Expectations: To control or be controlled
At some point in my life, I started having anxiety attacks when trying to speak English. When participating in meetings or just chatting in the office, a huge feeling of uneasiness would start to creep in, I’d begin to sweat, feel insecure, and anxious.
Although I knew exactly what to say, my brain was just paralyzed, I was so nervous that my voice was shaking, and many times not a single word came out of my mouth.
My frustration began to grow and trying to explain it without understanding it myself made things even more difficult. Although I had all the necessary training and knowledge to have conversations in English, many people thought that I simply didn’t know how to speak the language, or that I was shy for no apparent reason. But for me, it was a sudden reminder that speaking English was something that would always go wrong and would not be perfect.
An anxiety attack is difficult to diagnose, so it is difficult for someone else to detect it, and even for ourselves. This only gives us the wrong idea that there is something unexplainable within us that doesn’t allow us to do certain things. It is a feeling that, out of shame, we don’t attempt to explain it to others.
At some point, we all have expectations of something, someone, or ourselves. The problem is that we don’t have absolute control over what happens to us, let alone over other people or events.
Steve Maraboli, author and behavioral researcher, defines expectations as follows:
“Expectation feeds frustration. It is an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control; but don’t.”
It is a natural desire of the human being to be able to have total control over everything because this saves us from experiencing uncertainty, fear, and frustration. That is why expectations are constantly around us, as unavoidable and difficult to manage as our desire for control.
However, of all the expectations, the ones we have of ourselves are the worst. Making peace with our imperfections, mistakes, and areas of opportunity is difficult, as silly as it may sound. And it becomes even more complicated when we have expectations based on capabilities that you know you have, but somehow you don’t end up doing them “well”, you don’t fully satisfy the model of “perfection” that you created in your head, and that annoys you.
It took more than 3 years in my life to understand what was happening to me every time I tried to speak English, because yes, I am a great example of a victim of their own expectations, where the frustration came first, then annoyance, and finally the disappointment and helplessness of not achieving them. Why?
I had to be able to do it “well.” That “well” is subject to all those expectations that you internally have about yourself, and that at the end of the day, you don’t necessarily have to fulfill. I must confess that I still have some of those expectations inside me, although today I understand them much better. Fighting against your own beliefs and paradigms that have developed over the years is complicated, but not impossible.
Using self-criticism in our favor
So I decided to (try to) solve the problem once and for all by investigating and understanding it better, and the reality is that this is not an isolated situation. Many people sometimes live locked in or blocked by their own internal and external expectations. A vicious cycle because when we talk about expectations, you’ll never be fully satisfied.
There is an interesting side of expectations, they can drive you or motivate you to achieve things when you are not really into them. Just as expectations can generate constant negative self-criticism by not meeting them, there is also positive self-criticism.
When we are negatively self-critical, the following can happen:
- We point out mistakes in an exaggerated way
- We put a lot of pressure on ourselves with the “we have to …”
- Our expectations become overwhelming.
- We look down on our achievements.
When we positively criticize ourselves, it is because we do the following:
- We try to be objective in the assessments we make
- We are capable of constructively criticizing ourselves and looking for ways to improve.
- We seek to motivate ourselves without pressure.
- We decide to face what happens to us without seeing it as a mistake, thinking of it as a situation we can work on.
Many times I went from self-criticism to the even more negative side (if that’s even possible) and that did not make me get out of my vicious cycle until I understood that that was what I was doing and although I did not like feeling exposed, I decided to try to explain my problem to others, and that helped me to listen to myself and understand how badly everything was going.
We can re-educate our self-demand, we can lower that constant pressure that we feel if we focus on setting goals, without comparing ourselves to others.
This is what the Vicarious Experience is all about. According to Albert Bandura, to learn and obtain useful information about our abilities, instead of comparing ourselves, we should just observe people with similar or slightly superior abilities to ours. By the way, an infallible technique to combat the Imposter Syndrome.
I’m tired of chasing a model of perfection that every day I realize it shouldn’t exist, we are who we are and that’s just fine. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and it’s excellent to try to be 1% better every day, as long as we do not create obsessions for certain expectations.
Part of seeking a type of perfectionism reflects a lack of wisdom and compassion for ourselves.
Within that compassion, there must be flexibility for ourselves. We can always do better, there can always be a better version of us, but it doesn’t mean that this is the version we should always give, as long as we are satisfied with what we do and the process that leads us to that version.
We can seek satisfaction in doing our best instead of in being perfect.
Edited by: Ricardo Guerrero Camacho
Fuckup Nights Global Senior Finance & Ops Lead
Financial behaviors – Financial IQ & EQ | Finance strategist for business | Business Ops & process optimization. If she could live in a random place, that would be an airplane, so she could travel the world. She firmly believes that finances are not just about numbers, but a combination of emotions and decisions.