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How to Manage Expectations in the Process of Change

When it comes to changing ingrained behaviors, the process of change can feel frustratingly slow. One of the main reasons people ditch their goals before reaching them is that they aren’t getting ‘there’ fast enough. So, they quit. Nothing kills motivation like feeling something is out of reach or feeling it is taking too long to achieve. However, any meaningful goal usually takes time and doesn’t happen overnight, which is why it’s important to focus on the journey more than the hoped-for end-result. (eye roll, I know – but it’s true)


Whether we are striving to reach our healthy weight, shift our relationship with food, or make fitness a way of life, the end-goal can feel far, far away, compared to where we are now. Instead, we can break it down into manageable, incremental steps and bring our attention to the small, but significant ‘wins’ along the way. These small ‘wins’ can make the journey feel more enjoyable and not so overwhelming.


Hello Baby Steps!


I recently started taking golf lessons. I have taken a few lessons over the years, and in the past, I would quit when I felt my abilities weren’t improving fast enough. By fast enough I mean overnight. As someone who usually picks up on sports easily, I expected to do the same with golf. It seemed like the more I practiced the more my golf game sucked! I was getting worse with practice, not better. What the…?! So, I quit. 


Obviously, my expectations were way too high on how soon I felt I should be mastering this sport, but looking back, I had my sights focused on a perfect swing like my experienced golf buddies who all made golf look so easy. I wasn’t embracing or enjoying the process of learning the game, I just wanted to be good NOW, not later.


But, this time is different. My expectations have changed, as well as my motivation for why I want to learn to play golf in the first place. I want to play because I’m interested in the sport now, not just because my friends are pressuring me to learn, and I’m ready to embrace, not resist, the process of learning a sport that requires a lot of practice, and heck of a lot of patience for errors (I see why there is a booze cart associated with this sport, just sayin’).


With any type of outcome or results that you want desperately – so desperately that you want it YESTERDAY – it is important to:

  • Clarify what is motivating you from the inside out when it comes to reaching your goal. Why this goal and why now? Be sure you have at least one Intrinsic Motivator because it will help you to keep on track when the effort put in doesn’t feel like it’s producing results fast enough. Extrinsic motivators (i.e. number on the scale, someone else wanting you to change) aren’t as motivating as your own quality of life reasons for wanting to change or add a new behavior in the first place.
  • Focus on the ‘wins’ that show you are moving in the right direction toward your goal – NOT just the goal itself. How are you defining and measuring success? If weight loss is your goal, are you only looking at the scale as a barometer for change, or taking time to acknowledge and appreciate the other ways in which you are embodying health and wellbeing? This change in focus helps with cultivating patience and strength for when the going gets tough and to have a broader perspective on how you are moving the needle toward achieving your goal.


In the end, managing our expectations when striving for something different can feel like its own type of endurance training in patience. I call that time the ‘in-between space‘ because it’s period of learning how to do something that is usually out of our comfort zone that takes persistence and effort. This ‘in-between space’ can feel like a type of limbo because it feels new, groundless, uncertain and even humbling. But, consistent effort tends to breed success both in short and long-term – so hang in there with the process, you got this!