3 Reasons You Have Unrealistic Expectations of Yourself

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A few years ago I set goals to run a marathon and start grad school at the same time as my wife and I were wanting to have another kid. It’s clear now that those were unrealistic goals to do all at once. Reflecting on it years later has made me wonder, what are the causes of unrealistic expectations?

You have unrealistic expectations of yourself because of three major causes: 1) the media skewing what’s “normal,” 2) the way you were raised, and 3) social comparisons and peer pressure. These may cause you to set unrealistic goals, which increases your levels of stress and decreases your self-esteem.

Fortunately, if you do have unrealistic expectations, you can overcome them to lower your anxiety and increase your confidence. Check out these articles for more information:

How to Reach Unrealistic Goals by Making Them Realistic

Unrealistic Goals: What They Are and How to Stop Setting Them

Today we’ll just be getting into the reasons people have unrealistic expectations and goals. So if you want to learn how to stop setting unrealistic goals, read those articles.

Now let’s get right into it!

1. The Media Sets Unrealistic Standards for How We Should Live

Have you ever seen the movie The Notebook or read the book? It’s about a passionate and exciting love story between the characters Noah and Allie. I’ve only seen the movie and although it’s well-done, it’s a perfect example of how the media sets unrealistic standards.

Allie & Noah’s relationship is just a little too perfect. You could even say it’s unrealistic. They seem to have an “unbreakable bond” and consistently take great effort to keep their love strong.

The problem is that this isn’t how relationships work. Sometimes you may have profound events that connect you with your significant other. And the moment you meet might be really exciting. 

But there’s much more to real, true, and lasting love.

Every relationship has problems. You disagree, fight, get frustrated, and more. It’s not pretty sometimes. It takes hard work to stay consistent. 

The Notebook and other fairy-tale versions of relationships might be fun to watch, but they’re far from realistic.

This is just one small example of how the media makes it easier to have unrealistic expectations. There are dozens of others, and if you pay attention to what you experience online, you’ll start to find them.

And if you can learn to say no when you feel pressured by something you watch to live a certain way, you’ll be much happier.

Even better than that, though, you can just turn off the news and most social media. You don’t need to live under a rock. Just ask yourself for each form of media you consume, whether it improves your life or not.

Almost a year ago I noticed that the news and Reddit were making my life much worse. The news is just filled with sensationalized lies, and most people on Reddit just want to complain about everything.

I quit both of these and now I’m much happier and more confident because I set less unrealistic expectations of myself.

2. Those Who Raised You Had Unrealistic Expectations of You

Do you know how many times I was asked about my college GPA after I graduated? Once, and it wasn’t even for a job, it was when I was applying for grad school!

The truth is, while working hard and getting good grades in school can be fulfilling, it’s not everything. You don’t have to be perfect at math, science, or social studies. 

But the way you were raised might have led you to believe otherwise.

If you grew up in a family where academic or some other kind of excellence was highly valued, you know what I mean. Whatever your case may be, parents often portray the necessity of being the best at everything. 

But that’s not a realistic standard. You can’t be the best soccer player, get A’s in all your classes, and be Homecoming Queen all at the same time. 

Even worse, growing up in that kind of environment may have led you to expect near perfection in yourself. And you’re likely dealing with it even well into adulthood.

You should go for lofty goals from time to time. But you must recognize that life is not a simple matter of just being great at everything. 

In reality, you have limitations. It takes time to become great. Nobody is naturally talented. And it’s okay and even good to fail from time to time.

Rather than expecting perfection of yourself in all things, recognize that it’s okay to be inadequate. Instead of feeling dissatisfied that you’re not at the top, celebrate small wins and learn to practice gratitude.

And if you need more help dealing with your unrealistic expectations of yourself from your parents’ standards, take a course or read a book on perfectionism. I suggest Brené Brown and Martin Seligman.

3. Cultural & Peer Pressures Make You Compare Yourself to Others

In some Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, fair skin has commonly been associated with beauty, purity, and a higher social status.

This comes from historical class distinctions, where individuals with fair skin were often connected with nobility or those who did not have to work outdoors. 

Because of this fair skin has become a symbol of beauty in these cultures and many people seek to be as fair-skinned as possible.

Contrast this with Western cultures, which seem obsessed with getting as tan as possible. 

The truth is, genetics make neither option realistic or useful. 

These social “norms” and the peer pressure that result cause people to set unrealistic standards for themselves. And it perpetuates throughout generations.

Instead, we should each accept ourselves for who we are and what we look like. While it’s not a bad idea to work to improve yourself, things like gaining a tan or becoming more fair are not just an unrealistic expectation, but a waste of time also.

This same kind of thing happens in many aspects of life. When I was younger all of my friends were tall and played basketball. Because of their influence, I thought I wanted to join the team too.

I worked hard and tried out only to not make the team. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized that I didn’t really want that goal in the first place. 

And, even worse, that peer pressure led me to set an unrealistic expectation of myself because I just wasn’t coordinated enough to be great at basketball.

I’ve since learned that to avoid the negative effects of bad peer pressure, it’s best to get better friends who will encourage you to go after realistic goals that are actually fulfilling like family, general health, and mindfulness.

Wrap Up

To summarize, here are the three main causes of your unrealistic expectations:

  1. The media setting an unrealistic standard
  2. Your upbringing was filled with unrealistic expectations
  3. Peer pressure and cultural influences make you compare yourself to others

To overcome these things, give up social media and the news. Also, celebrate every little win and if you struggle with perfectionism, research how to get over it. And finally, sometimes you just need to get better friends.