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The Hangover No One Tells You About

Uncategorized Feb 21, 2023

Ugh.  I rolled over, opened my eyes and blinked a few times as the light started to hit my bed.  Immediately my mind started rolling tape on the details of the night before. And almost just as immediately, I started to feel the sinking feeling in my belly.


Why did I say that?

I should have said…

I wonder what _________ thinks…


Double ugh.


The Hangover.


No, not from drinking.  From High Expectation.


While it may not have the same physical effects like headache and nausea, the high expectation hangover can feel just as bad.  At least with drinking you can blame your actions on the alcohol.


With high expectation, there is nothing to blame -- it’s ALL YOU. And when you don’t measure up to the expectations in your mind, you’re left with one feeling: NOT ENOUGH.


Have you ever experienced this?


Got so caught up in the attachment to how things should turn out that you almost can’t stand to be present to the experience because it’s too painful to witness it turn out differently?


Or perhaps you found yourself in a situation trying to control how things were unfolding, or other people’s impressions of you.


And then after the fact, always Monday morning quarterbacking…thinking about what you would say differently or wishing you had done something else…


Essentially wondering “Why can’t I be/do/have something other than what I am or have right now?”


I did this for years.  Placing unrealistic and high expectations on myself because I hoped somehow these expectations would make me MORE.


When I do this…

If I pull this off…

If I can create x…


I wasn’t just striving for a goal, planning a great experience or trying to make things extra special.  I was pinning my value and worth on the hope that things would turn out a very specific way.  And also, foolishly misleading myself that I had 100% control over how things would ultimately turn out. 


Unrealistic expectations are just premeditated disappointments.


Eventually, I caught onto the fact that this was no way to live my life. At least not happily. 


Making the decision to detach from expectation wasn’t an easy one, but it has been the single biggest factor driving my happiness today.


It’s part reminder to live in the present moment as well as the realization that expectation is all illusion anyway.  The only things I truly have any control over are the thoughts I allow to play in my head.


As a result, I now appreciate the WHOLE picture: both my desire to make progress and achieve more in my life and also, the ability to appreciate everything I have in my life right now. In. This. Moment. 


It’s no longer a Someday, WHEN but a Someday, AND.


It’s abundance and gratitude. 


It looks like a spilled glass of wine on a white tablecloth and sounds like laughing so hard you snort, and colleagues saying “I’m so glad we did this,” and celebrating big projects that terrify and exhaust you, and a million other beautiful imperfect moments that make up life and create meaning.


So how do you wake up to THIS MOMENT?


It boils down to the willingness to be in the moment versus directing the moment.  To do that, you need a few skills:


  1. Tap Into Curiosity. Staying curious about what might unfold and happen is a necessary antidote to letting go of expectations.


What might happen if I didn’t force this experience to match a narrowly defined picture created in my head?  Where is there room for the unexpected?  How do I use this experience to learn and grow versus feeling stressed and anxious?


I’ll admit – curiosity doesn’t come easily to an over achieving perfectionist, but it helps to ask, “What could this look like if I didn’t decide it needed to be a certain way?”



  1. Check Your Narrative. Knowing what you’re saying about a situation is a great way to see if your expectations are running the show. Are you using words like must, should, have to, need, etc?  Whenever I use these words it’s likely I’m placing extraordinary amounts of pressure on myself.  This pressure may be because there are high stakes, but more often than not, I’m simply using high-pressure words to increase stress and anxiety. If you find yourself using similar words to describe what must be accomplished, see if you can’t reframe them into words like, I’d like to, It would be nice if, etc.


  1. Level Set Your Expectations with Someone Else. Recently I was complaining to my husband about how I really wanted to accomplish a lot of things around the house on a Saturday morning and I was already feeling disappointed because I didn’t think it would happen. Knowing that he was likely going to be pulled into my plans, he wisely said, “Walk me through what you’d like to get done.” When I rattled off the list he simply looked at me and said, “You want to do all of that!?  Today? BEFORE we leave for Sophia’s game at 11?”  


Uh...I guess not?


If you like to set ridiculous expectations for yourself (or your people), take a minute and run those expectations by another person. Sometimes saying them out loud can be enough to make you realize you’re overachieving.  Sometimes it may take someone else questioning your expectations to make you see they are bigger than necessary.  Either way, it’s a great way to paint a clear (albeit advanced and highly detailed) picture of what you’re putting on yourself.


The process of detaching from high expectations is a complex one.  We live in a culture of more and better.  We hold ideas that if we can perform at the highest levels, we will succeed at the highest levels.  While that may be true, at what cost? And is it sustainable. 


If you’d like to put less pressure on yourself to perform –and more time to live in the moment, try these steps.  Mornings are much better without the expectation hangover.