Contentment is definitely not a word you would typically associate with the way I used to live life. In fact, I’d say I was quite the opposite, and it’s because I suffered from what many of us suffer from, the expectation gap.
The expectation gap is essentially the distance between where you are right now, and where you would like to be. Let me paint a picture for you.
You’re overweight, you’re underpaid, and you hate what you do for a living. You believe you have the potential to live an amazing life. You know you can earn 200k a year, be toned and athletic, and find the perfect spouse.
This scenario doesn’t mean that the person above is unrealistic. But it does put a lot of pressure on you to achieve all of these goals.
I know it’s particularly difficult for high achievers. If you’re in this boat, you’re probably confident in your abilities, therefore you want to do everything you can to reach your potential. You rush through life doing as many things as possible so you don’t waste any opportunity. You have goals you want to reach before you turn 30, 40, 50, and 100 yrs old.
We’re told to put big hairy audacious goals out in the universe and pursue them relentlessly until it is achieved.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition. But having such high expectations often leaves you feeling stressed, anxious and alienated.
So the real challenge is, how do you reduce your expectation gap, and find a way to be content right now? How do you learn to enjoy the journey instead of focusing on the outcome? Not an easy task.
In this post we’re going to look at 5 strategies to help you reduce your expectation gap and be content with where you are, like right now. Please keep in mind that I’m not even close to mastering these strategies. I naturally have very high expectations of myself and I realise that this is not healthy. So I’ll be implementing these strategies right along with you.
Here we go.
1. Focus on habits instead of goals
James Clear wrote an amazing post titled, Forget About Goals. Focus on This Instead. The basic premise of the article is that setting goals reduces your happiness and you should focus on the process instead.
When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”
The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”
Remove any goals that you have and focus on the system, process and the habits instead. So instead of focusing on losing 40 pounds, focus on drinking a green smoothie every morning and moving for 20 minutes each day. Instead of focusing on writing an entire book, focus on writing 500 words a day instead.
2. Celebrate the small wins
One of the main problems I found with having a wide expectation gap is whatever I did never seemed like it was enough. If you feel the same way, challenge yourself to celebrate all of your small wins.
I’ll be the first to admit, it can be difficult to see where you’ve succeeded on a day to day basis. I’ve found that journaling, even for 5 minutes at the end of each day is a great tactic for realising what you did well for that day. Maybe you helped a friend move house, you did yoga for an hour, you tried a new recipe, or finished a small section of your project. Whatever it is, write it down and give yourself some time to reflect and appreciate what you have accomplished. You’d be amazed at how such a simple task can drastically reduce your expectation gap.
3. Don’t try to change too many things at once
This is a big one. It’s easy to watch an inspirational video on YouTube and instantly want to change every aspect of your life overnight. Beware, moments like these widen your expectation gap.
Sure, you may want to improve your relationships, your financial situation, your health, and your career. But trying to do all of them at once will leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Instead of trying to change each key area of your life, focus on one at a time. Once you’ve developed some habits in a particular area, move onto the next one.
For example, you may choose to focus on the relationship with your spouse for the next month before moving onto improving your exercise routine.
4. Practice gratitude daily
Being grateful is probably the most powerful way to reduce your expectation gap.
We actually got the readers of The Minimalist Vegan to share their personal tips on how to be grateful. Check them out below:
“I think of all the suffering in the world- it’s absence in my life makes me truly grateful.” – Tarmaine
Tell someone why you are grateful to know them. Anyone. The people closest to you who support you everyday, the co-worker that makes you laugh, or even the Starbucks guy that remembers your name and order. Find an opportunity to say it and it makes you feel it more. – Michelle
Make sure to take extra notice of a butterfly every time one flies past. – Chris
Somewhere I read in an article that certain peoples wake up each morning and look at their hands. They are grateful for their hands because their hands earn their living – I love this. I am grateful for my hands each morning – they allow me to garden, they allow me to paint. They are incredible hands. – Kathy
Every time I say “I love you” to my husband or my son, I feel instantly grateful. I’ve recently noticed and named this feeling and now I’m filled with gratitude everyday. – Naomi
We try to view the meteor showers when they are visible. If you never have spread out a blanket, laid flat on you back and looked up at the flashes as they come at the Earth, you are missing out. Totally awesome, and free! – Karen
Thank you to all of the readers who took the time to leave a comment.
5. Hit the reset button
I absolutely love watching tennis. One of the things I admire most about the top ranked players is their ability to forget about the very last point.
You notice that the lower ranked players tend to beat themselves up when they miss a shot they think they should of made, or lose a point which they think they should of won. They struggle to recover and bounce back for the next point.
This is similar to the way most of us feel when we have a wide expectation gap.
Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and started questioning what you actually achieved? Or maybe some random family commitment came up which prevented you from completing an important task?
These types of thoughts lead to frustration and disappointment. You start breaking trust with yourself and sometimes, like the lower ranked tennis players, you struggle to leave the day behind and reset your intentions for the following day.
I’m realising that whilst it’s important to own your time, you also need to have the mental toughness to be able to hit the reset button when things don’t go your way. There are always going to be unexpected things that come up in your life and you need to be able to remain calm and flexible. Turn an unexpected event into an opportunity to celebrate a small win instead.
A habit challenge?
So hopefully by now you have some ideas on how you can manage your own expectations and live a more content life. Now I’d like to throw down a quick challenge for you.
Take any personal goal you have, whether it’s to shed a few extra pounds, start a business, or run a marathon, and list a daily habit you can implement to help you get the results you want. Leave your response in the comments below.