Wisdom//

This Is How Expectation Creep Is Holding You Back and What to Do to Stop It

If you’ve given up on a task because you’re afraid of failing, you might be dealing with this all-to-common phenomenon.

Ivor Strelar / Shutterstock
Ivor Strelar / Shutterstock

You’ve probably experienced decision paralysis — where you’ve felt so overwhelmed by a choice that you ended up not making one at all. You’ve probably dealt with expectation creep as well, except you likely didn’t realize it was happening in the first place, or notice the impact it has on your ability to get things done.

If you’ve ever given up on something before you started because you didn’t think you’d meet your expectations (or someone else’s), or let your fear of falling short keep you from putting maximum effort into a task, you’ve likely experienced expectation creep. “Most of our expectations are tied to perfectionism because of the belief that there is a ‘right’ way to move forward to achieve a goal, and a fear that if it’s not done a certain way, it may be viewed that you’re wasting time and others will surpass you,” Jennifer Guttman, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of A Path to Sustainable Life Satisfaction, tells Thrive. 

The realization that your own expectations could be holding you back may bring about feelings of frustration. But the good news is that you can implement simple strategies to set more realistic expectations for yourself — that make you feel good when you meet them. Here’s how.

Focus on the present 

To keep your expectations in check, hone in on the task at hand rather than obsessing over the big picture. Taking things as they come — instead of mulling over every item on your to-do list and wondering how you’ll possibly get it all done — will help you set more attainable goals for yourself. “Getting wrapped up in the end game will result in a lack of focus and energy for the task at hand,” Guttman says. Whether you’re taking on a lengthy project at work or are trying to clean your house, break up your task into manageable chunks, and stay present as you work on them. Most importantly, don’t think about what you need to get done tomorrow while you’re working on what you have to get done today.

Set your own standards for success

Comparing yourself to someone else’s progress, or worse, letting someone else define your personal growth, is a sure way to let expectation creep settle in. Guttman says that social media can exacerbate this, because it gives us an idealized version of others’ lives, and makes it easy to make faulty assumptions about another person’s success. Do yourself a favor and make sure you’re setting much-needed boundaries on your screen time. Moreover, focus on your own wins rather than feeling discouraged by someone else’s. “Your own ambition is more important than competition,” Guttman says.

Avoid multitasking at all costs

Many people think multitasking will help them get more done in less time. However, research has shown that trying to tackle several tasks at once can actually become more time-consuming and lead to more mistakes. And with more mistakes and less time to work with, you certainly won’t meet your expectations, no matter how realistic they might be. To fight off the urge to multitask, Guttman says you shouldn’t start a new task until you complete the one right in front of you, and give it the time it deserves. “If you move on too quickly, you will not achieve your desired expectations. Your previous tasks will remain unfinished while you’re onto the next,” she explains. 

By taking small yet meaningful steps to set more reasonable expectations in your work, you’ll overcome the fear of falling short.

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