I’ve always had high expectations of myself – and my family environment growing up was a big part of that. (A very high-achieving Cambridge-educated half brother and sister 11 and 13 years older than me set the bar high!). And part of this background has meant that I’ve always strived for future goals – and not always celebrated successes along the way. Always pushing and working towards something just out of reach – and when it was reached, moving right on to the next thing with barely any acknowledgement.
This is a stressful way to live! As you’ll know if you can relate to what I’m saying. I’ve had to really learn to focus on letting go and being more present – to focus on what I can do right now.
And I work with high-achieving clients of course. Public speaking can really bring out the stress/need for achievement/fear of failure in us. So this brings me again to expectations. Where do you set yours?
If you’re a perfectionist, what I’m about to say will make sense! When we focus on what we think should happen: every detail to the highest standards – we’re likely to become anxious, unmotivated and feel hopeless. Unmet expectations actually generate a threat response in your brain. Let me quote Dr Evian Gordon, founder of the Brain Resource Company, which has developed the world’s largest brain database. Gordon says:
“With any brain function, the important thing is firstly to minimise threat.”
Solutions. So let me give you a solution to the threat of focusing on your shoulds and standards – and bear with me here: keep your expectations low in the short term. (I’ve also written about this here and here.) You might now be going “just hang on a minute”…so let me finish the thought.
The key point to remember here is that you want to set them low short term, very high long-term. High long-term because you often don’t know how far you can go until you’re well into the journey, and you want to aim as high as you possibly can. But if you set the bar too high before you’ve properly started that journey, it’s almost certain that you’ll get demoralised and downhearted, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen – especially if you’ve tried working on your speaking skills before without success. You may even give up.
Focus on exploration, not expectation. Trusting the process and focusing on the next step: while still holding the picture of what’s possible. This is a balancing act I won’t deny it! But each time you breathe, low and slow; talk kindly to yourself (self-compassion is also a big part of it as I talk about here); and focus on your next action, it helps to build that balance of present and future expectations.
It’s also a great idea to focus on process goals, not outcome…and to break each goal down to its very next action step – especially if they’re complex. Start small, and appreciate each step – appreciate how far you’ve come, too. We can be so focused on what’s next that we don’t really celebrate anything we achieve, as I mentioned above. And this is a deeply unsatisfying, stressful way to live.
To sum up:
Set high expectations for yourself long-term
Realise that next-step focus is the way to go
Breathe low and slow, smile and appreciate what you’ve achieved so far