I’m someone who is very hard on myself. I hold myself to high standards. I expect myself to perform at my best at all times.
When I don’t, I become frustrated. When I do, I barely even notice my good performance because I’m too focused on the future and overlooking the present.
Unfortunately, while this self-discipline has led to a lot of great accomplishments in my life, it’s also harmed many relationships that I have as well.
Over time I’ve come to realize that if you’re hard on yourself, you’re probably being hard on the people around you as well.
Many times we project our own expectations onto others. If we have an expectation to be in shape and eat healthy, then if you meet someone who is fat, out of shape, and eats like shit, you will probably judge them for those habits.
This realization has helped me to notice how I’m hard on the people around me. How I judge others. How I project high standards onto the people around me and create expectations that they will never be able to fill.
For example when I ran my team at BrainGain, I expected everyone to work as much as I did with the same level of intensity that I brought to the table. To deliver results, contribute ideas, and perform at their highest level.
Over time though I realized that no one will ever have my level of dedication because it’s not their baby like it was mine. No one will ever have the same level of intensity or dedication as the founder.
I realized that I was holding people to a standard that they couldn’t achieve. I expected more of them than they expected of themselves. I set the bar too high.
This only led to frustration, disappointment, and rising tensions. I was trying to hold people accountable to a moving target they could never achieve, and then penalize them for failing to reach that goal instead of acknowledging their individual accomplishments.
I had to change course, and so I did. I focused on what people DID achieve, instead of what they didn’t. I allowed them to create goals for themselves. To be their own master instead of projecting what type of mastery I wanted onto them.
But as I noticed that I did this at work, I could also see it rippling over to my friends and family. I would judge my parents for their crappy diet. Judge my friends for their lack of passions/hobbies/interests. Hold my girlfriends to a standard of excellence they couldn’t maintain.
I was putting too much pressure on those around me and it was causing my relationships with them to suffer as a result. It’s hard to relax around someone if you’re constantly feeling judged, and this is how others felt when they were around me.
The fact is, the most important relationship in life is the one you have with yourself. If you’re hard on yourself, it means that you’re not accepting of yourself. You’re fighting the reality of who you are with who you want to become.
This then has a ripple effect onto the people around you. If you can’t accept yourself and your own shortcomings, how can you accept the shortcomings of others? If you can’t be gentle and nice to yourself, how can you be gentle and nice to the people around you?
How we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves.
On the flip-side, if you’re not hard enough on yourself and you’re lazy, you might have a problem with not being hard enough on the people around you. You might not speak up for yourself or made yourself heard. You might be averse to confrontation and avoid problems.
Two sides of the same coin. Your relationship with yourself and the voice in your head can often give insights into the ways we treat the people around us.
Try to take inventory of your own relationship with yourself. Try to notice your own self talk. Are you too easy on yourself, too hard? Can you try to think of instances where this has manifested with friends and family?
You might not notice it instantly, but it’s there. It was for me and every person I’ve talked on this topic with. I guarantee that if you have never thought about this, there are insights to be gained in your own life.
This has been a powerful lesson for me in my relationships with co-workers, friends, and family. Now I (try) to ask people what their expectations are of themselves, instead of projecting what I think they should be. It helps me to curb my own expectations and work with their instead. To get out of my head and into theirs – which is true empathy.
Have no expectations and you will always be pleasantly surprised, have high expectations and you will always be disappointed. If you can let go of your own self-expectations, you can let go of your expectations of those around you.
Also published on Medium.