Have You Set Yourself Up for Failure?

The High Price of Unreasonable Expectations

Have you set the bar too high?

One morning last week, my husband expressed frustration with interruptions to his morning routine.

“Every morning when I fill the sink to shave, someone comes in here needing to use the sink. I need to get up at 5:00 a.m.”

I had just rolled out of bed, so it was somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. He was still in the process of shaving, as evidenced by the lather on his face.

“What time did you get up this morning?” I asked.


The numbers did not compute. “Well, then why not get up at 6:25 or 6:15? Why get up an hour and half early to solve a five- or ten-minute problem?”

Later in the week, he pointed out the herd of multiplying dust bunnies under our bed. (Housecleaning generally falls to me in our division of labor, and I’ve done a lousy job of it for years.) “You need to Swiffer under these beds every other day,” he said.

Cue the laughter. Not because the floor beneath the bed doesn’t need a thorough cleaning. It does. And not because I disrespect my husband, his legitimate desire for a cleaner, more tidy household, or his allergy to dust. I laughed because it struck me as an unreasonable expectation based on my current level of, er, domestic prowess.

To raise the bar from my current ad hoc attention to the bunnies beneath the bed to a nearly diurnal demand seemed a recipe for failure. It had probably been a month since I cleaned under that particular bed. Do I need to do it more frequently? Absolutely. Is every other day necessary? No. Is it going to happen? No.

While the inherent recipe for failure in my husband’s suggestion seemed obvious, I’ve turned a blind eye to my own ludicrous expectations many times. As I listened to a woman describe her weight loss journey last weekend, I was struck by her emphasis on how long it took her. That time and again, she had to fail before she could succeed.

I realized how many times I’d been guilty of setting rigid expectations for myself only to throw in the towel when I inevitably slipped up.

It can happen in weight loss and exercise goals. Conquering bad habits or vices. Or work-related goals. Sometimes you’re reaching too high, at least for the moment, and there’s no shame in admitting you’re still a work in progress – the key word being progress.

When you fail or screw up, forgive yourself. Two steps forward and one step back still puts you one step ahead. Progress is forward movement, not a straight-line trajectory. I touched on the all-or-nothing trap in my guest post about New Year’s resolutions over at 10 Minute Novelists.

My tips for steady progress:

  • Set reasonable, obtainable goals.

  • If your over-arching goal is lofty, break it down into smaller, more easily-attainable steps or goals.

  • Forgive yourself when you fall short.

  • Try again.

  • Once you achieve your goals, you can set new, more challenging ones.

Do you sabotage your success by setting the bar so high it’s out of reach?

How have you learned to shoot for progress instead of instant perfection?

8 thoughts on “Have You Set Yourself Up for Failure?

  1. This is really a good reminder. (And you clean under beds once a month? We’re not even going to talk about how often I don’t clean under beds…)

  2. I feel like I’m in that boat. I set goals too high and get frustrated or disappointed when I don’t meet them. I have to remind myself that I can only do so much.

  3. And that’s one of the benefits of removing the bedrails and putting the mattress and boxspring on the floor. That and it helps our 4 year old get in bed with us.

    • Exactly, right. I couldn’t talk my husband into doing that even though all our kids have spent the first one to three years in our bed. I think he figured all the dust would just settle on us instead.

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