The Real Cost of High Expectations

Have you ever heard the saying ‘there is no gain without pain’? It’s a traditional, common yet dangerous myth many people buy into, which says that you need to be a perfectionist, you need to over-work, experience burn-out, stress or pressure in order for you to achieve success and feel as though you fully deserve and have worked towards accomplishing something of real value. Often some people can achieve their goals, only to not stop pause and celebrate, but instead are guided by their own critique which says their attempts and even they themselves are not good enough. This then drives them to work even harder towards an ever-changing fluid and elusive moving target.

We all have grown up with different life scripts, experiences and beliefs and these will have consciously or unconsciously shaped and even dictated how you experience and respond to the world, situations, others, and yourself. As a result of these experiences and beliefs, you will have set your own standards and from this you decide how high the bar of achievement needs to be with any given situation. These beliefs and life scrips can then influence your choices, behaviour, responses and attitudes in many positive and negative ways.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, a high achiever, achieving great things within your personal and professional personal life and encouraging yourself to move past your comfort zone. After all, all these positive qualities help you to move forwards, to progress, to perform and to achieve. However, what happens when you are not driven by healthy goals or ambition and instead you respond to your demanding perfection-driven inner critic? The issue arises when you believe your value only lies within your achievements, success and accomplishments.

Here are 6 powerful questions to support you to think about how healthy or unhealthy your expectations are:

1. Is this a healthy ambitious and realistic goal? Do you set SMART goals for yourself? (i.e., specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time managed goals) Or do you set yourself up for disappointment and negative self-fulfilling prophecies by creating unrealistic unmanageable standards which might feed into your cycle of inner critical thinking?

2. How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Perfectionism can be a moving target, so how will you know when you’ve reached your goal? How will you know when something is good enough or better than good enough and you can stop? Setting yourself boundaries which outline your standards and realistic negotiables, and non-negotiables can really help with this.

3. Are your efforts really productive? Whilst you may feel as though you’re achieving a lot by being ultra-busy, experiencing burn out and stress can actually be counterproductive. Consider where you focus your energy. Ask yourself, is your time being spent effectively or are you just caught up in the addictive falsehood that busyness and burn out is a sign of being productive?

4. Do your accomplishments and success dictate the level of your self-worth and value? How can you start to see and feel the totality of your self-worth and value? After all you are so much more than the sum of your accomplishments and achievements.

How do you respond to failure and setbacks? Do you see failure and setbacks as negative experiences? Perhaps you feel less than good enough if you fail? How can you start to see failure and setbacks as a positive catalyst for growth, learning, development, positive change and success? Do you celebrate your journey?

6. What’s the risk of placing too many high expectations on yourself? Stress, anxiety, perfectionism and burn-out all stem from the innate driven need to prove your value and worth due to a lack of confidence. These experiences can then skew your perspective, influence your choices, decisions, affect your true potential, and they can even impact your wellbeing, physical and mental health and your relationships both with yourself and others. What’s the cost for you and is it really worth the risk?