Wellness Wednesday: Why You Should Lower Your Expectations

From a young age, we're encouraged to set high expectations and achieve. But this perfectionism can backfire. Learn why you should lower your expectations to achieve your goals. 

Why you should lower your expectations.

Why you should lower your expectations.

I can't hardly believe it, but Anne, Alex and I are wrapping up our very first group of Joyful Eating, Nourished Life this week. It was almost exactly a year ago when we first came up with the idea for the program. It's crazy to think back on how hard we worked to put together a comprehensive and helpful program, and now our very first group of joyful eating babies are launching out into the world!

I think one of the most beneficial parts of our program is a private facebook group for members (which you get lifetime access too btw). It gives joyful eaters access to support, not only from us dietitians, but from the other joyful eaters too. If you're having a rough day, stuck in a negative fat talk cycle, or realized eating was starting to get out of control, there's a place to share, get feedback, empathy, and advice.

Last night I was feeling a bit nostalgic after realizing it was the last week, so I spent some time reading back over the comments. It made my heart flutter with happy to re-read the big (and little!) successes. One joyful eater recently cleaned out her closet and got rid of ill fitting clothes that lowered her body image. So many shared aha moments with finally figuring out triggers for overeating or emotionally eating. They shared examples of honoring hunger/fullness cues, dropping the good food/bad food mentality, and giving themselves grace after a setback. One shared the story of slowly savoring a chocolate milkshake and stopping when she was satisfied, about 3/4s of the way through. Yes, that's right. Drinking a chocolate milkshake is a success in our program!

I also got the chance to look back and re-read comments shared when joyful eaters were struggling or feeling like a failure. When I did, there was one common theme I saw driving those feelings...

Setting unachievable expectations.

  • Expectations of being fully in touch with hunger/fullness cues two weeks in after years or decades of dieting.

  • Expectations of never emotionally eating.

  • Expectations of not feeling tempted by celebrity fad diets or weight loss ads.

  • Expectations of feeling 100% comfortable in their skin.

Do you set high expectations for yourself? I know my readers are smart, accomplished people....so I'm pretty sure the answer is a resounding yes. From a young age, we're encouraged to set the bar high and work hard to achieve those goals, first by our parents, then teachers, and professors and then as adults, our bosses, spouse, children and, well, most of society. Think of every motivational speech, commencement, and TED Talk you've ever heard. Most essentially boil down to set high standards, work hard, and don't accept anything less. Isn't that supposed to be a good thing?

Not always. While high expectations can push you to achieve amazing things, unrealistically high expectations set you up for failure. Or more likely, feeling like a failure. And when you feel like a failure, you give up.

If you're a high performing, intelligent and driven person, lowering your expectations to make them more achievable might feel a bit uncomfortable. Almost like abandoning dreams.

Lowering expectations is not the same thing as giving up. Actually, setting small, achievable expectations and consistently revisiting and revising them is the best way of actually achieving those high expectations in the long run. By lowering your expectations to make them more realistic, it creates room to fully experience the joy that comes with success. 

When I think about expectations, I think of a story told to me by my uncle when Scott and I first got engaged. It has nothing to do with intuitive eating, nutrition or food, but I think it's applicable nonetheless :)

When my uncle was working for a newspaper way back in the day, he was tasked with interviewing a couple that was celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. He asked them about their life together, how they met, growing old together. In their answers and interactions it was clear they were celebrating 75 years of love and joy.

Being recently married himself, there was one last question he couldn't help but ask.

"What's the secret to staying happily married for 75 years?"

The husband looked at his wife, smiled, then looked him straight in the eyes with a 100% serious expression and replied, "Low expectations."

😂 😂 😂

I just love this story. Actually, I wanted to share it as part of our wedding vows but I didn't think the rest of our guests would get or appreciate our off-beat humor! It convinced me that going into marriage, I should set my expectations low - to be treated with kindness and respect, and in turn, treat my husband with kindness and respect. I didn't go into marriage expecting to wake up everyday blissfully in love. By setting low expectations, it's allowed me to feel pure and complete joy when I do, and not anxious and fearful when I don't.

It's the same with your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. Don't set unrealistic expectations of perfection. Expect to have days when you aren't in touch with hunger and fullness cues. Expect to have days when you don't feel comfortable in your own skin. Expect to have days when you turn to food to deal with negative emotions. Simply expect to treat your body and yourself with kindness and respect. Commit to that simple goal and it'll give you the space to experience joy and surprise that comes with making peace with food and the self compassion to accept and move on from the bumps along the road.

Are there areas where you can see high expectations are leading to failure? How can you lower, and set more realistic expectations?