It’s really hard to make a change in our lives. After working with clients in helping them change their mindset so they feel ready to take the plunge and face their fears, they often come back to the following session with disappointment in their eyes. For example, they express how upset they were with themselves for finally going to a party they were anxious about, or going up to talk to someone new, but that it didn’t go as well as they had hoped. I can understand their sentiment. It can often seem like the hardships we have in our lives are a sign that our fate is sealed, and that things will always be this way. However, our perception of reality with this fatalistic attitude is often skewed.
Let’s say you want to become a really good swimmer. You took a couple of swimming classes as a kid, but ever since then you hardly got into the water. Imagine your first time as an adult climbing down the latter to enter into a pool once again. You’re out of shape, and you can barely swim to the other side. You notice people around you in the other lanes gliding elegantly through the water like fish, and you think to yourself that you’ll never be as fast and as graceful as them. However, is it realistic to expect your first-time swimming in years will result in you becoming Michael Phelps overnight?
Not being good at something only confirms that you’re not there yet at that one particular moment in time –that’s all that it means. Be proud of yourself for going to the party that you normally wouldn’t go to, that you got into the pool and made it to the other side or feel happy that you talked to someone new and pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t expect to be great at it. Who do you know excels at something they hardly ever do? Most people require a long time developing the skills to be successful at these things. It takes a lot of work. No one is an overnight success.
Managing our expectations is the best way to not only set achievable goals but to actually follow through with taking the necessary steps, and overcoming the learning curve to reach them. Give yourself permission to be an amateur. If you talk to someone new and you have social anxiety, don’t expect yourself to be great at it. Just be happy that you’re even having the conversation in the first place. Strive for progress, not perfection. By eliminating unrealistic expectations of yourself you’ll allow the right conditions for making mistakes, identifying them, and learning how to overcome them. Always remember that the journey to fulfilling your goals is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Don’t worry about the other faster swimmers in the lanes next to you, imagine that you’re swimming all by yourself.