You want to change? Watch your expectations

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Maybe you want to develop your leadership behaviours? Or become more persuasive? Or change your phone behaviour? Then there is one thing you need to watch out for. As a “self-changer”.

Many people fail when trying to make these sorts of personal changes. Canadian researchers in Toronto looked into this pattern of repeated failure and renewed efforts at self-change. And what contributes to this pattern. 

They coined a term for this - the “false hope syndrome”. However, overly high expectations would be a more accurate term.

To be precise, it's where self-changers had expected to see results too quickly, or thought the impact of their change would be far greater. Only to be disappointed because these expectations were not met. They would then try again, with more effort. But it wasn't the effort that was lacking, it was the expectations that needed to be adjusted. 

So what is the antidote? Watch those expectations and ask yourself these questions: 

  • How big an impact do you believe this desired change will have? Who can you check this with?
  • How much time and effort can you realistically put in - the kind that you can sustain after a few weeks.
  • How quickly do you expect to see results? Is it realistic?
  • Going through these questions with someone you trust.
  • Remember, it's not about pushing yourself harder, it’s about planning better, working smarter and realistically in your daily routines. 

And sometimes we need professional help with this - say from a coach who is experienced with behavioural change. We need this help partly because expectations seem to have a life of their own, but also because it's often new territory for us - what we want to change. And then we need a guide. 

It's been 25 years now that I’ve been working as a psychologist, helping people to change their behaviour. Many people have sought my help because they tried to change something themselves, and failed. Repeatedly. Just as described by the false hope syndrome. 

My role is to help them start with the right amount of stretch, stay on track, and teach them what to watch out for. And help them with expectation management. Getting professional guidance doesn't make you any less of a “self-changer”. It should help increase your chance of success if done well. 

In conclusion, the road to change is full of high expectations. Watch out for them. And remember the change is doable.


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