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How to Stop Being a Victim of Your Own High Expectations

Frustrated man

“The outward freedom that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment. And if this is a correct view of freedom, our chief energy must be concentrated on achieving reform from within.” ~Gandhi

If someone asked you to recall the last time you were kind to yourself, would you struggle to bring up that memory?

At one point in time, I couldn’t remember ever being kind to myself.

I grew up with a lot of expectations from a demanding mother and other caretakers. Their expectations were all about them being in control and always being right.

It was more than confusing; it left me with a need to prove myself constantly, and it gave me an inner critic that berated me at an early age.

Years later, I got a job in corporate America where expectations were clear-cut and measured. Positive encouragement and regular successes made me feel good about myself.

I became addicted to that feeling. My ego encouraged me to continually exceed other peoples’ expectations by making my own even higher. My inner critic accepted nothing less.

Then I started my own business. I expected success to come quickly, easily, and be beyond anything I had experienced before.

It certainly bypassed my expectations—in the worst way possible.

This is a story of failure and how life got better when three small changes worked together to free me from being a victim of my own expectations.

Take a look, and imagine what these changes can do for you.

Change One: How You Treat Yourself

Not only had my third attempt at creating a successful business failed but also the man I loved turned out to be a lying, thieving con artist who left me emotionally and financially broke.

Life became nothing more than dealing with shame, runaway anxiety, and panic attacks that flung me out of bed at night.

Then I tripped over a bag of books one day that I’d packed for a fundraiser. One fell out.

Have you ever heard of the Buddhist practice called loving-kindness? I hadn’t, but Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance that fell at my feet explained it to me. Desperate for any relief I gave it a go.

The practice begins with expressing loving-kindness first for yourself and then for others. Think you might have trouble with that? Then begin by expressing kindness to someone or something you love such as a pet. Take that feeling and transfer it to yourself.

That’s how I had to do it. It was both heart- and eye-opening to realize how mean I had been to myself, and for how long I’d been that way.

Though the full loving-kindness practice can take hours to complete, using this shortened version is a quick, effective way to feel better about yourself.

This is what I’ve taken as my mantra, but feel free to use your own words: May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be held in loving-kindness. May I realize loving-kindness as my essence.

The practice is simple and easy to do: Eyes opened, lowered, or closed, speak the words quietly or silently, and immerse yourself in the feeling of loving-kindness for as long as you can or for as long as time permits. Thirty seconds is fine, but the longer you can sustain the feeling, the quicker you’ll reap the benefits of this practice.

Not only can you begin and end your day with loving-kindness but you can also easily practice it as you’re waiting for tea or coffee to brew, an elevator or bus to show up, or a person to come back after putting you on hold.

Aim for a total of six or more practices each day. Not only will that help you make a habit out of treating yourself kindly but it’s also a great stress buster.

Yes, you have to practice, but imagine how good you’ll feel when you fill yourself with all that loving-kindness.

Change Two: What You Say That Limits You

Though I was trying to be nicer to myself, my inner critic was entrenched in the judgmental family attitude.

When I challenged it to stop judging me so harshly, it was quick to call me out on my own behavior of judging people.

It was true. I judged, and I labeled.

Attach a label to someone and that’s how you see them and think of them—even when evidence exists to the contrary.

And what I was doing to other people was the same thing I was doing to myself.

So I challenged myself. For every negative label I wanted to attach to someone, I had to come up with at least six different reasons that would stop me from doing so.

For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic. Instead of labeling them as a stupid jerk, you think: Maybe they got fired or hired today. Or maybe it’s something tragic or serious that’s distracting them. Perhaps they just came from the dentist, and now they’re getting transmissions from outer space!

It’s a practice that I made a game out of, and like any game, it has rules:

  1. You must focus on the person’s behavior and come up with six reasons that could have caused it.
  2. At least some of the answers have to be within the realm of possibility.
  3. Reject all expectations of finding the perfect answer or even coming up with six of them.

This practice is doable anywhere and with almost anyone, including kids.

It helps create an awareness of how labels limit your thinking and creates an awareness of the truth that what we do to other people reflects what we do to ourselves.

Don’t forget to play it with your inner critic. Listen closely and you might hear grinding noises as it tries to switch gears from beating you up to being supportive.

After all, if you can be less judgmental toward other people, how can it not do the same for you?

Change Three: What You Say That Belittles You

This one is about your self-talk habits. You know the ones when you ask yourself questions like, “How could I be so stupid? ” or, “OMG what a screw-up! Could I not make a bigger mess of things? ” or, “Why do I do this to myself? I’m such an idiot!”

Yes, labeling is definitely going on here, but this is different. This is all about your expectations of yourself and how you talk to yourself when you fail to meet them.

Even with the loving-kindness and labeling practices, my expectations of myself continued to run high. My inner critic loved beating up on me for every mistake, failure, or setback, real or imagined. Then one day, a little voice made itself heard, “Not being very kind to yourself, are you?”

So leaning heavily on my loving-kindness practice, I struggled to be more tolerant of my mistakes. Asking myself questions that would produce a more positive response was a big help.

For example: “Nothing is a total failure. There has to be something positive about this. What is it?” Or, “Is this really a mistake? Did I really screw up? Is it possible the outcome is acceptable?”

Think about those harsh ways you talk to yourself and the questions you ask that belittle you. They may be old reruns of taunts and questions other people used on you to make you feel ashamed or to justify punishing you.

Replace them with questions that explore the circumstances of your mistake or setback. Remember to look for anything that could be construed as positive. Doing so will help you reform your demanding expectations.

Sometimes, positives can be hard to find. That’s when you really want to be nice to yourself. Do extra loving-kindness practices, and then ask yourself what you’ve learned from what happened.

Experience can be a harsh teacher. Owning up to what you’ve learned may not be an easy pill to swallow. There may not be a spoonful of sugar to help it go down, but it’s certainly more desirable than beating yourself up, isn’t it?

Small Changes Have Large Impacts

These changes are small but powerful because they open you up to possibilities that you may not have considered previously.

They help you stop being victimized by your own expectations by treating yourself more kindly, by helping you realize that judging other people is closely aligned with the labels and limitations you put on yourself, and by helping you see the positives in supposed failures and cut yourself some slack.

Changing habits of thought and behaviors is challenging, but if I can do this, you certainly can!

It all begins with a practice taking less than a minute, six times a day. It’s a small practice of showering yourself with loving-kindness.

It’s easy to start. It’s easy to do. Just repeat after me:

“May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be held in loving-kindness. May I realize loving-kindness as my essence.”

Disappointed man image via Shutterstock

About Quinn Eurich

Quinn is a freelance writer and storyteller who agrees with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot that the truth is within, not without. Her website, OutsmartingPanicAndAnxiety.com, provides methods and techniques to help people reclaim their power from these two tyrants. Pick up your free copy of her 10 Tips to Outsmart Anxiety (Whatever the Situation) by, clicking here.

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  • Thank you , This is a good topic that people especially the introverts needs. I understand.

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hi Cheesy!

    Love the alias by the way!

    And thank you for the insight about introverts! I’m one and it didn’t dawn on me until you mentioned it that my introversion could have added to the problem.

    Thank you for sharing and taking the time to comment!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Sorry Cheesy – so excited about getting my post published I replied to yours as it’s own comment! Please see above!

  • andreastill

    Hi Quinn,

    Very nice article, well written and actionable.

    It can be a real challenge to stop being hard on yourself if that was your default state most of your life! Especially trying not to give into pre-conditioned expectations, which are so deeply wired, that we often don’t even give them a second thought.

    Your tips are great because some of these stubborn behaviors can only be changed by breaking them slowly but consistently. Just for a minute, six times a day – that sounds doable! 🙂

    Thanks and all the best,
    Andrea

  • Laura J Tong

    This is such a powerful story Quinn with a simple but super powerful strategy to defeat our over-achieving, must-be-permanently-brilliant tendencies. It’s really interesting that you note the pressures during childhood set you on that path but also the deliciousness of recognition and reward in your USA job. You’ve come a million miles – we’re so delighted for you. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • I love how you worked with things you say that limit you by making a game of it. Sometimes making changes can feel like such hard work, I love the lightness of your approach and it just makes great sense as well!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thanks Andrea,

    You’re so right about the deeply wired stuff! So hard to find out how deep it goes!

    Glad you found the tips helpful! Loving kindness is still my go-to one!

    Thank you for commenting!

  • Lynn Hauka

    Beautiful, Quinn, a life-enhancing practice for sure. I especially love how accessible and practical your description is. Well done!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hi Laura,

    Yes, when childhood gets you used to the stick method, how can you resist the carrots when you finally get them!

    And thank you for recognizing how far I have come. Though I recognize the changes in myself – I forget to look back to see how far this journey has brought me. If anyone had told me 2-1/2 years ago that I’d be where I am today, I’s wonder what they had been smoking!

    Thank you for your support and for commenting!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thank you Dave! It’s a good game to play even when you’re not in a situation where you’re not inclined to judge someone by their behavior. Like standing in line at the bank, or at an airport.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hey Lynn!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m glad you liked it. One thing for sure, if it’s not easy – most people – including me – aren’t going to do it!

  • Great writing, and fabulous advice as always!

  • These are wise words and very appropriate for me at the moment. I’m not keen on having too many rules like you mention in Change 2, but I have practiced what you talk about here, I’ve been cut up by someone or someone’s done something on the road and I’ve instinctively gone for the ‘jerk!’ but then pulled back and wondered what’s happened to them today or why they might be in a rush. Sometimes though there are jerks out there because of their own issues, which sadly, no one but them can do anything about. Thanks for sharing x

  • Great post! I think in the end, it all comes down to what we will or won’t accept for ourselves. I often look back on what I did or what I let others do to me and know that the person I am now would never succumb in the same way.

    What changed me was realising that only I can manage my life. High expectations of ourselves, or running to other people’s commands, is living other people’s lives for them. It took me many years to realise this.

    It all comes down to taking back your life. Like you say, it’s those small wins that lead to the biggest change.

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thanks Cate! Appreciate the help and the support!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thank you for reading and commenting helloimnik. I’m glad you found it resonated with you. Sometimes we need to know we’re not the only people in the world doing what we’re doing – I know I do!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hi Tom, I think you’re so right when you say “it all comes down to what we will or won’t accept for ourselves.” Something happened yesterday that really brought that home to me. A small thing, and a small win – but woof! What an impact it had on me.

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting – as you never know when someone needs to hear what you have to say – as I did today!

  • Mark Tong

    Hey Quinn, you’re own loving kindness spills out in this post

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thanks Mark! You’re a very perceptive person and I love that about you! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Ann Davis

    Hi Quin, great advice encouragement to those fighting the same battles you went through. Great read!

  • Hello Quinn, how wonderful that you were willing to put in the effort to make those changes to your perspective on life. I still find it incredibly miraculous that inner changes always, always translate to outer changes too. Bravo for the courage to do what needed to be done for a life you wanted to live. 🙂

  • Quinn Eurich

    Thanks Ann, I’m glad you liked it! I appreciate you taking the time to comment too!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hi Elle, thank you! Yes, and don’t they translate to outer changes in surprising ways? Thank you for reading and commenting and the bravo!

  • Hi Quinn,

    This is a beautiful post that I could relate to. It’s amazing how the changes in our thoughts and behaviours change our life. I was a critic myself but I’ve learned to give others and myself a chance, and not be too hard.

    I do TM every day and it’s very de-stressing. I like the loving-kindness meditation you’ve mentioned in the post and wish everybody does that.

    Thank you for sharing it with us. Have a nice weekend 🙂

  • Quinn Eurich

    Hi Harleena,

    I’m glad you like the post and found it helpful! Funny you should mention TM – as I’ve put it on my list of things to look into.

    Thanks for commenting, and may you also have a nice weekend!

  • Hey Quinn,

    What a post. A loving relationship with yourself. It certainly easy to gentle with oneself when we know how. As you said it takes a bit of getting used to. We have to rid of our old thought patterns. Some of them so in trenched in our our thinking we don’t recognise they are negative affirmations.

    Making a conscious effort to recognise when we are labeling ourselves and others certainly can wear us down at the start. Like you said its not an easy pill to swallow. While I went about it a little different, I can not tell you how sad I felt for myself when I recognised how harsh I was. How I had treated myself for years unaware of what I was doing.

    Quinn I know you’re in a better place now, because of what you have practiced and learnt. Thanks for sharing this with us, I got a lot of out it. You really made me aware that I have done the hard yards and I should reflect on that every now and again to celebrate how far I have come.

    Rachel.

  • Thanks for this beautiful and open piece. Small changes indeed have a massive impact!

  • Gailanne

    Thanks for this Quinn…makes so much sense to me ..I’m learning to talk to mysel in a kind ,helpful way ( not easy )..but I am feeling the difference …and it love your mantra ..have added it to my own which is “peace of mind ” “peace of spirit ” “healing” ..g

  • Valerie Anne

    Amazing article! I have been so impatient with myself in making a change and I tend to be waking up everyday and telling myself “why am I still like this? when will I ever change?”. But when I read this article, I finally told myself that maybe if I try to be more patient with my weaknesses, I could be able to achieve a better version of myself sooner. Looking forward to a new me! 🙂

  • Guest

    Why only be held in loving kindness for a minute 6 times per day? Why not extend the feeling to last all day, if possible? Why so limited for the time duration?

  • Hi Quinn. The panic attacks really resonate with me, in fact everything spoke to me in your article, especially about asking yourself why would someone cut you up driving, as there could be a thousand reasons why they did it, not necessarily one of just cutting you up for the sake of it.
    People can go through different situations in a day, they may have a bereavement, or a diagnosis, or they just made a simple mistake.
    Good article and I have signed up for your outsmarting anxiety booklet!