Expectation is not resilience-building

Posted on 28 March 2021

Expectation is not resilience-building

Setting high expectations of ourselves seems a necessity for improvement but greater self-compassion leads to resilience-building and better wellbeing. Let’s take a look at some evidence and some thoughts on how you can avoid placing unfair expectations on yourself.

Expectations always lead to disappointment

Personally I’ve found this true, especially when it comes to expectations of one another. But it applies to ourselves as much as anyone else. Right now, many of us are placing expectations on ourselves with reference to our highest standards: our pre-pandemic standards where we were not as fatigued or burned out. It can be helpful to critically appraise oneself with a view to self-improvement, but it is a slippery slope to being self-critical, especially when you do not acknowledge your wins and you are not in a position to hit the lofty standards expected of yourself.

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But how is managing expectations resilience-building?

Let’s take a look at some evidence. A group of researchers in Australia did a cross-sectional study - taking a selection of people from a population and measuring parameters at one point in time - of almost 200 veterinary students. They asked them to filled out surveys on mindfulness and self-compassion to see how they correlated with their results on a resilience survey. They were looking to see if mindfulness and self-compassion are potentially resilience-building.

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What they found is that being less judgmental, less reactive and more self-compassionate was linked to being more resilient. This suggests that being fair and compassionate in placing expectations on ourselves will enable us to stay in a greater sesne of wellbeing in the face of challenges. So right now, for example, in the face of Quarantine Fatigue and Pandemic Burnout, this study suggests that being less judgmental of ourselves and being self-compassionate rather than setting high expectations will help us stay resilient.

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How can I manage my expectations in a way that is resilience-building?

1. Challenge yourself to 30 days free of self-criticism

This is a case of dulling down the negative self-chatter. It will require a lot of checking yourself in terms of your thought patterns but if your someone who likes a time-boxed challenge this could help a lot. Reducing the inner critic voice is resilience-building because it makes room for the positivity to shine through.

2. Celebrate every little win in your ‘Bragbook’

This approach is about empowering the inner positive voice. It is very easy to focus on negatives that need improving but noting down every single win in a journal or note-taking app will help with resilience-building by helping you to see the positive perspective in things more regularly.

3. When your expectations become overwhelming, acknowledge everything you have done

When the inner critic is taking over, it is necessary to take a step back in order to get to neutral. When all you are seeing if how little you have acheived, you need to level the scoreboard by acknowledging any and every positive you can think of. Getting into a pattern of breaking those negative spirals is resilience-building.

Resilience-building daily habits that reset expectations

Often we need to break things down into the simplest, actionable habits in order to benefit from behaviour change. Here are a couple of ideas for daily habits you can incorporate to empower your inner positivity.

Say something positive when you look in the mirror

Taking a simple cue of something that happens everyday and turning it into a positive self-interaction is a great means of resilience-building by focusing on the positive inner dialogue as a habit.

Note 3 positive things you did at the end of every day

This habit you can do at the end of the working day or before you go to sleep as a means of being familiar with acknowledging all of your wins. The more you do this, the more perspective you gain and the more you will see the positivity in everything around you.

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Whichever habit or strategy resonates with you most, make a point of committing that to yourself now. Nobody ever got anywhere by repeatedly berating themselves. It’s exhausting and we do not need to be adding that on top of the fatigue going around right now.


  1. McArthur M, Mansfield C, Matthew S, Zaki S, Brand C, Andrews J, Hazel S. Resilience in veterinary students and the predictive role of mindfulness and self-compassion. Journal of veterinary medical education. 2017;44(1):106-15.

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