Diary of a bodacious dietitian

The secret to success: Expectations

As I’m 9 weeks post-partum this week, I’ve been thinking about when I should expect to be back to my normal level of fitness. I started running last week with a mom friend who had a baby 2 days before I did.

moms running

We are both tempering our expectations about how quickly we’ll recover to normal running shape. It’s essential to set a reasonable timeline so that we don’t expect too much, too soon and get discouraged.

Expectations matter.

They permeate our subconscious drive to change, mold our behaviors, and often, we don’t realize it’s happening.

When a behavior is rewarded, it gives us a dopamine rush which contributes to a feeling of happiness and increases the likelihood we will continue that behavior.

The problem is that unexpected rewards cause a bigger dopamine than expected ones.

So where we set our expectation determines our view of ourselves as successful or not. Unrealistic expectations decrease our perseverance, and we’re more likely to stop our current efforts. When we think about making a change, we start with the expectation that one of two things will happen:

  1. We will succeed
  2. We will fail

So how we define each is crucial.

Success for one person looks very different than success for another. So how do we discover realistic expectations that will propel us forward without setting us up to fail?

Here are the critical ingredients to creating successful expectations:

Self-love: First, we shouldn’t be self-critical of where we are. Know that we’re working toward where we would like to go, and that getting there is much easier with self-kindness.

Knowing thyself: Shakespeare knew what he was talking about when he wrote “To thine own self be true”. Authenticity begets success. What do we actually enjoy doing? What are you capable of doing? Set goals around enjoyment and capacity, and success is more likely.

Letting go of the past: If we had success in the past, we might not have the same capabilities today. Set goals around what is realistic today, and don’t despair over what is not longer possible.

Evolving is essential to improvement.

Focus on the short term first: Creating SMART goals is, well, smart. Setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely is key. Smaller goals increase self-efficacy as we blow past them.

Don’t forget the long term: Do your expectations create a future life you actually want? How would your life be different? Write down your long term health goals, and examine what in your life would change if you achieved them. Keep these goals in mind. We all have days where we are lower motivation, and focusing on long term goals helps us stay the course.

Find an appropriate timeline: It takes a month to form a habit, 3 months for your body to adapt to workout program, and healthy weight loss is about 1-2 lbs per week. Do you have a realistic timeline? Share temporal expectations with your spouse, partner, or a very close friend or family member. What is their reaction to your timeline? They know you best. Do they agree it is realistic based on your schedule? If not, have them help you devise a better timeline to help you stay motivated.

Raising the bar: Think of 1-3 of your greatest accomplishments. What effort did you put into achieving them? What character qualities did you exhibit and work ethic and time did you devote to them? Are you putting in this effort with your current health goals? If not, your expectations may be too low. We can usually work harder and focus better than we think we can.

Remember to appreciate the journey. We should all respect the progress we have made, revel in our current, present situation of having a beating heart and a thinking mind. And remember that we are all beautiful.



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