.

At least I used to. There was a time in my life where there was no room for gray areas. Everything I experienced had to pass through that determining filter, absolutely everything and in every area of my life; my self-image, my marriage, the people I interacted with, their words, attitudes and personalities.  Everything.

Something was either good or bad; it was either for me or against me.  Everything had to be that clear and that logical, and I was the judge of it all.  If something didn’t follow that logic internal panic would ensue.  Like a computer that’s running a faulty program, I could almost sense my brain throwing out an error. “Does not compute.”

Stern in my ways, self-righteous and judgmental, I would scorn at others who would speak or behave in a manner that wasn’t up to my standards. But I wasn’t this way only towards others.  I acted this way even towards myself.  I measured myself against my own standards, and many times – many times – I failed miserably; because you see, I am human, and as a human being I made mistakes.  As a human being, I often landed in those gray areas for which I had no room or tolerance.  Being a perfectionist at heart, this made me feel angry and bitter, both at myself and at the world.

My perfectionist attitude led me to have unreasonable expectations of me and of the people I loved the most.  I would compare their behavior against impossible standards without taking into consideration the countless variables that could affect them; and then I held them accountable for failing to meet my expectations.

As a result of this, I became unlikable and disagreeable. Not a fun person to be around.  Friendships were practically non-existent.  My own wife avoided me because she never knew when I was going to tell her that she had failed to meet my expectations or didn’t measure up against my impossible standards yet again; I had done that so often, you see.

I almost lost my marriage because of this and that was my wake up call.  I remember the day like it was yesterday.  After she had announced to me that she could not take it any longer and was thinking of leaving, my whole world was turned upside down.  I demanded to know why she would consider ending our marriage after we had spent so many happy (in my opinion) years together.  Granted, I knew that they weren’t perfect years, but they were happy for the most part, weren’t they?  When she listed her reasons my heart sunk. She spoke of the pain and fear that my attitude caused her.  She told me how she felt like she was walking on eggshells when she was around me.  And she told me that as a result of this, she felt like she no longer loved me.  I could no longer hold the stern, unyielding mask that I had been wearing all those years, and I felt it crumble to pieces.  How fragile it was.  How tired it had made me.

It’s as if the blindfold that I had been wearing for as long as I can remember had suddenly been removed.  I suddenly had great clarity and saw for the first time just how much pain and stress I had unintentionally caused her.  I also saw how difficult and how stressful I had made my own life.

This was the beginning of my – our – recovery process.  I had already been working on other aspects of myself that were more obvious, but this one I hadn’t even thought of because up until that point I didn’t see it as a problem.  Rather, I saw it as a good thing, an intention to strive for excellence.  The recovery process wasn’t easy or quick.  Much time passed before my wife and I felt emotionally connected once again, before she even felt comfortable being around me once again.  And I can’t get tired of expressing how grateful I am that she stuck around and gave me another chance.

Since then I have learned that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but that we must remember our individuality.  We must allow each other the ability to walk our own path.  The concept of excellence is not absolute, because each person’s standards vary greatly from the next.  Who’s to say that my standards are better? Then again I would not like it if someone else judged me according to their standards, and certainly not without walking a mile in my shoes.

I can only look at myself, my journey, my abilities and my limitations, and even then my reaching for excellence should be based solely on my effort, and not on the results that are produced.  When things don’t turn out the way I expected I now ask myself this question, “Did I try my best?”  If the answer is yes, I am satisfied even if the results are not what I wanted.  If the answer is no, rather than beating on myself for it I remind myself that I am human, and make it a point to do it again perhaps trying a different approach.

Needless to say I am a happier man.  Rather than judge, I now support those around me in their own journey.  Rather than criticize I now look for the good in a person or situation. Not only does it free them from being held prisoners of unreasonable expectations, but it frees my heart to allow more love to flow.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,