Everyone goes through times when they feel pressure to achieve certain goals, behave in a particular manner or even look a certain way. These pressures, or expectations, might have a positive influence and can challenge or motivate you to do your best. However, unrealistic expectations might not be helpful, and could have a negative impact on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Where do expectations come from?
Expectations and pressure can come from different sources, including:
- You. Sometimes the expectations you put on yourself can be the most unrealistic and hardest to meet.
- Family. Family expectations can vary, and might include how you behave or dress, what sort of person you can date, your grades, or what sort of career you choose.
- Peers. Sometimes your friends or significant other might expect you to dress or behave in a certain way. Check out our Peer Pressure article for more information.
- School. Your school or teachers may expect you to get high grades and get to class on time.
- Teammates or coaches. You might experience pressure from your sports club, teammates or coach to participate and do well. They may also expect you to do well academically, regardless of how much time you spend in practice.
- Work. Some managers or employers might set unrealistic goals and targets for your work performance.
- Society. Sometimes society, through media and advertising, expects you to look or behave in certain ways, or buy certain products.
Why place expectations on yourself?
Everyone has goals and expectations for themselves. Here are some reasons why you might have the expectations you do:
- You might feel that meeting high expectations is the only way to gain the approval of others.
- You might think that achievement is the only way to be happy.
- You might set high expectations for yourself to push you to strive for, and achieve, bigger and better things.
- You might be setting yourself up to fail on purpose. That is, you might be more afraid of achieving your goals than failing to achieve them, or you might really expect to fail. This is called self-sabotage.
Why do others place expectations on you?
There are many reasons why people might put expectations on you. Here are a few:
- The people who care about you the most often want the best for you, and might forget that you already know what’s best for yourself.
- Some people might try to live their lives vicariously through you. They might want you to have experiences that they always wanted but never had the chance to have.
- Others might assume that an experience that worked for them will work for you, too. These people might forget that the choices they made might not work for everyone.
- Some people might have different cultural traditions or values than you do, and might try to place these principles on you. For example, your parents and grandparents might have been raised in a time and culture with values that are very different to your own, and they might not realize that the expectations they are placing on you are not ones that you would choose for yourself.
How Expectations Affect You
Although reasonable expectations can be a positive pressure in your life, too much pressure can cause you to burn out. Depending on how much pressure is placed on you, and for how long, expectations can affect you negatively in the following ways:
- Stress or anxiety
- Feeling helpless, overwhelmed or powerless
- Feeling down or depressed
- Feeling guilty
- Experiencing a sense of failure or low self-esteem
- Family problems, like fighting or poor communication
- Problems at school or work, like difficulty concentrating or poor performance
- Relationship or friendship problems
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Poor eating habits, like overeating, eating too much junk food, or losing your appetite
- Feeling fatigued
- Not getting enough sleep
- Feeling run down and sick
Managing Expectations and Pressure
Being an individual, even when you’re working with a part of a group, means making decisions based on what is best for you. This means taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think. It might be hard to resist unrealistic expectations, even if you know they aren’t right for you. Here are some suggestions that can help you manage pressure and expectations better:
Talk to someone outside the situation. Talking to someone outside the situation, like a friend, parent or counselor can be a great way to express your feelings. These people are also in a good position to help you identify expectations and help you work out strategies to deal with them.
Talk to the person setting the expectations. Sometimes a person who is setting unreasonable expectations might be unaware that they are putting unfair pressure on you. When you talk to this person, it might be helpful to use a phrase like ”When you treat me like this, I feel…”
Challenge and reset your expectations. Sometimes it can be helpful to re-think your own expectations. This can help you decide if your goals are achievable. A useful question to ask yourself might be ”What would I suggest to a friend in this situation?”
Have a variety of options for the future. Sometimes expectations are only focused on one outcome and if you don’t meet it, you might feel disappointed or like you’ve failed. Usually there are a number of ways to achieve a goal. Try to have a couple of strategies for achieving your goals. It might help to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or counselor about what different strategies might be.
Chill out. Sometimes getting some space and a change of scenery can be helpful. It’s important to give yourself permission to do this regularly. You might want to go for a walk, or listen to your favorite music, read a book, go to the movies, or whatever works for you.
Express your feelings. Writing down your feelings in a journal or private online space can be a great way to gain some insight into a situation and reduce the power of unrealistic expectations. Expressing yourself creatively can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems.
You might also try to express yourself in other ways that won’t cause you bodily harm, or damage to another person or property, like yelling, punching or crying into a pillow, or dancing round the room to loud music.
Look after yourself. Expectations can lead to a lot of stress. It’s important to take time out to do something that you enjoy. And even though you might not feel like it or have time, exercising and eating well can help you feel better. Getting plenty of sleep can also keep you healthy.
Exercise helps stimulate hormones, such as endorphins, which help you feel better about yourself and your life. If you haven’t exercised a lot before, it might be a good idea to start doing something small a couple of times each week, like a 15-minute walk or a couple of laps around a pool. Visiting your doctor for a medical check up can help you ensure that you’re healthy.
Avoid drugs and alcohol. Try not to use alcohol or other drugs—including lots of caffeine or other energy drinks—in the hope of feeling better or forgetting expectations and pressure. The feeling is usually temporary and the effects often make you feel worse.