How to Lower Your Expectations Without Giving Up: A Reframing Exercise


Buttercup and Westley in the Fire SwampSince having my second baby, I’ve constantly struggled with my frustration at not getting enough done. I’m have more resources than many moms, but I also have overly demanding expectations of myself. When I ran out of resources to throw at the “no time” problem, there was only one thing left to change.

You might have noticed that I’m a tad “all or nothing,” which means that when I have little margin in my life (like now), I am always close to falling into the pit of self-pity. “My life is over, I’ll never have free time again, what was I thinking having kids, when will this get better??” But I didn’t want to allow myself to lower my expectations, because it felt like giving up and admitting that my life was going to be miserable forever.

Of course, it wasn’t true that my whole life was miserable. I was experiencing a moment of misery, as everyone does, but I was letting it derail me. This insight from my counselor helped me believe that my act of acknowledging that every life will occasionally be difficult (in some seasons perhaps more frequently than others) is not “giving up.” It’s just setting an expectation that is more realistic—without being nihilistic.

The trick for me is to notice when I’m about to fall over the cliff of despair so that I can interrupt my pity-party with a reminder: this too shall pass. I need to agree with myself that this minute/hour/day sucks—the emotional validation is critical—but then remind myself to just get through it. Not only does that keep me away from the cliff, but it actually helps me get closer to the next good moment because I’m turning my attention toward the future good. I won’t say I’m actually good at doing that yet, but at least I have now decided, in the light of day, what to do when I next notice that I’ve ended up in the fire swamp.

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