Thursday, October 22, 2009

Free Yourself from Outdated Expectations

"I've got to make the bed every morning before I can leave for work," my friend complained as we were having lunch one day. She had been describing the stress she was under, all the things she had to do each day, and why she had no time to relax. Making the bed was on her list of daily "must-do" tasks.
She looked startled when I asked her, "Why? Why do you feel that you have to make the bed every day?" After pondering the question a moment, she realized that it was one of the rules she'd absorbed from her mother and had never questioned in her almost-60 years of life.

That simple observation led to a deeper discussion about what it feels like when we're driven by voices from the past to take certain actions...but we've never questioned the accuracy or wisdom of the messenger. The consequences of yielding to "have-to" and "should do" without making a conscious choice can lead to feelings of guilt and low self-esteem. We feel bad about ourselves because we haven't done something that we believe someone else expects us to do. 
My friend's mother had been dead for many years, yet she still felt compelled to comply with expectations set in childhood. She realized through our conversation that she had been putting undue pressure on herself in order to earn the love and acceptance of someone who was no longer in this world. Her self-esteem had been wrapped around a need for approval that would never come.
Once she liberated herself from the helpless mindset of a victim and recognized that she had choices, she could freely decide each day the tasks that would get done or be left undone. 
A few weeks later I saw her and she was beaming as she related her recent experience. "Meredith, the first morning I decided not to make the bed, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And I just laughed looking at those crumpled sheets, thinking about how I'd let them control me every day."
Take the time to examine your own "must-do" list, and you may discover some things that you can let go of. It's not easy to explore why we perform or avoid certain actions. Truths about ourselves may be brought to light that we'd rather not see. But the freedom and relief you experience once you go through the process make it well worth the effort.
Please share your own experience about learning how to make healthy choices and avoid being driven by the expectations of others.


  1. The insidious thing is that this kind of repetitious behavior can become ingrained, meaning neurons actually grow together to make the behavior more efficient--an automatic response, like a skill or habit.

  2. This has two sides. Yes we should question "things we have always done" 1. Why do we do it? If we dont know the reason we shoudl find out. Here ya making your bed is really upto you but in projects if there is a process in place.. before we consider it provides no value we have to find the histrory of it.
    The second part to this is how can we make this more efficient. Ok we have to make the bed. then can it be made faster or easier. I think before eliminating something completly we need to find the right answers.

  3. Yes, we don't want to throw out something without evaluating whether we should. My point here is that too often we continue to perform a behavior without giving adequate thought to whether it makes sense of not. Either way, questioning "why" is a very good thing!

  4. I really liked this post. We very often do things out of past embedded behaviours or beliefs that we have not stopped to take the time to re-examine. It is not to say that they are wrong or that we should stop them, but it is of enormous value to regularly stop and think about the things we do habitually and ask ourselves if those actions still serve us. To ask 'why' you do it as Merideth Bell pointed out. To question whether you still hold prior beliefs to be true in light of what you now know and want in your life.

    Just as it is good to clean-out our cupboards regularly it is also good to sit down and de-clutter our beliefs and habits regularly.

  5. Thank you for your feedback and insights, Janine. Asking the questions is the best way to determine if a belief or attitude still fits. Sadly, many people do not take the time to do this and they stay stuck in the past.


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