Unrealistic expectations are like the gateway drug to mom guilt and unhappiness.
Though the dates and circumstances vary, the story is the same: The fantastic idea in your head of how the day will turn out fails. You run out of time. You run out of patience. You remember you can’t control the people in the perfect picture from your head. And, like a raging fire, your mind fills with doubt, regret, guilt and frustration.
What went wrong?
We try to be happy. We had good intentions. But, in most cases, it comes back to the underlying problem that our expectations were too high. We set ourselves up for failure.
This idea of unrealistic expectations applies to all areas of our life. In people I’ve worked with, I’ve seen it apply to home management tasks, lengthy to-do lists, rushed goal-setting, crammed family activities and relationships with others.
If you are wondering what you can do to stop the disappointment and find happiness, start with changing your expectations. Get out of the life you are trying to live in your head, and start enjoying the life you have.
Here are some tips — all starting with “E” — to help you realign your expectations.
1. Eliminate perfection
Framed on my bookshelf is the saying, “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Life isn’t perfect, and we know that, yet we still have a tendency to expect perfection, anyway.
Despite what Pinterest might imply, there is no perfect. There are no super moms. If we want to feel at peace with our crazy life, first we must stop comparing ourselves to others. Your best is good enough. On the hard days, your “so-so” is good enough.
Second, we can eliminate “perfect” in our own lives. Let’s eliminate perfect parties, perfect gardens, perfect meals and perfectly cleaned homes. Let’s be OK with parenting mistakes and pancakes for dinner. Let’s relax in traffic jams that make us late and moments that don’t go as planned.
2. Evaluate what’s important
What is most important to you in the home? At work? In your relationship with your spouse? If we are going to give ourselves a break and expect less or accomplish less each day, it’s critical the things we are doing are the most important to us and our family.
“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best,” leadership expert John C. Maxwell said.
That is what we are doing when we focus our priorities. So many of the things that take your attention and focus are good things rather than the best things. Decide what is most important to you, and let the rest go.
3. Establish new expectations
Setting realistic expectations often begins with lowering expectations. Let me be clear: This is not the same as lowering standards. We can hold true to our values and still realize we are being unrealistic with the demands we are placing on ourself or others.
Lowering expectations is about realizing the gap between where you wish things were and where they are. So, let’s recognize the reality of where we are, and own it. Expectations will change with the different stages of life. What we can expect from ourselves today will be different from what we can expect in a year. It might even change month to month, or week to week.
I recently talked to Jodi Orgill Brown, best-selling author of the book “The Sun Still Shines.” She is the survivor of a brain tumor thought to be inoperable. Through that trial, Brown had to change her expectations about what it meant to be an effective mother.
She taught me a great lesson about learning to live life just by being present rather than accomplishing a list or project. Though she’s a go-getter, Brown said, “because the good hours I have each day are more limited, one of the things I’ve tried to do is show my kids that I’m there for them by just being there, being present.”