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Learning To Set Realistic Expectations

After reading the book “How to be an Imperfectionist” by Stephen Guise, it all began to make sense. I was completely able to understand how my expectations were keeping me looped in a negative cycle of expectation, failure and low confidence resulting in negative stress on my body.

In his book, Guise explains that in life there are two types of expectations.

  1. General Expectations
  2. Specific Expectations

In life, your general expectations should be high. You should have a positive outlook on life rather than one of hopelessness and negativity. This sets you up to succeed.

Your specific expectations, however, must be low. This is about specific events, goals, and outcomes you want to achieve.

After analyzing my behavior, it was clear as day that my general expectations were high which was a good thing. However, my specific expectations were also high, which was a big problem.

Here’s an example of this playing out in real life for me:

Recently I have been able to start traveling again, and I was due to take a trip to Europe. The days preceding the flight I started to feel anxious. I worried about how much sleep I would get the night before, how I would feel on the flight, what I would feel like when I got to my destination, whether my shoulders would be tight and so on and so on.

And do you know why this was? Because I was trying to control the outcome to meet my high specific expectations.

No surprise – I  wanted everything to be perfect, as a true perfectionist would!

I wanted to the flight to go perfectly, I wanted to feel no discomfort whatsoever, I wanted to arrive in a state of bliss, I wanted to have no headache or shoulder pain whatsoever, and I wanted to sleep an undisturbed perfect 9 hours before leaving.

Having such high specific and completely unattainable expectations meant I was only setting myself up to fail.

My perfectionism was trying to control the situation, which as a result was causing me intense anxiety. My anxiety was showing up as a form of resistance, which was ultimately going to cause me pain.

So guess what happened? I had very little sleep due to intense anxiety, woke up with a headache as a result, and of course, the flight was far from perfect. I was left feeling disappointed and low like I had failed. I felt as if I would never be able to travel again.

This negative outcome then knocked my general confidence from high to low! And so the cycle would repeat over and over.

However, this could be reversed! All I needed to do was set myself up for success by intentionally setting my expectations.

Before my return journey, I played the lead up completely differently. I told myself that I had no specific expectations for the flight. I knew that I was capable of dealing with whatever came my way. There was no pressure on the flight, how I felt, and the outcome of the day. I did not need to control it because I was ok with whatever would happen.

And guess what? It was the first time before a flight that I slept like a baby! Nine beautiful hours of sleep and the flight home was really pleasant. This positive outcome then shifted my general expectations and confidence even higher, and I had now created a positive feedback loop the right way.

High general expectation + low specific expectation = positive result + boosted confidence

This example shows how my perfectionist tendencies sabotaged the outcome I desired. However, when I acted as imperfections and let the situation unfold naturally with no expectations, I achieved success.


Becoming an “imperfectionist”

To become an imperfectionist, it is important to understand that nothing in life is perfect. This was a hard realization for me after striving for perfection for so long.

The world we live in isn’t perfect and nor will you ever be perfect. There is no such thing as perfect health, the perfect relationship, the perfect body, the perfect friend, the perfect vacation, the perfect essay or the perfect healing path.

These two statements were game changers for me:

Imperfection is a reality and today is enough.

Replace perfection with contentment and redefine success as progress. [1]

To become a true perfectionist you need to focus on:

  • Caring less about results and more about the fact you are putting in the work.
  • Caring less about your problems and more about making progress even with them.
  • Caring less about what others think of you and more about what you want.
  • Caring less about if you are doing it correctly and more about the fact you are doing it at all.
  • Caring less about the timing and more about the task you are undertaking.
  • Caring less about conditions and more about what you can do today to keep moving forward. [2]

Adopting this imperfectionist mindset truly gives you the freedom to explore and make mistakes, fail but move forward and find some joy and contentment in the process you are currently undertaking.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” -Kim Collins





  1. Associations Between Sleep Quality and Migraine Frequency
  2. How To Be An Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise, Book published 22nd May 2015 by Selective Entertainment.

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