30 September 2022

Expectations are personal beliefs, thoughts or feelings that something should or will happen. Some of the most influential and challenging expectations are those we develop about ourselves. What we should do, what we should think or how we should feel.

These expectations guide our thinking and behaviour. They’re often based on our values but also other people’s expectations of us and can be either realistic or unrealistic. When we strive to meet these expectations but feel we constantly fall short of meeting them, perhaps we should take time to reflect and ask ourselves whether they are helpful or actually hold us back.

We all have expectations about different things in our lives. They develop as we grow up from a combination of influences: our parents, social conditioning, cultural norms, our own mindset and life experiences. Most expectations operate below consciousness becoming automatic, but they influence our judgments and behaviours.

Some expectations are positive and encourage us to face challenges and chase our dreams. However, when our expectations are unrealistic, they can create conflict, misunderstandings, resentment and frustration.

Managing them is not always easy but what is important is that we stay aware of the expectations we create and the logic behind why we have them.

Our expectations are tied to our needs, desires, values, and beliefs and describe how we believe things should be. They can become an issue when they take us out of the ‘now’ focussing only on the future or fill our thoughts with ‘shoulds’ - how people should act, how things should turn out or how we should be.

With self-expectations ‘shoulds’ reflect assumptions we have that we feel we’re not meeting. When we tell ourselves that we “should” be doing something, we’re reinforcing the idea that we’re not doing it. If our internal voice says, “I should be more able to …., the unspoken end of the sentence is “… but I’m not.” This self -judgement reinforces a negative self-belief and can lead to anxiety, self-doubt and even compassion fatigue.

When we can create expectations of ourselves, we can also include expectations of others, often without even being aware of it. For example, “If I clean the house my partner will me happy with me.” This is an expectation of ourselves, which also includes someone else. If this expectation isn’t met, we can feel as though we’ve failed as well as feel resentment towards the other person.

We can have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, expecting to be composed and happy all the time and to do everything perfectly. We can also set expectations of ourselves based on our interpretations of other people’s lives and what we see on social media.

We set high expectations because we want the perfect outcome, and we feel successful if they’re met. But failure is often a prerequisite for success and frequently the way we learn. We can’t avoid making mistakes, but we can change the way we view them and see them as learning tools to help us grow.

Keeping expectations about yourself realistic is an exercise in self-awareness. Being able to recognise your strengths and weaknesses is effective not only in managing expectations but in building a healthy self-esteem and a fulfilling life. How, though do we manage unrealistic self-expectations?

  • Be aware of your expectations. Keep those that fit and are comfortable and change those that are not. It’s only when you’re conscious of your expectations that you can see whether they meet your needs.
  • Let go of perfection. Recognise that it’s human to make mistakes and that you don’t need to be good at everything.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people. Everyone has their own unique strengths, abilities and life. Embrace, and be proud of your individuality instead of comparing and basing your worth on others.
  • Question your expectations. Ask, are your expectations in line with your values and needs or are they there to please other people.
  • Realise you’re not superhuman. Instead of trying to be and do all things for everyone remember that we all have good and bad days. Sometimes your vitality is low. If you’re not up to it focus on yourself and recuperate.
  • Let go of the need for constant achievement. Achievement can be positive, but your self-worth shouldn’t be dependent on it. Recognise and appreciate your achievements and remember your self-worth is who you are inside irrespective of successes.
  • Challenge your inner critic. Try to be aware and challenge yourself when you find fault. Focus on the positives about yourself and your life. Practice self-compassion and being kind to yourself, because you’re worth it.


If you or someone you know needs support, please call 13 11 14.