Managing Expectations When It Comes to Wellness Changes

Lose up to 4 dress sizes in 30 days!

We’ve found the Fountain of Youth!

Gain 600% more muscle in 7 weeks!

Lose it fast, lose it forever!

Have you ever seen these claims in the ads you see online, in magazines, or on TV?

We don’t really believe this nonsense do we? Wait…..DO WE???!!!

What if somewhere, deep inside, we DO think we should see these kinds of results when we’re making wellness changes?

We know better, but with all these quick-fix messages we get all the time, sometimes we can have expectations we’re not even aware of.

How many times have you started a new diet or exercise program, and when you didn’t get immediate results, or the results you expected, you told yourself you had failed?

What happens when we feel we’ve failed? We usually give up.

Sometimes we start with expectations we’re not even aware we have. Other times, we go in with unrealistic expectations. Either way, we may be hurting our chances of long-term change.

One key to being successful with long-term change is to manage our expectations. I don’t ever want to discourage anyone from dreaming big; in fact, I encourage it. But if we’re going to make that big dream come true, we have to be realistic about what it’s going to take to get there.

When we go in with unrealistic expectations, it can backfire on us. So how do we manage them?

How to Manage Expectations When It Comes to Wellness Changes

Know what your expectations are.

It’s important to spend some time figuring out exactly what we expect to gain from the changes we’re making. We do this by setting goals and breaking down the steps we have to take to reach them. Going through this process can help us take a realistic look at what we want to accomplish and what it’s going to take for us to get there.

Take a look at the trade-offs we may have to make to get where we want to be.

We need to have a realistic view of what we’re willing to trade in order to reach a particular wellness goal so we can decide if that goal is worth the trade-offs we have to make to reach it.

For example, many people want to to have very low body fat, but don’t realize what it takes to get there. If we want to be lean (somewhere around 13-15% BF for men and 23-25% BF for women), we may have to plan our meals around specific macro nutrients at each meal, exercise consistently, 30-45 minutes per day, sleep at least 7 hours a night, and perhaps, give up some social events.

The lean range above is a healthy body fat range, but so is 15-20% for men and 25-30% for women. This requires fewer tradeoffs and may be much easier to obtain and maintain than a leaner physique. As I said, this is a healthy body fat range and does not require as many trade-offs.

Overhead view of a forest, with water in the background, with text overlay: "If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed." ~Terrell Owens

Be realistic when setting expectations.

Don’t forget that there’s plenty of middle ground between “extremely unwell” and “perfectly healthy.” For most of us, especially those of us who live with a chronic illness, being “perfectly healthy” is an unrealistic expectation.

On the other hand, doing things that help us be as well as possible is completely realistic. Remember, our overall wellness has many dimensions, and there are small things we can do to improve both individual dimensions and our wellbeing in general.

Give yourself time – don’t try to rush the process.

Taking a realistic look at the work we have to do can be a little daunting. I used to tell my clients all the time, “Just remember, you didn’t get here overnight, so you probably won’t get to where you want to be overnight either.” Giving ourselves a realistic timeline and focusing on the process rather than results can help us avoid burnout and feeling we’ve failed if we don’t see results right away.

Focus on the process, not the finish line.

We need to have the finish line established; otherwise, how will we know where we’re going? BUT when we focus entirely on the finish line, it can derail us because it might look like we just have too far to go.

Focusing on the process — the behaviors we have to do consistently to get where we want to go — helps us feel successful when we’re able to build consistency with them. And let’s just face it — it’s a whole lot easier to focus on eating 5 servings of vegetables today than it is to focus on eating 5 servings of vegetables every day for the rest of our lives.

Aim for progress, not perfection.

Nobody can do everything perfectly all the time. We don’t expect perfection from others, and we shouldn’t expect it from ourselves. Rather than aiming for perfection, let’s aim for “a little bit better.”

This could look something like exercising one day a week if we haven’t been exercising at all or going to bed at the same time each night rather than “I have to get 7 hours’ sleep each night” initially. We can always add on to small behaviors once we get consistent.

Managing Expectations Helps Us Be Successful

It’s great to aim high and set stretch goals for ourselves. What we don’t want to do is set ourselves up for feelings of failure or disappointment. Managing our expectations can help. Knowing what our expectations are, looking at the trade-offs we may have to make, being realistic, focusing on the process and aiming for progress instead of perfection can help us set those goals and make steady progress toward them.

Have you ever found yourself falling victim to those unrecognized or unrealistic expectations when it comes to your wellness goals? How did it affect you? What did you find helpful in dealing with them? Please share!



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Teal Background with Text Overlay: Managing Expectations When It Comes to Wellness Changes


The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, 3rd ed, 2019, John Berardi, PhD,CSCS, et. al, Precision Nutrition, Inc.

The Cost of Getting Lean,

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  1. Such an informative post Terri. You list great suggestions because all too often we are swayed or mesmerized by commercials or infomercials that talk of products or exercise devices that will produce great results. We need to take a step back and realize what we personally are able to do and take that into account when deciding on purchasing said wellness products.

    1. Thanks so much Mark! You make a great point about knowing what we’re capable of BEFORE we purchase those wellness products. I wonder how many workout machines end up gathering dust…. I know I’ve had a few. Blessings to you!

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