Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden

Imagine that there’s a project at hand, any task that comes to mind: studying for an exam, opening a business, strengthening a relationship or even having children. There comes a series of expectations and hopes with any task in our lives, regarding the outcome of the task. The actual outcome of the task will be based on what we do, our expectations of what we should do (this is where self-expectation comes in), the circumstances we are in and, of course, a little bit of luck. 

Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden

For now, we will focus on our behavior and how our beliefs and expectations affect the outcome of any project, whether it be positively or not. In short, we will look at our own self expectations and how they affect our lives. 

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When beginning something important to us, it’s normal to try to do our best so we can achieve the best possible result.

For example, if I’ve just started my first year of college, it’s likely that I’m going to study hard so I can earn good grades. This is related to the examples we mentioned earlier: when we start something new, we expect and want to obtain the best result. Often, when trying to succeed or achieve a goal we’ll create guidelines for ourselves: “I have to dedicate this amount of time”, “I have to get organized”, “I have to do it right this time”.

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But what happens when other thoughts begin to appear in our head?

“Wow, that’s not going to work out as I planned,” “I’ve done it all wrong,” “How could I have failed at this?” We constantly have thoughts spinning through our minds, therefore some are bound to be negative or unpleasant. 

Sometimes, our self-expectations are so strong that it kills our motivation and ambition. Other times, our expectations make us ignore our previous efforts, making them feel pointless and irrelevant. 

Relax. At some point, we’ve all been asked to produce more than we can deliver. Stressful moments in life may require a lot of hard work and sometimes these moments will make us feel like we’re juggling too many things at once. They don’t have to be big, important situations! Small daily routines can be very demanding, even though they may not seem like it. In reality, many tasks can be considered demanding because they require us to set goals and expectations, but we shouldn’t label these tasks overwhelming automatically. In fact, this should help us achieve our goals as long as we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. 

So… is having a lot of self-expectations good?

Demanding a lot of yourself can be a great help or a great hurdle. The moment that we stop accepting we are imperfect – or in other words, that we have legitimate limitations – and begin compromising our well-being for perfection, we are falling into excessive self-demands and expectations.

How do we recognize it?

There are many consequences of having to many  self-demands. In addition to reoccurring negative and critical thoughts, unpleasant physical feelings may occur as well. Here are a few clues that, perhaps, you might be setting expectations too high for yourself.

Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden


Anxiety is present in so many situations that sometimes we are unsure where it may be coming from. Well, one thing that can awaken it, is setting expectations too high for yourself. It’s normal to feel some “nerves” before facing a high-stake situation or an important life event. However, if there are times when you feel great physical discomfort like pressure in your chest, trembling or excessive sweating (which are only a few of the many symptoms), you may be putting too much pressure on yourself. Take a break, this allows you to distance yourself from the task or situation. Remember that you should strive to do your best, not to be perfect. 

Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden


Sometimes we have so much to do combined with many ideas of what we should be doing that our body suddenly tells us ENOUGH. It may seem crazy- after all, shouldn’t our bodies be charged with enough energy to meet all of our needs? What is happening here is that, we’re constantly divided between different tasks (what we’re currently doing, everything we have left to do and what we should have done previously). Sometimes, our body simply can’t keep up.

It’s imperative to stop and take a break. Our body is giving us an escape route to get away from our never-ending list of things to do. It’s like our bodies are sending us a message: “either you relax, or I refuse to keep working”.

Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden

A never-ending tornado of thoughts

Think back to a moment of intense stress, I’m sure you’re able to remember how your mind shifts into a chaotic tornado of thoughts. As soon as you release one thought or worry, another latches on. The whirlwind starts spinning out of control in our minds and suddenly, there’s a strong lack of motivation, a great amount of disappointment and sure enough… pessimism

We aren’t able to keep up with the expectations we have set for ourselves. It’s not to say that we should be jumping for joy every time we’re doing homework or studying for an exam. Rather, we should keep track of the positive aspects in everything we do and remind ourselves that while trying to accomplish something or finish a task, why not try to enjoy it along the way?

When our brain bombards us with this idea of being perfect, we can’t stop thinking about possible improvements. When we always look forward instead of appreciating everything we have already achieved and done… it’s common to forget to enjoy the present.  

Managing self-demands: how our expectations can become a burden

When you don’t allow yourself to appreciate your achievements and efforts, you’ll quickly feel the discouragement. As humans we have the ugly tendency to always think about the future.

Having the ability to recognize that we might not be able to do something, that we aren’t superheroes with unlimited energy, and that we aren’t perfect helps us to achieve more because we aren’t terrified of making a mistake.

So from now on, when you embark on a new project (at work, within your relationship or wherever), try to remember: we all make mistakes, we are human after all. 

Do your best but try to enjoy the journey. Learn from your mistakes and if you feel overwhelmed, ask for help!

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