I have been thinking a lot about expectations this past week, namely the expectations we have for ourselves and the fact that there are healthy and unhealthy expectations. Healthy expectations help you to set boundaries, accomplish goals and look towards the future. Unhealthy expectations generally lead to frustration, feelings of failure and even physical pain. So how do we know if our expectations are healthy or unhealthy?
Being one of 5 kids I was expected to pick up after myself, make my bed, do chores, get good grades, be well mannered. As an adult, I’m expected to pay my bills, work hard, be prompt and responsible and be a good human being. These are GOOD and HEALTHY Expectations. But I am also prone to not so healthy expectations for myself.
Like the time I decided to become a runner. Sounds healthy right? Get in shape, exercise regularly, and run a marathon in just four months. I had never run in my life unless I was being chased and suddenly I expected to be able to run a marathon.. in Honolulu… up a volcano. I had a plan, joined a running group and was off to the races (literally). There were people in my running group who had started the same way and were marathon ready. The stories were inspiring and the training regimen entirely doable… for someone else. See I was setting my expectations for myself based on the capabilities of the people around me and not on my own abilities. I had forgotten to factor in some key details, not the least of which is that I have asthma. More to the point, I have Exercise Induced Asthma which is a fancy way of saying I wheeze and gasp when I work out aerobically.
For the first month or so I was able to keep up. I ran. Then I walked. I puffed on my inhaler and ran some more. I made progress and was able to run/walk 8 miles of hilly terrain before my lungs crapped out. I had refused to listen to the warning signs and pushed them too far. For the next two months I couldn’t even walk across the room without wheezing. My lungs hurt when I was sitting down. I had to carry my inhaler everywhere. It took months for me to be able to do more than walk swiftly without stopping to catch my breath. My not so healthy expectation (become a marathon runner in 4 months) had done actual physical damage to my poor lungs.
This is how I learned (the hard way) that expectations are personal and should be based on your life and circumstances. They should never be about the abilities of the person next to you. Yes, it is important to have expectations. They are the first steps to having dreams and setting goals. But it is also just as important that your expectations be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure by expecting more from yourself than you are capable of and definitely don’t decide to run 26.1 miles when you have asthma and have never run before.