Business leaders drink the advice to think big like morning milk. Innovation, so the idea goes, depends on eyeing the impossible. But as you reach for what's never been done, don't fall into the trap of letting unrealistic expectations dictate your decisions and behavior. Those nasty little buggers are to the brilliant what an earthquake is to Jenga, and success depends on weeding them out.

3 reasons unrealistic expectations are so painful to hang onto

1. You have to pivot and fix constantly.

While adaptability is a good trait for business professionals to have, unrealistic expectations often translate to results you didn't plan for. Once you get those results, you have to go back to the drawing board and start over. That uses more of your valuable resources and energy. If you are just starting out, you might not have those extra resources to waste.

2. You get stressed out (and stress out everyone else).

Unrealistic expectations can lead to difficulties in executing plans. For example, if you expect two inventory workers to handle 1,000 packages a day where four workers barely handled that load before, packages might not get out to customers on time. You'll likely feel anxious as problems crop up. And as you put pressure on others to meet your goal, they can feel frustrated and relationships can crumble. Loneliness becomes your sole companion as a result.

3. Confidence can tank.

If your expectations aren't grounded in experience or data, you can see walls you inevitably hit as failures. Constantly missing the mark can make you question yourself and, over time, erode your self-confidence. This is especially true if relationships are suffering and you don't have anyone to confide in or get positive feedback from. And as confidence shrinks, you might become less willing to take good risks. Performance can go down, too, as you might lose motivation and focus.

How to change your mindset

Clinical psychologist Miranda Morris points out that unrealistic expectations are difficult to get rid of for two big reasons:

  • We think the expectations motivate and inspire us and that we won't be productive without them.
  • We see unrealistic expectations as protecting us against the exploits of others--we believe reaching high creates a barrier that keeps us from getting hurt.

Thus, on the most basic level, we first have to learn to see that we accomplish even when our expectations are sensible. Looking at how you've progressed over time, acknowledging compliments or keeping a list of the daily jobs you've finished all are practical ways to do this. You also could keep a notebook to jot down ideas in to show yourself that creativity is flowing, or you can search media and acknowledge stories and concepts that get you revved up. As you make this shift, reflect about whether your unrealistic expectation is helpful or is moving you in the direction you want.

We also have to grasp that there are better ways of maintaining control to stay safe. Morris recommends simply focusing on your present moment and how others are treating you. This type of focus gives you the information you need to for more practical, effective and immediate defense. But other techniques, such as noting all the small areas where you do have choice--for example, whether to respond to someone who insults you with kindness or what to eat for breakfast--can show you you're not completely at the mercy of other people, too. It's also important to ask yourself what the sources of your fears are. Once you know the sources, you can stay more rational in your decisions and goal setting.

You shouldn't stop reaching for what's out there. But there's a difference between high expectations and unrealistic ones. If you really want to make it, don't confuse the two, and when given the choice, always choose the former.

Published on: Jan 11, 2018