Live Your Life for You, Not to Please Expectations

Conquer social pressure, or it will conquer you.

Posted Oct 24, 2018

 Drew Colins/Unsplash
Source: Drew Colins/Unsplash

Do you sometimes feel you don’t love your life? Like, deep inside, something is missing?

That’s because we are living someone else’s life. We allowed other people to influence or determine our choices — we are trying to please their expectations.

Social pressure is deceiving — we all become prey without noticing it. Before we realize we lost control of our lives, we end envying how other people live. We can only see the greener grass — ours is never good enough.

To regain the passion for the life we want, you must recover ownership of your choices.

The Illusion of Others

You are not alone. Expectations are hard to overcome. Coaching executives and their teams, I’m used to dealing with expectations — everyone is susceptible to the illusion of others.

Pleasing others is like chasing a moving target. People will have multiple hopes for you. Social pressure fluctuates — others’ expectations will continually change.

By trying to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one — ourselves included. Expectations are an illusion. That’s why most people don’t live the life they want. They feel frustrated and disappointed.

When we expect, we stop accepting reality. Anticipation is annoying — even when things go as expected, you can’t enjoy unsurprising events. Even when we get what we wished for, we can’t be happy either. That’s the problem with anticipation — we fall in love with the expectations. If what we anticipated doesn’t come true, life seems unfair. If it does, the lack of surprise makes the actual experience less exciting.

The same happens with people. They get frustrated when you don’t behave as they expect. That’s key to understand — it’s their problem, not yours.

Why People Expect You to Be Different

“Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

Many people bear resentment when the outcome of an event is less than they imagined it would be, even if their expectation was based on unreasonable assumptions.

Frustration is the gap between what people expect from you and who you are.

To bridge that void, you must reframe your relationship with people’s expectations. Expectations create a social contract — it’s an implicit agreement between others and you. If you don’t push back, people will assume you are okay with it.

Speak up. Or people will continue invading you. If you don’t resist, not only do you legitimize the agreement, it becomes a social practice. Soon, you’ll start doing the same to others — when you let other people define your life, you want to prescribe theirs, too.

Not expecting things from others is the first step to preventing people from dictating how you live. Life is a two-way street — when you realize no one owes you anything, you stop expecting people to owe you anything either.

No one knows yourself better than you do. No one but yourself can choose how you live.

Fall In Love with Your Life (Again)

1. Put on your oxygen mask first.

The first step to getting rid of expectations is to treat yourself kindly. To take care of others, you have to put on your oxygen mask first — you can’t truly love other people if you don’t love your life first. Accepting ourselves fully (flaws included) is the foundation for a long-term friendship. When we accept who we are, there’s no room for other’s expectations.

Being self-compassionate is like fresh oxygen to your mind.

Research by Kristin Neff shows that compassionate acts towards ourselves release the ‘feel good’ hormones. Increased levels of oxytocin make us feel comforted, calm, and connected.

2. Adjust the way you think.

You cannot control what others think about you, but you can choose how you talk to yourself. Your inner-talk can help or harm you, as I wrote here. Learn to choose your words wisely. Your expectations can put you in a box — you are the only one who can set yourself free.

You are the best person you can talk to.

Pay attention to your inner-dialogue — are you being kind to yourself or adding more pressure? Does your conversation focus on who you are and what you want to be? Or is it full of expectations of who you should be? Your dialogue should be yours, not shaped by other people’s thoughts.

3. Speak up.

People need limits — some because they are acting without noticing, others because they tend to impose their desires. Speak up. Don’t let them dictate who you are and what you should do.

People will assume the social contract is active unless you explicitly break it.

Learn to draw a line. You don’t need to be harsh, though. Just let others know when they are out of bounds — not everyone realizes when they are trying to define how you live.

4. Free yourself and free others.

When you remove your own preconceptions and expectations, you can do the same to others. Living the life you love is liberating — you don’t feel the pressure to please others. Similarly, you won’t need to impose your will on others either.

When you take ownership of your life, people feel empowered to follow suit.

Expectations are an illusion — they add useless pressure to everyone. Let’s recover the joy of living. Remember when you were a kid. You probably didn’t have time for expectations — you were busy enjoying life one-minute at-a-time.

5. Stop judging, stop expecting.

Expectations derive from being judgmental — when someone can't accept how you behave, they expect you to change. By learning to be more compassionate toward yourself, not only will you ease your own expectations, you won’t feel the need to judge others.

Life is not perfect — removing expectations will let you appreciate your life as is.

Judgment adds frustration and negativity — perfectionists are never happy. When you let go of expectations, you create space to enjoy the here and now. Your life is not what should happen, but what is actually happening as you read these words.

Learning to accept reality is hard, but it’s a significant step towards finding calm and peace. Removing expectations doesn’t mean lowering your bar, but rather letting go of the unnecessary pressure. Only when we are relaxed can we give our best.

Any moment is a turning point if you decide to. You are in charge. Love your life. Accept the worst and hope for the best.

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