Unrealistic Expectations

As humans, we are good at putting undue stress on ourselves. We do this mostly by setting expectations and holding ourselves to them. When we fail to meet expectations we become hypercritical and get down on ourselves. When we meet our expectations it never feels quite like we thought it would and we are left searching for more.

When we set goals we set our expectations in terms of time. How long will it take us to achieve what we have set out to do? Over the years we’ve helped thousands of people set goals for themselves and the first question we ask is how long do you think it will take for you to reach your goals? Generally, we hear two responses:

  1. I don’t think I’ll ever reach my goal.
  2. It will only take a month or two.

As coaches, we have to make sure clients understand that neither of these is true. 

When we hear a client say “I’ll never reach my goal” we do a deep dive because we firmly believe that every client can reach any goal they set their mind to. For some, it may take a year, two years, or three years plus, but if they stay consistent we will help get them there. 

For the client who believes achieving their goals will only take a month or two, we need to help them understand that they are establishing false expectations for themselves. Now, this is not to say that we can’t make significant strides in progress in a few short months, but generally, things take much longer than people expect.

So how do we set realistic goals without setting unrealistic expectations?


Specific: Our goals need to be clear. It’s not enough to only say ‘I want to lose weight.’ We need to know exactly how much weight client’s want or need to lose and why.

Measurable: Once we have established specific goals we need to make sure we can measure them. If we want to lose 20lbs how will we track progress? When will be checking in?

Achievable: Is this a realistic goal? There is nothing wrong with shooting for the stars, but we want to make sure clients set goals they can accomplish. For instance, if someone comes in and tells us their goal is to work out seven days a week, but they work 40+ hours per week and have a family and other obligations to consider that goal may not be realistic. Committing to working out 3-5 times a week would be a more practical approach and lead to better results in the longterm.

Relevant: This is a tough one because it relies on the person setting the goal being completely honest with themselves and what they want. Is losing 20lbs truly going to make us happy? How will we feel when we get there? Is there something else our life is missing that can fill the void on the way to losing 20lbs?

Time-bound: This is where we see clients establish false expectations for themselves. Becoming healthy and improving your fitness is a lifelong journey and there is no end. What we want are bright spots we can celebrate along the way. Small wins will reinvigorate us and remind us of our overall purpose. 

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