Realistic Expectations

COVID-19 abruptly changed how we live our everyday lives—working, shopping, interacting with others. The list goes on and on. But humans are creatures of habit and dislike the unexpected. The pandemic has shaken our general concept of “expectations.” Indeed, the past several months have been so surreal, it is difficult to imagine what a realistic expectation might look like in the coming weeks, months, and years.

We often—even when not confronted with a pandemic—expect outcomes that simply are not feasible or expect actions of individuals that they may not be capable of doing or willing to do. This can cause frustration, disappointment, and discontentment. Fortunately, we have the power to adjust our expectations.

CookChildren’s highlights the importance of various steps when setting realistic expectations for ourselves [1]:

  • Create and keep a regular routine, even in the midst of uncertainty
    • We cope more easily when we can expect certain things in our day (working out at a certain time, a period of relaxation, dinner with family, etc.) Your routine as a frontline worker may be particularly uncertain on any given day! Make sure you maintain a few moments of “normalcy” devoted to yourself.
  • Ask yourself what you need each day & “check-in” with yourself
  • Reflect on life’s new pace
    • Forgive yourself as you learn to live in the “new normal”

Psychotherapist Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM suggests engaging in the practices listed below. Specifically, he says [2]:

Empty your cup. In the Zen tradition there is a concept called shoshin, or “beginner’s mind”. It suggests that we should come to every situation with an empty cup, ready to receive. If our cup is full, then we have no place to put what is coming to us. Emptying our cup, we release our expectation and our sense of “knowing” allowing us to see what it is directly in front of us.  This sensibility helps us remove our tendency to interject our ego into a situation, and also deflects our tendency to interject control.

Seeing with a child’s eye. In seeing with a child’s eyes, every situation will always appear new to us.  If every situation is new, then, by definition, we can hold no expectation. We don’t “know” what’s going to happen; we can only wait and see. If we enter into a situation “knowing”, as it were, then we lose the opportunity to experience the nuances and differences that make that experience unique, even if that experience is seemingly identical to one that we’ve had before.

Other actions you can take include:

  • Accept that things will not always go as expected
  • Accept that you have no obligation to meet others’ expectations of you
  • Evaluate boundaries—when it is appropriate to say no or set limits and delegate? You don’t have to do it all!
  • Ask for help—reach out to a counselor, or your organization’s EAP or chaplain for support
  • Put your oxygen mask on first—address your needs before addressing the needs of others
  • Take consistent action toward a goal instead of trying to achieve it in one fell swoop
  • Change your perspective—reflect on what is going well rather than how things could be better
  • Write down your various expectations & the rationale behind each of them
  • Consider watching this video about setting healthy expectations during COVID-19
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