Sometimes, I think the biggest disconnect we humans have between where we are in our present lives and this idea of ‘fulfillment and self-acceptance’ so many of us struggle to achieve, is our inability to live up to our OWN expectations.
Expectations are a fickle kind of thing, because we all seem to have different standards for ourselves (and motives behind the standards!). As an example, I will use my current body image. At one point and time I absolutely loathed looking in the mirror. I was about 40lbs heavier than I am today as a result of little physical activity and tons of excess calories. I was in hiding, but that’s a story for another time. I knew I could do a lot better in this area. Today, I have worked hard to shift my lifestyle to that of someone who includes exercise as a habitual practice, and try hard to eat more for fuel than pleasure (or escape). Anyone who knows me will attest that I am a much healthier person than I was in the past. I agree. When I pass by my appearance in the mirror most days I am not at all repulsed by what I see, and instead practice kindness and compassion to where I am at. Honestly, it’s not uncommon for me to look at myself in the bathroom mirror and tell myself that I look healthy, good, fit, or some other uplifting message. A big change from my former self.
The problem lies in the fact that I am still not where I know I am capable of being. If I bring this up to the wrong person in my life, I am met with crazy eyes and comments about how I am silly to not accept where I am now. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am pleased with what I see. I have worked hard and am well on the path to meeting MY standard. I just know, somewhere within me that I am capable of BETTER. This, I find, for most people is where the disconnect lies and where there are only two routes towards inner peace:
Option 1. CHANGE. The funny thing about this is that if you start to make the changes towards your goal and therefore put yourself in a mindset of believing you can actually achieve it, the happiness doesn’t take long to follow. You become proud of yourself for meeting your own expectations. It is always important to remember that change is gradual, and if you wait to accept yourself until you have met a new goal, standard or milestone, you will miss the point. Why wait to accept yourself when you’re taking the actions to meet your own standards right now? That sounds like a punishment, and I am pretty firm believer that life is too short to punish yourself for past mistakes.
Do some dreaming. What kind of life does someone living up to your standard live? If we continue with the body image example my vision for where I would want to be includes someone who puts a great deal of thought into the food they allow into there body, knows what foods react well with them, has control over temptations that will not nurture, enjoys an active lifestyle, enjoys cooking, spends time with people who also value there bodies and feel good in there own skin, and someone who is passionate about getting to know there body like a friend. What kind of habits does this person have in order to achieve this standard? Think about it. Write it down. Think about a few habits that you can try to begin to incorporate (e.g a small glass of water to begin the day, or stopping eating hours before bed to allow your digestive system a chance to relax). A year is a long time if you ‘keep moving’ – it’s 365 small steps of keeping this image at the forefront of your mind and trying your best to slow down and make decisions that will move you closer towards this vision. If this is a new mountain you are climbing, you will have a lot of habits to change and if you take the time to do some research on the subject you will learn that your brain will not make that an overnight feat. The more small habits you are able to incorporate, the better you will feel, and the closer you will get to meeting your standard.
Option 2. LOWER YOUR STANDARDS. Everything in you might be rejecting what I am saying right now, because you might believe that if you were to lower your standards and stop berating yourself for whatever area you aren’t succeeding in, you’ll be stuck here forever. Wrong. Think about your life, all that is going on in it, and all the ‘expectations’ you are not currently meeting. Is the self-loathing helping you? Do you have it in you currently to make any of the appropriate changes to meet that standard? Is that standard at all realistic for where you are at right now? Is that a standard that is really going to bring you more happiness? Reevaluate your life and decide. Instead of trying to ‘change’, it might be time to instead change the way you think about yourself. To be more compassionate. To relax into where you are right now. Think about yourself as a young child: If you were to deny your child love day after day because they were not meeting an expectation, would the fire be lit under them to change? Or would they become defeated by your lack of compassion, acceptance and patience with them for where they are at? Change is definitely a deliberate and consuming task. Sometimes it’s best to just relax on yourself and let yourself breathe and enjoy where you are right now. Slow it down. If you find the unachieved standard continues to nag at you, see Option 1.
The funny thing I have found about a ‘personal standard’ that the closer you get to reaching the top, the more you realize you might not need to go all the way. You might find that 80% of that standard brings you just as much satisfaction as 100% might have brought you, or sometimes you might find you open a door to a second level and work towards 200%. You’ll be able to tell because your mind will become less consumed with alerting you to its dissatisfaction to your current standard and will move on to a different area of your life, or the standard will be raised. The farther away you are, the more you think reaching the top will bring the ‘happiness’. The closer you can come to your expectations, today, the more freedom your mind will give you for new pursuits, different areas of standards. There will always be a mountain to climb, but aligning yourself with the habits of someone who lives up to your standards is the fastest way to create fulfillment and self-acceptance.
What are YOUR expectations for yourself? How do you move closer towards them or how do you let them go to accept and enjoy yourself for where you are now?