To Rooting Your Expectations in Reality
6:00 PM, March 23, 2017. The sun was far off in the horizon, with that Californian golden hue, dancing with the mountain tops it would soon slip behind. The air was crisp, the sky was clear, and all of the unknowns in the journey that laid ahead filled me with nerves like I had never experienced. I pulled out of the driveway, snaked around the neighborhood I had spent nearly my entire life in, and got on the 101 headed north.
The bigger the expectation, the bigger the letdown (maybe)
Leaving California was the most bittersweet moment of my entire life. Cue the dramatic ballad. My heart ached for my friends, family and familiarity I was leaving behind — and simultaneously longed for the milestones and events ahead. I had expectations in my head of every component of my “new life.” First of all, my apartment was going to be chic AF, I’d finally find someone worth pursuing, I’d get out of the house and attend networking events, make a ton of new friends, and hike, bike and sail my way around the Pacific Northwest. #Goals status.
Unfortunately, when it comes to expectations, especially on the grand-scale like these, reality rarely lives up to the hype. I know, who invited Buzzkill Bill, right? But think about it for a second… Have you ever been let down because what you experienced didn’t live up to the vision (or the planning?) I can think of a few scenarios right off the bat, like prom, college as a whole, and literally 90% of my first dates.
It’s no fault of our own. Okay, maybe it’s partially our fault. BUT, our generation was told from the moment we were brought into the world that we were special, we could be or do anything we dreamed of, and that the world was our oyster. Pair that with the endless scrolling past over-the-top adventures, lavish weddings, and photoshopped facades on social media, along with the false portrayal of “reality” on E!, and we’re left a very skewed perception of what real even is.
It takes a laser-like Focus and a little imagination
I’m sure there are a plethora of ways to stay rooted in (the real) reality when you’re setting goals and expectations for yourself. I’m learning, through the help of a therapist, the best way to plan, based on my personality and the way I operate. Because of my quarter of a semester of psychology in 2010, I feel that I can very responsibly recommend the following path to you fine individuals. *Disclaimer: It was more like one-eighth of a semester — it was a really early class... 😬
Step One: Take a moment to ground yourself
Before you start daydreaming of what could be one day, planning for the future or getting down to it, and setting those goals, take a beat and ground yourself. It looks different for different people, but I imagine it quite literally — a few deep breaths while I envision my feet growing roots that drive down into the earth, and my body soaking in the air and sun. Yeah, I'm basically a houseplant plant in Warby Parker frames.
What you're doing, in moments like these, is setting your intention. I picked this up years ago, when I was a full-time massage therapist — and try to bring it with me in all types of situations today. A difficult conversation, a stressful day at work, and even before each therapy session. I take six or seven seconds, set my breath, envision my weird leaf-leg hybrid vision and set my intention for my outcome. I want the outcome of [whatever I'm doing] to be [a better understanding, a plan of attack, a defined goal, etc.]
Step two: Learn to take Smaller bites
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." (Lao Tzu) How many times have you heard this one? How many times have you let it absorb? When I moved, I had grand visions of sugar plum fairies, unicorns and affordable rent in my mind. When I discovered, in a therapy session, that the expectations I set on myself weren't realistic, I was first bummed — then relieved. How could I expect so much change, if I wasn't doing the most I could to drive that change?
I'm not an incremental goals kind of guy. Like many other millennials, I'm one of the all-or-nothing, what you see is what you get, I want what I want and I want it now, people. It's physically and mentally difficult for me to look at the small picture. The best way to trick my mind into doing this, without feeling like I'm adding training wheels: reverse engineer. If I can see the big picture, I work backwards, breaking down section by section until I have my mini-milestones defined.
Step three: Create SMART goals
Build upon your grounded inner zen and your bite-size logic to set your goals and expectations. The best way to stay in touch with reality is to adopt the SMART goal theory. As I previously wrote, it's much easier to set attainable goals and reach them when you have clear definitions, measurable KPIs and a pre-set time to check-in, follow up with yourself and course-correct where needed. You can still put that Ferrari on your vision board, pin that beautiful Santa Barbara villa, and deck out your bathroom mirror with sticky note goals and affirmations — but I implore you to review the SMART goal technique and apply it to the things you want, no matter how big or small.
Step four: Set periodic check-ins
Remember progress reports in school? If you were anything like me, you absolutely dreaded cinch-notice season. This step is nothing like those check-ins! No crushing anxiety of getting your ass whooped, your texting taken away, or another, "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed" conversation. Think of these moments as an opportunity to check-in with the progress of your goal, and also how you feel, both physically and mentally.
If you're running yourself ragged, skipping out on meals, shut-eye or valuable downtime, you'll crash — guaranteed. If you take stock one day and realize you're on this destructive path, or realize one you've astray from your goal, take some time to quickly go through steps one through three again and identify what went wrong, what the change looks like and when your next check-in will be. The most important thing to remember, is even the best fall off the wagon, or slip from time to time. Don't let it get you down. Pick yourself up, dust off and catch up.
Step five: Celebrate your mini-milestone victories
Life should never be all work and no play, and as such, neither should your goals or expectations. I got so caught up in only looking at the end result, that I often overlooked the mini-milestones I identified at the beginning of my journey. I didn't blink when I was down 20 pounds, because I had so many more to go. I didn't enjoy my first days in my new apartment, because I still had so much to unpack. I didn't celebrate the completion of a huge week-long event at work, because I was caught up in the trivial missteps I made along the way. Are you picking up on the pattern?
No matter your overall goal, it's important to recognize your achievement as you navigate the path to the finish line. Just as a marathoner probably pats themselves on the back at each mile post, we should too. (I say probably because the closest I've ever been to a marathon was a very early morning in 80's-styled athleisure, drunk on cranberry vodkas for Bay to Breakers. That counts, right Maivien? 💁🏻) Besides feeling good, these mini-celebrations for our mini-victories will honestly help push us even harder toward that goal. It's like the law of physics, or something.
So get out there, millennial, and go after what you want most in this world. Be realistic, be humble and be kind. *I possibly should have cut this in the editing process, but I sometimes don't follow my own advice, and am probably somewhere between severely sleep-deprived and dance party for one.