We live in a culture that bombards us with the message that if you want something badly enough, work at it hard enough, wait long enough and focus on it to the exclusion of just about everything, ultimately your dreams will come true.
We love stories of extraordinary accomplishments that involve people who never gave up. Motivational speakers and self-help books frequently use them as examples.
But is this philosophy really right for everyone? Mental health experts say that sometimes there comes a time in life when giving up on a dream is the psychologically healthy thing to do.
Our world is constantly pushing us to do better, be more, achieve greater. So, it’s no surprise that many of the expectations we place on ourselves are far too high.
Although remarkable accomplishments do happen, they are not the norm. When people think it IS the norm, they set unrealistic expectations for themselves, and end up with depression and anxiety when they fail to achieve them.
We all hold unrealistic expectations. It’s part of the human experience. In fact, one of the biggest unrealistic expectation is that people shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations. But that doesn’t mean that unrealistic expectations are healthy.
Many people pursue a dream in order to fill a gap in their own self-worth, and think that achieving a goal will make them happy, even when they don’t enjoy the journey toward it.
An editorial in the British Medical Journal said that much of life’s pain stems from the gap between people’s Unrealistic Dreams and Reality.
Unrealistic expectations set us up for failure. When we fall short, we draw false conclusions, feel negative feelings and act in negative ways. Rather than trying to capture youthful dreams, adults should reassess them to figure out which dreams to abandon and which ones to revise.
Everything isn’t always possible, and sometimes the route to happiness is to abandon former dreams. As W.C. Fields once said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
The first step in relinquishing unrealistic expectations is being able to spot them. Sometimes this isn’t easy, especially if we’ve had them for years.
After we identify our expectations, we need to decide which are unrealistic, and let those go.
Another difficulty in letting unrealistic expectations go is that we think we SHOULD have them. We believe it’s helpful to set high standards for ourselves, and that having lofty expectations will motivate and inspire us to accomplish things.
Experts agree that it’s important to grieve after shelving a dream, but that it is also helpful to replace that old dream with another meaningful goal that is more achievable. Our goals need to be something that we can personally accomplish. Our goals should be realistic and based on what we really want. We need to be honest with ourselves about whether-or-not a goal we find desirable is actually one that is personally obtainable.
We are told that we should always pursue our dreams; always follow our passions; always turn reality into what we believe will make us happy. Most marketing and advertising is based on this. The majority of the self-help industry pushes this. The current “lifestyle” obsession has turned this message into a borderline religion.
But this is merely a cultural belief, not a rock-hard-Truth.
The underlying assumption behind all of this? You deserve your dreams. You owe it to yourself to pursue them at all costs. Achieve your dreams and they will finally make you happy once and for all.
The truth is that Pain, Longing, and Frustration are just Facts-of-Life. We believe that our dreams will solve all of our current problems without recognizing that they will simply create a variation of the same problems we have now. Maybe better, but maybe even worse.
Perhaps, instead of pursuing some far-fetched future ideal life, we would be better off learning how to handle the problems we have, here in the present time. How? Can’t help you there. Personally, I haven’t a clue.
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