By Mark E. Smith

I’m very mindful of progressing week by week, month by month, year by year in my workout routine, regularly increasing the amount of weight on various excersises, constantly pushing myself to lift heavier and heavier weights, per each exercise on my universal gym.

However, I recently made a seemingly grievous error. In bopping out to my iPod and switching excercises, I forgot to change the weight on my machine. Instead of dropping the weight down from lat pulls to chest flies, I accidentally left the amount of weight far above the maximum weight with which I can do 20 reps of chest flies.

Not knowing that the weight was set too high, and mindlessly bopping to my music, I cranked out my 20 reps of chest flies. Sure, in the moment, each rep seemed a little harder, but I didn’t think anything of it, completing my set.

When I realized my error, I also realized a fact far more profound: My limitations weren’t where I thought they were. While in my mind I thought that I could only lift so much – which is where I set my limit – the reality was that, by mistake, I proved that I could physically lift much more. My body wasn’t holding me back, my self-expectations were.

My workout that day reminded me of how, in many aspects of our lives, we’re not limited by reality, but by our own self-imposed limitations, where our potentials are vastly greater than we recognize. I’m not looking for a better job because this is as good as I can get. I’m staying in this unsatisfying relationship because I’ll never find anyone who is a better match. I’m always broke, so I can’t save money. My relationship with my family will never get better – it is what it is. I’m 40, I can’t get back in shape. …Our self-imposed limitations go on and on, even though they’re not based on reality but limits we project upon ourselves – that is, low self-expectations.

Yet, when we take accountability – pushing ourselves beyond our self-imposed limitations – our lives expand to deliver what we ask of them. That is, our expectations for ourselves define the quality of our lives, so set them higher than you or anyone would expect. Believe that you’re qualified for that better job. Assert that you deserve the most fulfilling relationship. Have faith in your ability to save money. Expect your family to respect you. And, know that you can get in the best shape of your life. Again, the list goes on and on, but the fact is this: Where you set your limitations is what you’ll achieve, so set them high!

I heard a great parable. A man was walking down the street, when a homeless man asked him for a quarter.

“All you want is a quarter?” the man asked.

“Yep, just a quarter,” the homeless man replied.

The man pulled out a money clip filled with $100 bills, then he pulled out a shiny quarter, placing it in the homeless man’s hand. “Next time ask for more,” he said, holding up his money clip. “Life pays however much you ask.”

Too many of us sell ourselves short, setting limitations not based on our true potential, but based on low expectations that we place upon ourselves (or, worse yet, having been degraded by others, and believing it). The question is, however, why do so many set their expectations so low in many aspects of life?

The answer is, much of it is trauma-based conditioning that we don’t even realize (the clinical term is compulsive re-enactment). The easiest example that most of us can relate to is how amazing people consistently get caught-up in bad relationships – that is, where they base relationship decisions on devastatingly low expectations stemming from past experiences (usually trauma-based). What we know is that “conditioning,” from childhood on, creates our expectations, and as we live to those expectations, they get cemented within us, where we have an uncanny subconscious drive to seek those patterns – including painful, harmful ones – throughout adulthood. Studies show that if you grew up in a dysfunctional home, you will go on to pursue dysfunctional relationships. In fact, psychology shows that we’re the only creature that keeps pursuing patterns of trauma – no animal will keep pursuing that which has harmed it, but humans do, simply repeating self-defeating patterns over and over again. What makes this especially tragic, is that when healthy relationships or opportunities arise, our conditioned low expectations cause us to either avoid them or self-sabotage them – and it’s created a culture where, statistically, half of us can’t sustain marriages, let alone get through one day without self-doubt toward many aspects of our lives.

Now, when it comes to compulsive re-enactment – that is, consistently pursuing living to a lower standard than we deserve or are capable of achieving – I am simplifying a profoundly complex emotional condition. However, it ties into an easily understood goal: Let us raise our self-expectations, no longer relying on dysfunctional comfort zones or self-defeating patterns, but have the courage – because we’re all capable! – to push beyond them, raising our expectations. When you find a healthy relationship, but don’t feel unworthy or are scared, raise your expectations, and take a chance on it, truly investing yourself in new ways that you’ve never known. When you don’t feel qualified to pursue a better job, raise your expectations, and know that you are equipped. And, when anyone questions your stature in any way, raise your expectations, sticking up for yourself, empowered. In short, if any aspect of your life isn’t going your way – truly toward your healthy interests – you owe it to yourself to ask, Do I just keep settling for as-is, or do I evoke the courage to raise my expectations, inviting positive change?

The correct answer is, of course, you raise your expectations, no matter how much courage it takes. By raising your self-expectations – and following through with the work needed to live up to them (which can be unfamiliar and scary), you’ll be surprised at how the quarters in your life turn into $100 bills. It can’t be said enough: Life pays what you ask of it. Ask for a lot – you deserve it.

Comments
  1. Charlie Thomas says:

    Hi Mark;
    Always great articles!!!!!!!
    Raising the bar, all the time, you know me, where was I a year ago? Where am I now, still at it, making progress,aways busy at work,and my life. People ask “how do you do it?” my reply ” I just do”
    regardless what happens I land on my feet, and do not defeat easily.
    Stay well
    Charlie T.

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