Innovative Lifestyles

Goals vs. Expectations: Let Go and Plan for Today

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“Calm and continuous effort is always more effective than craving and expectations.” — Yung Pueblo

Goals give us direction. Expectations limit our ability to be happy in the moment. Yet, every time we set a new goal we tack-on a new set of expectations. And why wouldn’t we? Expectations come from a hopeful place. They are what would happen if the best version of us had unobstructed days and help along the way. That never happens but it doesn’t stop us from dreaming up unrealistic potentialities, afterall, we’re dreamers. We are also realists who are capable of recognizing the controllable influences on our sense of contentment and appreciation for the present. Letting go of unhealthy expectations may itself sound like an unhealthy expectation but in reality it is achievable and goal oriented.

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Set Expectation Free Short-Term Goals

We have a tendency to be ultra-specific about our expectations and nowhere is this more apparent than in our approach to health & wellness. Rather than establishing a comprehensive set of goals, we focus on physical appearance and exhaust ourselves reaching for the unreachable. Consider the psychological impact of the following statements:

“I want to lose 30-pounds in the next six months.”

“In six months, I want to be noticeably healthier and happier.”

The second statement, while obviously more advantageous, feels too vague. Where is the challenge? Where is the motivation? We mistakenly feel that specifics make our long-term health & wellness goals more tangible and by extension more likely to be achieved. The truth is, they set dangerous limitations. The inability to reach our imagined ideals creates feelings of failure which often leads to reactionary decision making. Success can be equally dangerous. Rather than celebrating achieved expectations, we reset the bar; 40-pound expectations, 50-pound expectations—disappointment looming.    

Letting go of toxic aesthetic expectations is a long-term process that begins with a series of interconnected short-term goals. Create a goal sheet divided into the categories of Nutrition, Fitness and Mind & Spirit. Don’t overthink it. Write down whatever comes to mind for each category. Then, edit out any fixed expectations. Your final version might look something like this:   

Nutrition Goals

    • Choose whole foods over processed food.
    • Eat for pleasure not for fuel.
    • Try new recipes.
    • Control portion sizes.
    • Do not count calories.
    • Find joy in the pursuit.     

Fitness Goals

    • Do something active every day.
    • Mix-it up. Variety is good.
    • Focus on how you feel not how you look.

Mind & Spirit Goals

A comprehensive approach to health & wellness will leave you feeling content and confident in your physical appearance, minus the anxiety that comes with toxic expectations. What begins as intentful pursuit will become second nature. You’ll think about your short-term goals less and less until one day it dawns on you how much you’ve grown and how great you feel. There is no need to reset the bar because the path you’ve started down doesn’t have an end point, it’s simply a healthy, happy way to live.  

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Hold Yourself Accountable, Not Responsible

Personal accountability is not always easy. Interacting with the world (and the people in it) requires the ability to adjust and respond to unexpected change. Fixed expectations do not fare well in this fluid environment, and yet, we continue to motivate ourselves with titles, earnings and unrealistic narratives. It should come as no surprise that according to the American Psychological Association, 64% of Americans report feeling stressed about career and finances with numbers for the younger generations spiking up to 81%.

Who do I want to be? What story do I want to tell? Our hopes feel deeply personal (and they are) but they also intersect with the hopes of those around us. Creating positive change in environments where outside influences play a major role requires a focus on community as well as self. You’ll find that many of the interconnected goals you establish will have elements of both personal and community growth; increased productivity, stress management and interpersonal relationships just to name a few.

As you progress remember that no amount of positive change will completely negate the impact of outside influences. Job market, economy, unequal pay; the world is going to knock you off course, and when it does, don’t assign blame or default to it’s my fault. Shift your perspective. What you have is a far greater motivator than what you want, so use every bump in the wrong direction as an opportunity to take stock of the present moment.

And remember that hope intersects. Talk openly and honestly with your friends and coworkers about your challenges and frustrations. You’ll find that even the most content among them has unmet goals. Don’t commiserate. Don’t blame. BRAINSTORM! Helping others identify solutions is always easier than seeing through our own haze.

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Love without Expectation & Appreciate the Tangents

We expect a lot from love; marriage by a certain age, a partner that fits the profile, a lifestyle polished and pretty. Our non-romantic goals rarely factor into our romantic expectations. Even when deeply focused on our personal journey, we expect love to break through and propel us to a higher level of contentment—hope intersecting just as it should. When that doesn’t happen frustration and self-doubt often set in.

If the universe seems intent on lobbing duds, focus on short-term goals that will increase your odds of positive interactions (human not romantic.) Improve your health & wellness, develop your passions, find your social niche; your efforts may not manifest love but they will bring measurable benefits. Consider how great you feel physically, the new friends you’ve made, the interests you’ve gained; there is a lot of confidence and contentment to be found in the tangents.  

When you are in a relationship, try not to place expectations. No one will ever perfectly sync-up with your notions of an ideal partner and you don’t want that anyway! Almost perfect is the sweet spot. Demand love, respect and honesty but leave room for individuality. Even if your partner is just a nudge away from perfect, leave it be. The potential you see in them and the potential they see in themselves may be very similar but they have to get there on their own.   

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Remember to be Human

Our expectations of self are the most hardwired set of expectations we have. We’re quick to remind others that they are only human. Stop beating yourself up! What’s the big deal!? The sun’ll come out tomorrow! And yet, we imagine ourselves to be permanently happy, high-energy, hyper-focused creatures. We don’t give ourselves the same allowance for human ups and downs that we give to others. Instead, we allow anything short of our idealized selves to feel like failure—an expectation forever unachieved.

Letting go of expectations is a lifelong goal that requires continuous effort and self-reflection; not reflection on the unchangeable past; I could have, I should have, but rather, reflection on the present and acknowledgement of the positive changes you are making.

I’m focused on health and wellness.

I’m being open about my frustrations and challenges.

I’m approaching love and relationships from a place of growth.

I’m human.

By attempting to challenge and motivate ourselves we often inadvertently sabotage our own happiness. We set unrealistic expectations, then toss them haphazardly into the future where they become mounting impediments to personal growth. We have to let go of expectations and in order to do that we have to make the diminishment of those expectations a long-term goal; systematically break it down into a series of interconnected short-term goals, hold ourselves accountable but not responsible, embrace the tangents, love without expectation and most importantly remember to be human.

Let go.


Photos by BBH Singapore, Drop the Label Movement, frankie cordoba, Arthur Humeau

About the Author

Michael Bartolomei

Michael Bartolomei

Writing has always been my way of navigating the world. My ability with words has earned me quick promotions in the corporate world, the praise of literary publishers and the gratitude of my freelance clients. It has given me the means to live and the freedom to live passionately. This is not a job for me. It is a joy.

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