Setting Realistic Expectations
It may seem paradoxical at first that throughout our personal development journey we need to embrace our imperfection. I don’t think this is paradoxical, though, because as humans, we are naturally imperfect creatures. We will make mistakes, have screw ups, and (hopefully) make apologies as long as we live. Personal development has nothing to do with becoming perfect.
I don’t say this just because to become perfect is impossible (which it is), but because observing that we are fallible makes it easier to shift from a destination mindset to a journey mindset, which I mentioned in Growing the Roots of Change. For some context, allow this discussion to be a continuation from the last post on developing a vision. We are not yet talking about goals or action steps. We have just created a vision of what our ideal state looks like, we have reflected, meditated, and/or otherwise contemplated on this vision so as to internalize it, to bring it to life within ourselves. And now, we’ll want to instill in ourselves the notion that, to achieve our vision, we are going to experience struggle. Don’t get me wrong here. Your dreams are certainly as real as you are, but you will have to fight for them. This has to be acknowledged because you don’t want to be in an emotional place that causes you to give up at the first sign of struggle. It will be tough to achieve your dreams, but undoubtedly you can become tougher.
progress is progress
Change is hard. When things don’t go quite like we’d planned, when progress is slower than we’d like, sometimes we forget that we are still making, well, progress. But by recognizing progress, even when it’s slow, we give ourselves the opportunity to re-energize around our change effort and maybe even learn something that we can reinvest in the project!
To look at it from a different angle, consider how easy it is to give up on a particular change effort in the face of setbacks. Your ability to get back on the horse, so to speak, will be largely dependent on your level of preparation to deal with setbacks. When you understand that mistakes are going to happen, regardless of who or what caused the mistakes, you will be in a much stronger position to deal with the situation in a productive way than if you hadn’t considered the realities of struggle in your journey.
Even when big things happen that create what feels like existential crises for your change effort, you can still maintain a mental and emotional state that allows you to reset and start again if you can start from this more informed position. This is basically the expression “lose the battle but win the war.” For example, if you’re trying to eat less red meat and one day you go off the rails with a sack of burgers (I used to be a sack of burgers kind of guy. For real!) If you expected that there would be less-than-perfect days on your journey into eating less red meat, you can chalk this one up to being an imperfect human, reflect on the situation to extract any lessons, chuckle a little bit, and then rededicate yourself to your mission from a stronger point of view. You don’t even have to dig into self-loathing or anything!
Learning is fun!
None of us are perfect. We’ve got that part. But for many change efforts, you need to give yourself time to learn. If it’s a lifestyle change you’re making such as something health and fitness related, for example, you may need to learn about proper diet and exercise and then you’ll need to learn how to incorporate new shopping and/or gym habits into your routine. All of this will take some time and you won’t have it all figured out in the beginning. This lack of knowledge will likely impede your progress to some degree but this is perfectly fine and not something you should allow to cause frustration. Understand that many of the people whose advice you may care about following have been learning their craft for a long time. The huge muscular guy at the gym has been lifting weights for years and years. The professional singer has been taking voice lessons since she was a child. They’re good at what they do and they’ve learned many things since they first started. Of course you won’t know what they know right out of the gate.
Just embrace the journey you’re on and continue learning as you go. One tip for the early stage of a change effort may be to challenge yourself not just to learn new things but also to directly and intentionally apply those things in your new, strategic direction. With the proper preparation, you’ll be in good shape even when your path twists and turns.