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Putting pressure on yourself

We sometimes put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. Here are some ways to manage your expectations of yourself.

Young person feeling stressed by the pressure she is placing on herself

How do we form expectations of ourselves?

Expectations are strong beliefs about the way things are or what might happen.

We form our personal expectations based on attitudes and ‘schemas’ (patterns of thoughts or behaviour used to categorise information). We use expectations to help us evaluate and respond to others.

For example, if we believe that a person has committed a crime, we may process information in a way that feeds into this judgement and attempts to prove it true.

We also use expectations to evaluate ourselves that are based on either what others tell us about ourselves or the subconscious beliefs we hold.

Research suggests that expectations can influence pretty much everything in our lives – from our perception of taste and enjoyment of experiences to the way we perform specific tasks.

Expectations can result in pressure. If you have an expectation of getting good grades in your studies, you might pressure yourself. Others can put pressure on you as well, either intentionally or unintentionally, which can lead to conflict and feelings of stress, disappointment and even shame.

Expectations and performance /productivity

Expectations are all about believing in the likelihood of success.

Research suggests that expectations (whether that is pressure from your parents, personal pressure you apply to yourself or even expectations your teacher has of you) can directly impact upon your performance.

This concept is now known as the "Pygmalion effect" which suggests that you are likely to try and meet others' expectations of you.

For example, let's say your teacher or manager tells you that you're a 'slow learner', you might slow down your learning. But if your teacher/manager thinks you're 'bright', you'll pick up on that expectation and try to live up to it.

These expectations then feed in to your behaviour.

Expectations and self-esteem

Our expectations and self-esteem are also linked! Our self-esteem (how we feel about ourselves) is based upon our beliefs about ourselves that are formed through recurring experiences with the world.

People with high self-esteem tend to have high – yet realistic – expectations of themselves, however can become obsessed with striving for perfection.

People with low self-esteem are just as capable, yet tend to be harder on themselves and set more unrealistic expectations that very few people would be able to achieve.

For example, someone with low self-esteem might decide to declutter their room/home. They might set an unnecessarily difficult goal of completing this task in one day. When they’re not able to reach this goal, they berate themselves saying, “I never follow through on anything,” and then the cycle of low-self-esteem and unrealistic expectations continues.

This means that people with really high and really low self-esteem don’t meet their own standards.

“Self-esteem isn’t constant. It naturally comes and goes. It’s also not the best predictor of success or happiness. A better predictor is ‘self-efficacy’, which is our belief in our ability to make positive changes in our life.”
– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

Managing your own expectations

Managing your personal expectations is pretty important in order to reduce the unnecessary pressure and self-criticism that can lead to low self-esteem.

These tactics might help you manage your expectations: 

  • Challenge your assumptions. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you find yourself ‘assuming’ something, do some research to challenge or verify your belief.
  • Be encouraging. Pressure can be positive when it’s encouraging yourself or another person to do something good, e.g. “I’m going to learn a second language in my spare time, to increase my opportunities to study/work abroad.” The opposite of this is negative pressure, where you are using put-downs, or are focusing on avoiding a negative outcome, e.g. “Stop being such an idiot and get this assignment done so you don’t fail.”
  • Separate behaviour from identity. We can sometimes see behaviour as who a person is, e.g. if you bought lunch from someone who behaved rudely, you might assume they are a ‘rude person’. But everyone can behave rudely or politely at different times, in different situations. Be forgiving (especially if behaviours are one-off or occasional).
  • Keep things in context. Often our expectations don’t account for context. If your barista was rude to you, you might assume they are just a rude person. However, adding the context that they had just had a big pay cut, three customers had just been abusive towards them and they were really stressed because their dog was unwell might change how you viewed the situation. Rather than jumping to conclusions or taking things personally, it can be helpful to try and remain neutral and curious, by asking, “What else might explain this behaviour?”
  • Be accepting of others. People don’t have to live their life the way you live yours. Show empathy to others and value diversity. This includes backing causes that you may not necessary need, but you feel might benefit others, e.g. flexible start times so your colleagues can drop their kids at school, or advocating to end oppressions that don’t directly affect you.

If you’re having trouble balancing school, work, and other parts of your life you’re not alone.

You can always talk to us about the pressures and expectations you’re facing, whether from others or yourself.

Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 19/06/2020

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