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By Michael Scholtz, MA, and Greg Hottinger, RD, BiggestLoserClub.com experts
Well, what did you expect??! How often have you heard that after you set out to do something new, something challenging that you weren't sure you could do, and then came up short?
Surely, you have heard of self-fulfilling prophecies. The thing is, they really exist! So, perhaps asking, "What did you expect?" is relevant.
Expectations can work for you in very powerful ways. Positive expectations create motivation and confidence and empower you to succeed.
However, negative expectations can be the undoing of any type of change. If your expectations are low, you fail to believe in your own ability. But if they are too high, you can be overly self-critical. Either situation has a negative influence on your chances of success.
I Won't and I Can't
To even contemplate change you must first believe that the change is necessary and beneficial AND believe that you can do it.
Unless you see the value of change, you will remain stuck in "I won't" thinking. You may feel like you don't have a problem or simply not see how changing a behavior could benefit you.
For "I won't" people, information about the benefits of making a change can make the difference. Sometimes it takes a life-changing event, a wake-up call, to make a person contemplate change. These calls to action can come in the form of a medical emergency for you or someone you love, a look in the mirror or a photograph, or the inability to do something you really love doing.
Even after you become convinced of the need for a particular change, you can still get stuck. If making a change feels important, but you don't have confidence in your ability to bring about the change, you might be stuck in "I can't" thinking.
If confidence is what is holding you back, having a role model or a support group can help you start and stick with it. Seeing others just like you make a change in their lives is inspiring and reassuring. And having others to confide in and lean on helps you get through the rough times that might otherwise lead to a lapse in motivation.
Expectations Too Low
Once you decide to make a change and have made preparations to set in motion the steps it will take to help you succeed, it may seem like it's only a matter of time before it becomes a habit. Maybe you've heard that it takes three months or 100 days or some other finite amount of time before a new behavior becomes permanent. But the truth is that you have to make a conscious, internal change before a behavior will stick. And that change begins with your expectations.
You may begin to wonder right from the beginning what will be your undoing THIS time. All your energy is focused on what you can't do or don't like.
"I can't exercise outside because it's too cold. I can't walk because my feet hurt. I've never been very good at exercise. I've never liked exercise. I hate to sweat." These are all examples of negative self-talk that create low expectations of success even though you've already begun to make changes!
The tricky thing is that these thoughts are not always conscious, especially in the beginning. You may set out thinking that it will be different this time. You take on a new program and get started with the type of fervent enthusiasm that is usually present at the outset of any exciting task.
But underneath, doubt is creeping in from every angle. A day missed at the gym brings worry that you won't go the next day. After all, that "always happens." Tempting food at a party tests your willpower and you think, "I was lucky to get out of there without eating too much."
In short, if something goes wrong you say, "That's just like me." This is the type of thinking that leads you to ask, "What did I expect?" It's as if tripping up was in the cards all along. And, if something goes well you say, "That's not like me." Any success is dismissed as luck or a chance result more affected by external factors than personal skills, effort, or strategies.
When you take blame unnecessarily and don't take appropriate credit for doing well, you are giving in to the self-fulfilling prophecy in your head that says you've never been good at this and you're only fooling yourself again by even trying. But, you won't quit entirely. When the next fad comes along, and you muster the courage to try again, the process will repeat itself.
The only way off the roller coaster is to lift your expectations.
Expectations Too High
If low expectations hold you back, it would seem that having high expectations would be the key to success. However, expectations that are set too high can limit your ability to recognize an outcome as a success and undermine the very changes you have undertaken.
When high expectations and readiness, willingness, and ability come together, great things can happen. You'll have self-efficacy, or belief in your ability to make a change happen. And self-esteem, or your belief about your self-worth, allows you to put in an effort without fear of failure. Therefore, the chance of success is greater, and if you don't succeed, you're able to see it as the learning situation that it is rather than a defeat.
However, when expectations are high but your readiness, willingness, and ability to change are low, the high expectations can get in the way.
For example, if you start out a diet and exercise program thinking that only a five-pound per week weight loss is acceptable, anything less throws your entire program into doubt. If you find yourself behind schedule, you may stop believing in yourself or you may blame the program. Either way, you set yourself up for dropping out.
Even when a goal is well designed, the basic expectation can be so high that it undermines process it is meant to support.
For example, external influences can make doing extreme amounts of exercise or depriving yourself of certain foods seem like smart choices. When those external sources are convincing enough, you start to believe that even the most unrealistic goals are achievable. And, not only that, but you believe that you should WANT TO achieve them!
Think about it for a second. Who says you can't be happy until after you lose "all the weight"? This is the marketing hook that is used to convince you that you need to do the latest, fastest, easiest way to lose weight.
Once you buy into this expectation, I could tell you that you need to follow a 15-hour per week exercise program and you'll get the results you so desperately want, and you would jump right on board. For a while.
However, the motivators behind this goal are fear and force. They are both powerful, but can cause you to sell your soul and then leave you empty.
So, you may wonder how you find that balance between your expectations being too low and giving into the fear and force to set your expectations too high.
Building confidence in yourself and the changes you're making is the antithesis of fear and force-based goals and is critical to creating healthy, positive expectations. You might say that it is "Empowered Accountability."
Empowered accountability is the result of creating a high degree of flexibility and personalization in SMART goals.
SMART goals are:
Realistic and rewarding
Specific and measurable mean that you can evaluate whether or not you have reached the goal by answering yes or no. Action based means that you can see yourself doing it. Realistic means you have the skills, knowledge, and tools to make it happen. Rewarding means you find it exciting and valuable. And time based makes it closed-ended, so you can't continually delay the start or move the finish line.
All aspects of SMART goals are important to achieving positive expectations. But none is more influential than the "R."
Setting realistic and yet rewarding goals is a balancing act. If you make them achievable, but they fail to create a fire inside you, they fall flat. For instance, a goal of walking 20 minutes three times per week may be quite achievable, but may leave you feeling like it's just not enough.
Finding the balance requires self-acceptance. Acceptance allows you to move forward from a place of caring and self-worth. And contrary to what most people believe, wanting to change or improve does not reflect a lack of acceptance. In fact, the exact opposite is true. No lasting change can take place without it.
Acceptance is an understanding of your strengths and your limitations, and when you have it, you underestimate neither your power nor the task at hand. And you will be able to set your goals just outside of your comfort zone, where they can be reached and you will find great satisfaction in your success.
Bringing It Together
When you create Empowered Accountability through SMART goal setting, you will recognize that you have control over your choices and the power to bring about lasting change.
With that power comes responsibility. But you'll no longer be held accountable for achieving perfection, just for putting in the effort and never quitting.
Each obstacle becomes an opportunity to learn, adapt, and move forward.
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