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HomeHealthUnrealistic expectations can be catching – how to make progress without pressure.

Unrealistic expectations can be catching – how to make progress without pressure.

COVID-19 has turned the world upside-down.

Seemingly overnight, we’ve gone from our normal daily life to a place where even the cast of The Handmaid’s Tale would say, “Woah, hold on a minute, now you’re taking things too far!”

We’re anxious, angry, frustrated, concerned about our health and the health of the people we love, and worried about the future. Sometimes we might even feel hopeful and optimistic, and probably guilty for feeling that way, and then anxiety and lethargy will reappear, and we’re starting the cycle again. That’s a lot to contend with, so we shouldn’t be adding to our problems by contending with ourselves.

What do I mean by that?

Since the world’s been on lockdown, and especially since the UK and US have been staying at home, a new phenomenon has occurred. I’m calling it the phenomenon of unrealistic expectations because, suddenly, a lot of people are jumping on social media to talk about the amazing things they’ll accomplish during self-isolation; writing a book, learning a language, baking a sourdough loaf the size of the Eiffel Tower. It’s fantastic to be ambitious, and it’s important to stay as productive and positive as possible while this crisis is happening, but if you haven’t got an incredible dream to achieve during lockdown you might feel like the rest of the world is leaving you behind.

Where did all this global one-upmanship come from? Maybe with the social media memes that keep reminding us Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague, Isaac Newton spent his quarantine discovering gravity, and Samuel Pepys wrote a bestselling diary while the black death was raging. But what all those memes forget to mention is that none of those geniuses had the same distractions we do. COVID-19 is already putting us under enough pressure. Let’s not add to it by setting ourselves up with unrealistic expectations.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have big goals. On the contrary, this self-isolation is a great opportunity to focus on our goals and, because none of us knows how long it’s going to last, we might even achieve one or two of them by the time the lockdown has ended. At the very worst, you’ll be closer to reaching them than you are right now. But take those goals, and every day of this lockdown, in small, manageable steps.

That’s the way to gain momentum and ensure you’ll keep moving forward.

how do you break up a goal

So how do you break up a goal?

A lot of people get confused between goals and outcomes. They think that writing a book or running a marathon is the goal they’re striving for, but it isn’t. Completing a book or finishing a marathon is the outcome that’s achieved by identifying and implementing a whole series of different actions. The real question is, what motivated you to achieve that outcome? It’s not because you want to write a book, it’s because you want a lifestyle that you believe writing a book can give you. It’s not because you want to run a marathon, it’s because you want to feel the long-term health benefits and sense of self-satisfaction that running a marathon can give you. But if you want those things, was writing the book or running the marathon really the best way to achieve them? Most people write books, get them published, and don’t get the JK Rowling lifestyle they were hoping for. Likewise, a lot of people complete marathons, feel a brief buzz of achievement and then declare it was the most painful thing they’ve ever done and swear they’ll never put on running shoes again. Okay, so they’ve earned the self-satisfaction of finishing that arduous 26.2 miles, but if they don’t continue running, they’ll never achieve the long-term health benefits that were their actual goal.

Of course, you might want to write a book simply because you’ve got a story you need to tell, and if no-one ever reads it and it never makes you any money then that’s okay. Or you might want to run a marathon solely for the achievement of running a marathon and be perfectly happy to hang up your track shoes once you’ve accomplished it. In that case, you’ve identified your goals, and when you reach them, you’ll be satisfied by the result.

We all want to use this lockdown as positively and productively as possible and, yes, this is a fantastic time to turn the toxic lemon of COVID-19 and turn it into your own unique brand of life-enriching lemonade. Just know what your goals are before you start, so you’ll be using this lockdown time to achieve the results that you really want.

As a coach, my favourite way to help clients identify their goals is by using the GROW model. GROW was created by Sir John Whitmore in the late 1980s, and it’s an acronym for Goals, Reality, Options, and Will.

Let’s say you want to write a book so you can enjoy a better lifestyle.

Your Goal is the better lifestyle.

What’s your ‘Reality’ right now? How close or far away are you from making that lifestyle happen?

Now, look at your ‘Options’. Writing a book and becoming the next JK Rowling is one option, but it probably doesn’t match with your reality. After all, there are a lot of variables involved with becoming a mega-bestselling author so even if you write the book (and even if it’s an excellent book) reaching your goal of a better lifestyle still isn’t guaranteed. What other options are available? What skills and resources do you currently have to help you reach your goal in a better way?

And, finally, there’s ‘Will’: now you’ve identified the best option, what actions will you take to accomplish your goal? Because unless you take action and have the focus and motivation to continue taking action until you reach your goal, nothing’s ever going to happen.

The best way to take action is to stop looking at the bigger picture. If you do, you’ll get overwhelmed. Instead, break everything down into a series of small, easily achievable steps. It’s all about taking the pressure off and establishing the good habits that will eventually take you to where you want to go.

Good habits aren’t just crucial for reaching your goals. They’re essential for living a happy and successful life. The really good news is, if you start building those good habits now, you’ll see and feel some incredible changes to your health, happiness, career and finances when this COVID-19 crisis is over. Just as importantly, you’ll have used this self-isolation proactively, and you’ll be primed to achieve great things when the world is back in business again.

not taking the easy option

It’s all about making better choices and not taking the easy option.

You could jump out of bed when the alarm goes off (good habit) or hit the snooze button three times in a row and feel more horrible when you eventually crawl out from under the covers.

You could read ten pages of a book that will enrich your life (good habit), or you could let an hour slip by Goggleboxing an episode of your favourite TV show. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing in front of the TV after a hard day but taking some time out to read that book will be a lot more beneficial.

You could dust off that health food book and make yourself a tasty, nourishing meal (good habit) or you could figure that self-isolation is hard and you don’t have the energy to cook, order a takeaway and add to your waistline as well as subtracting from your bank account.

Think of good habits as building blocks and make the steps you take to achieve your goals manageable and consistent. A new habit should take less than two minutes to complete (not surprisingly, that’s called the 2-Minute Rule) because two minutes is so quick and painless there’s no reason to avoid doing it. Of course, that’s where the mind trick comes in because, once you’ve started doing it, you’ll probably find it’s easier to continue than it is to stop.

Now let’s go back to that writing a book example. Yes, you could write a book during the lockdown. John Boyne said he wrote the entire first draft of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days. But most authors aren’t John Boyne, so books only get finished when the process of writing them is broken down into small, easily achievable steps. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting a target of 10,000 perfect words a day. Instead, set a ‘process goal’ of 500 words a day (it doesn’t matter if they’re not perfect because you can edit them later) and come back to your desk, day after day, to keep going. Five hundred words will keep your motivation in high gear because they’re easy to do and, every day, you’ll feel yourself moving forward. Five hundred words will keep you focused on the task at hand, and stop you getting overwhelmed and disheartened by the bigger picture. Five hundred words will keep you calm and take away the pressure of “Writing a book!” (cue a choir of angels singing).

As I write this, the UK’s been in lockdown for three weeks. If you started writing your 500 words on the first day of lockdown, you’d have 10,500 words written by now. See how easy that could be? And it’s all because you established good habits and worked towards your goal in manageable, bite-sized steps.

Or let’s say you want to use this lockdown to become healthier, which is especially important right now. Self-isolation isn’t just limiting our access to exercise, a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies has shown how working from home is already creating health problems for people too.

taking small steps

Take small steps and begin a habit of introducing movement into your routine. Begin the day with 10 minutes of stretching. Set a timer so you’ll be reminded to stop whatever you’re doing and move around the house once every hour. When you’re taking your allocated period of exercise outside the home, don’t try to run 5k with no training. Walk around your neighbourhood, ease into a jog, and gradually increase your speed and distance over the following days and weeks. Make it easy and manageable and enjoy what you’re doing. That’s the best way to ensure you’ll keep going and achieve your goals.

Pressuring ourselves into thinking that we must accomplish something extraordinary during this lockdown has become the new norm. That’s unrealistic, counter-productive, and it’s definitely not sustainable. Most damagingly, that kind of thinking is also going to prevent us from achieving the incredible results we could gain if we focused on our real goals, established better habits, and approached self-isolation more healthily and positively.

Everything you want to do is achievable so long as you show up every day, break the task down, and work consistently at it because it’s something you really want to do. If you want some more ideas about habit building, I highly recommend Jeff Olson’s book The Slight Edge. Also, the 90 Day Challenge you’ll find on my website is a great way to start building the habits to create a better, happier, more productive you.

Of course, other strategies (and other coaches!) are available.

Don’t get trampled by unrealistic thinking. Taking small steps is a much better way to reach your goals, and I guarantee you’ll come out of this mayhem feeling more focused and more confident than you ever expected. In the meantime, be kind to yourself, be kind to others and stay safe.

Oliver Hill

Who is Oliver Hill?

Oliver Hill is the director of Hill Coaching Company. His mission is to enable people to become the very best versions of themselves. He helps people reach peak performance by using their natural strengths and talents, and he works with them to achieve their most ambitious and life-defining goals.

Oliver’s clients range from leading business executives to innovative entrepreneurs to inspiring individuals. As a Gallup certified Strengths Coach, Oliver uses the CliftonStrengths assessment and a host of other coaching tools to empower his clients to accomplish more. In the business arena, Oliver also helps leaders and organisations build a powerful strengths-based culture that boosts workplace wellbeing and profit.

Oliver was introduced to strengths-based coaching when he worked as a senior manager in local government and discovered some serious flaws in his leadership approach. Following an intense period of discovery and training, Oliver launched Hill Coaching Company to help people identify what’s right with them and use that knowledge to improve their lives.

For individuals and the organisations that they work in, this can be tremendously powerful. Gallup’s research proves that employees working to their strengths are six times more engaged, operate at a higher performance level and are much less likely to leave their company.

Better yet, people working to their strengths become ambassadors for the business, extolling the virtues of their employer outside of the workplace. It’s much easier to attract top talent to a company with a strengths-based culture – and to keep them there once they join.

The other beauty of strengths-based coaching is that people can use it at any point in their lives or careers to elevate their performance.

Oliver recently released the 90 Day Challenge, a free personal development and wellbeing programme to help you become a better version of yourself. By completing this challenge in full, participants gain new ways of thinking, fresh insights into their lives and a boost to their physical and mental wellbeing.

The 90 Day Challenge and a whole host of other personal development resources (including Oliver’s new podcast) are available to download, free of charge, from the Hill Coaching Company website.

Oscar Wyatt
Oscar Wyatt
I'm the editor at Breaking News Today and have been in the news and editing industry for years! Breaking News Today is a new outlet which we're building up and every single one of our readers means so much to us at this stage, we really appreciate your support!

Breaking News Today is a small UK business struggling to stay afloat during COVID lockdown. If you enjoyed this article or found it useful please subscribe to all of our social media outlets.

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