Anna Geary's life hacks: Managing expectations

Lifestyle and wellbeing coach Anna Geary tackles the problem of trying to please everyone

When it comes to expectations, our minds are constantly jumping to conclusions about the world we live in, who we need to be and how we should be seen. Our brains are in a constant state of over-drive, wondering what “people” will think, how things should pan out and what we need to do to fulfil expectations.

Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne, a famous French philosopher during the Renaissance, said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

Little has changed, because in general, we are a nation of worriers. We tend to want to please people, even at our own expense. Expectations can weigh heavily on our shoulders, especially if they are undefined or not fully known.

I have recently been experiencing this inner battle with expectation, as we plan our wedding.

For many, including me, when it comes to making decisions, there is often the underlying fear of getting it wrong; a fear which is often exaggerated in our minds. Deciding to spend your life with someone is by far the most significant decision, and ironically that’s the one with which I am the most content (thankfully).

Planning a wedding is a big investment of your time and energy, so you need to set yourself up for a positive experience, not a stressful one. There is an endless number of decisions to be made: the venue, the guest list, the dress.

It doesn’t help that each step can be broken down into so many mini-decisions too. Just when we think we’ve crossed one thing off the ‘to do’ list, it’s on to the next — and, at times, it’s difficult to feel like you’re making any progress.

It’s also easy to get lost in the tyranny of choice, which can make even the most decisive people feel confused and overwhelmed. You can often forget about what you want as a couple and focus more on what others want you to have. But here’s the thing, pleasing others is like chasing a moving target. People will have multiple hopes for you. Social pressure fluctuates and others’ expectations will continuously change. And the reality is that you can’t please everyone, all the time. Yet, why do we try so hard to do just that?

One simple technique I am trying to apply, when I worry about choosing the ‘right thing’, is to ask myself the question: When I look back in five years’ time, will this matter?

I’ve started to think that the reason people want to include everything in their wedding day, is the fear of omitting that one thing that would have made you — and your day — ‘even better’. An antidote to this, is to prioritise what matters most and set boundaries around your priorities — decide what you will, and will not, compromise on.

The fear of something ‘missing’ is real. But missing out on enjoying the process of what you are trying to achieve is worse, ie, missing out on actually living the experience in the lead up the big day, because you are worried about what people will say about it.

At times it can feel like we are losing control, to the point where we glaze over that the things we do have full control over, like our mood, outlook and emotions. Ironically, these can be the very things that dictate everything in the long run. So step back, and take a breath.

Remember back to when you were a child. You probably didn’t have time to live up to expectations, because you were too busy, living in real time.

Every so often, it could be worthwhile to examine and question your own expectations, rather than blaming all the stress on others. Maybe the unrealistic expectations are stemming from within. Look for the connections between what you are thinking and what is actually happening (for example, you want a big luxurious wedding in your head, but constantly going over-budget is causing stress in the relationship).

In general, when it comes to expectations, what can happen is we try to get a sense how others view us, and then frantically adapt ourselves to meet these expectations, desperately trying to be all things to all people.

It would be worth taking some time to think about how other people might view you. Consider how your family, your work colleagues or your friends think of you. Now here’s two question for you to answer: To what extent do you play up to these expectations? And are you constantly trying to measure up, if so, why do you feel the need to do this?

This idea that other people’s expectations about us directly affect how we behave, was examined in a sports psychology study at the University of Minnesota. The researchers gave every athlete a personality questionnaire and then randomly gave some of them false feedback, saying that their answers indicated they were the sort of person who thrives under pressure.

When it came time to compete, the athletes that were told they would likely do better under pressure, did so. Understanding that other people’s expectations of us directly affect our behaviour is a vital component in understanding how we can come to be quite different people across various social situations.

Are you one person to your parents, a different person to your work circle and a someone different to your other half? It’s normal for this to happen to a certain extent but to keep it in check, you must reframe your relationship with people’s expectations. Expectations can create an implied agreement between others and you. If you don’t push back when their expectations overstretch you or make your feel under pressure, then people will assume you are OK with them.

In the end, it is important to recognise that, no matter how accommodating you are, you’ll never be able to please everyone. 

TOP TIPS

1. Talk to a neutral party to get some perspective. They can help you figure out how to best manage others’ expectations and your needs.

2. Ask yourself are you setting yourself up for failure? Make sure the goals that you are striving towards are ones you actually want to reach and are not someone else’s.

3. Find your people. It would be tough to completely stop caring about what everyone thinks, so highlight a few whom you trust to tell you the truth. Stick with them and only ask for their opinion.

4. Own it: OK, let’s say some people do think ill of you based on decisions you have made. Well, if everyone likes you, you’re probably not being true to yourself. So, once you are doing something for the right reasons then own it! I came across a great saying lately: “I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea” — stay true to who you are and to what you want.

5. Decide what’s truly important to you: Is what people think of you really high up on your list? Make a short list, post it on your fridge, send yourself reminders on your phone, and don’t let critical people come between you and your happiness.


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