A lot has been written about the high expectations we have of everything including ourselves. ‘The Paradox of Choice’ studied the correlation between an abundance of choice and freedom and people’s growing dissatisfaction with life. Unhappiness is often said to be expectations minus reality, the greater the difference, the greater the person’s level of dissatisfaction. Adjusting your expectations is prescribed as a method of improving one’s overall happiness but there is a flip side.
Expectations can be set too low. We can get comfortable achieving the bare minimum and force ourselves into a kind of rut with no sign of improvement. Once these baseline standards are met, the bar is never re-adjusted and people can get stuck in a holding pattern.
The answer, of course, involves a great balancing act (as most things do in life). We are to set our standards not so low that they are too easily achieved and we never improve but at the same time, not so high that they are never met and we never experience a feeling of fulfillment.
Having high standards is seen as a very heroic and alpha trait to possess. Having a winner takes all mentality and relentlessly pursuing your ideals. With this mindset comes a huge downside; you are playing a high stakes game that you are truly unlikely to ever win.
The opposite is extremely passive. No gambles, no risks, no actions, no apparent downside. Of course, there is a downside. Your life plateaus, you see no growth, no challenges, no opportunities to experience great things. What seems like a risk-free choice is perhaps the most dangerous.
We all ebb and flow between the two, but likely gravitate more to one end of the spectrum. The ideal game is balanced and knowing when to adjust our expectations accordingly. If we are struggling to meet our standards, we can lower them slightly and if we are overachieving perhaps it’s time for a challenge and a change to the status quo. Learning your own patterns and improving your self-awareness can only help with the process.
We are already setting ourselves standards in every aspect of our life whether we know it or not. My view is that we can benefit from having a better understanding of what our expectations are and be more open to adjusting them as we progress through life.