The benefits of lowering your expectations

We are all prone to procrastinate about certain tasks when they seem too big or complex to start. As I have touched on in a recent article, some of us have a tendency to think too globally about such projects, we look at the big picture and feel too overwhelmed to know how to even begin. Some of us tend to think too specifically, we break it down into too many little steps and the end-result is the same – a daunting sense of overwhelm. Both perspectives lead to us putting it off into the ‘too hard’ basket for another day.

Picture this scenario – you have a big lurking task that you have been putting off for quite some time. Monday morning rolls around and you think to yourself, “today’s the day, I really need to get it done.” What you are doing in this setting yourself a very high expectation. You then get into work, switch on your computer and begin tackling your emails, attending some morning meetings, getting stuck into some urgent tasks and the day begins to slip away from you. At some point in the early afternoon you think to yourself, “it’s too late in the day to start that enormous project” and then you make excuses and start blaming; “there’s just not enough hours in the day”, “there’s too many urgent tasks to do that take up all my time”, “too many meetings”, “too many emails”. The cycle of procrastination continues.

This can then lead to you feeling bad about yourself, as you had set your expectations at the beginning of the day to get the project done.

Self-esteem equals success divided by expectations.

This equation was made popular by William James, the pioneering American philosopher and psychologist in the early 20th century.

How you feel about yourself at the end of the day is a function of what you actually got done during the day, divided by what you expected to get done. So, at the beginning of the day you set yourself unrealistic expectations, or loose expectations, that you would get the whole project done, by the end of that day. And the end of the day, you have to process the fact that you didn’t manage to even start it. In your mind, you have failed to achieve your goals. Expectations were ten out of ten, success was one out of ten. So, 1 divided by 10 is 0.1. You are going to go home with a self-esteem rating of 0.1.

The villain is the expectation

Having a good self-esteem is important to your healthy functioning in and out of work. It is the subjective measure of your own value; the worth that you believe you have as an individual. Having a good self-esteem is vital if you want to stay motivated and productive and to feel good about yourself and your work at the end of the day.

One solution to increase your self-esteem then is to lower your expectation. This is how this might look in our example above. “When I get to work, I am going to open the file and read the file, with a blank piece of paper. If I think of anything, I am going to jot it down. I’ll give myself half an hour.” When you get into work, you switch your computer on and you don’t go straight to your email inbox, but instead you open the file with your blank piece of paper and you start reading through it. You jot down a few action points, a few notes. You get a good feel for the project and how you might start going about it. You get the ball rolling and even create a couple of next steps. At the end of the half hour, you feel much less overwhelmed about the project and you feel like the task is now much more do-able; you can see a much clearer way forward.Let’s say in this scenario, you set your expectations at one and your success was ten out of ten. 10 divided by 1 is 10. So, your self-esteem is 10/10. You are going home at the end of day feeling like today was a good day and you achieved your goals. You will feel good about yourself and your work.

Perhaps when you have a big project, you can ask yourself, what are the first three steps I can take to get things started. They don’t need to be big tasks. Maybe it’s setting a meeting with someone or a particular group of people to gather some information, maybe it is simply reading through some background information and taking some notes of further questions you need to get your head around.

It’s important to note there is a difference between lowering our expectations and lowering our standards. I am certainly not suggesting you lower your standards. Lowering your expectations is a great way to minimise your procrastination and start on your “too big”, “too hard” projects and make some headway.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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