The Power of Lowering Expectations

I am a Type A personality and a perfectionist. Some days, it feels like I am in constant motion. I hold myself to high standards when it comes to getting things done in a timely fashion. I do not procrastinate and for most of my life, I have taken great pride in that. On the surface, these may sound like positive traits to have. It's great to have a good work ethic. Having good time management skills is valued. These are things many people want and I am fortunate to have them. 

I was speaking with a friend the other day about how I have a lot on my plate right now. It seems like every week I'm working longer hours and have more things piling up on my to-do list. I was telling her about some of the standards I have for myself with when I expect myself to get work done. If I go to bed without responding to an email, it feels...wrong. It feels like I'm letting someone down. If I have a spare 30 minutes that I'm not using for work when there is work left undone, that time feels wasted. I can't quite pinpoint what it is that I'm anxious about, but if this doesn't sound like anxiety, I don't know what does. There's constant pressure and it's self-inflicted. I am my own boss. I make my own schedule. I set my own standards. And maybe at times, they're too high. She tells me as such over the phone, offering the perfect amount of empathy and challenge. "I understand how important it is to be responsive with some areas of work," she says. "But what about some of these other things? Are they just as important or can you let them sit just a little bit? What's the worst that would happen if you didn't do it right away?" I realized she was right. Anxiety can tell us that everything matters and is important and has to happen now. But rarely is that true. 

If you're like me and hold yourself to high standards, chances are that you hold others to the same standards. Some people may be like this, too (or they could even get things done sooner or more efficiently than you do!). But many people are not this way. Many people do procrastinate or put off getting things done. Many people might be doing their best to get things done, it just takes them more time no matter how hard they try. People are forgetful and people make mistakes. And if you're like me, you might be tempted to point the finger and say they're the problem. If only they worked faster or if only they were as motivated, then this wouldn't be a problem. Here's the thing: we're wrong. Let that sink in for a minute. Our way is not always the best way. In fact, our way can be downright unhealthy sometimes. Our way can lead to us being over-worked and unhappy and resentful. The people who aren't like us? I can almost guarantee that they're happier and less stressed out. We can feel so envious of that, until we realize it's our own fault to be in this bind in the first place. 

Now, I'm not saying to turn into a doormat and not have any expectations for yourself or others. This is all about lowering expectations, not removing them entirely. Is it that big of a deal if your partner doesn't unload the dishwasher the minute they come home from work? Is it truly problematic if they put something off (even if you wouldn't dare)? Through the lens of anxiety, everything can start to feel like a big deal. Step back and see if it actually is. We make up invisible deadlines all the time for things. Practice letting at least one of those drop. See how it feels when you're judging your partner a little less for not doing things to your standards. Your standards may be more wrong than you think. And that's okay. Everyone is just trying their best and that includes you. Now, try a little less hard and see what happens.

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