Resetting Expectations

April 02, 2020 | Abbe Lake


When it feels like the world has turned sideways...

Whether you already had an established fitness and wellness routine, or you were just getting into the swing of things, chances are your routine (wherever it stood) has recently been disrupted. Perhaps you relied on a gym or yoga studio that has closed, or you now have kiddos hanging off of you during what was your designated workout time, or you’re just having a hard time motivating yourself to stick to a schedule (or do much of anything) right now. 

I get it. Believe me, we all get it. We’re right there with you. 

As if all of these disruptions and disconnections weren’t enough, there’s this idea floating around that we should be using this time to “self-improve”: learn a new skill, get long-awaited projects done, finally really focus on solid workouts and eating super well. We’re at home, right? We have all this extra time, right? So helpful, right?

Actually, no. This self-improvement expectation isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s pretty harmful. 

Sure, maybe there are days where you’re being creative and innovative and getting things done. But are there maybe also days when it feels like a monumental effort to even put on pants? And then you find yourself spending a lot of time scrolling the news and social media? And then eating things you wish you wouldn’t? And then trying desperately to stay caught up on working/parenting/staying healthy/staying sane, and beating yourself up for your perceived failures on all fronts? (Helpful hint: Self-reflection is helpful. Beating yourself up is never helpful). 

Here’s the thing: Not only are we now adjusting to working from home/homeschooling the kids/too much family time or maybe too much alone time/not enough outside time/not enough daily structure... And not only are we having to modify our fitness and wellness routines because we’ve lost access to our usual resources and communities... But we also -- whether we each recognize it or not -- are all (collectively and individually) smack dab in the middle of a grief process. Wait, what? Grief? Yup. We’re grieving what we’ve already lost (freedom of movement through the world, physical contact with our friends and communities, a sense of security in our society). We’re also grieving for what we anticipate losing (even more freedoms, social and financial safety, maybe even loved ones). 

And in times of grief, believe it or not, we’re not especially well-equipped to push harder, muscle through, and achieve more than usual. We usually achieve quite a bit less. And that makes sense, yes? Grief is a time to rest, to go inward, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we can start to move through the grief and make sense of it. 

So, can we talk about resetting expectations for a sec?

Now I’m not suggesting, in our current situation, we give up and go straight for the loungewear and Netflix. It’s important -- essential, actually -- to keep some structure to your days and to practice as much healthy self-care as you can during this time of upheaved normalcy. But it’s also crucial to know “self-care” is going to look different on different days. Sure, sometimes you’ll feel energized and find yourself giving 100% to your workout and your meditation practice and all the things. But on other days (especially on those days), even if the only things you accomplish are brushing your teeth and taking a walk, know I am literally giving you a standing ovation. Because this… thing… we are all going through? It’s hard. And it’s overwhelming. And we're all doing the best we can. Some days you’ll achieve more. Some you won’t. It is what it is. 

The question is, can you offer yourself grace either way?

If you are some sort of magical unicorn who is effectively using all of this time at home to learn Russian, write The Great American Novel, or take your workouts to a whole new level -- carry on, and more power to you. But if you’re not -- it’s ok. Even though it doesn’t feel like you’re doing enough -- you are. You’re getting through the day and you’re taking care of yourself and your work and your family and your pets and your plants as best you can. You’re moving through heavy times and making your way to the other side.

“What part of the pose can I do?”

During my yoga teacher training, we heard this phrase a lot: “What part of the pose can I do?” 

“You can teach anyone yoga,” my teacher would say. “Even if they’re in a wheelchair. Can they breathe? Ok. If they can breathe, then they can do yoga.” In class, I often share this same idea with my students. “Ok, so you can’t get your head behind your ankle in Head to Ankle pose --  who cares? Which part of the pose can you do? Do that part, and be there 100%. Get curious, and compassionate, and centered, right where you are.”

What if we took that same approach in this situation? What if we decided to focus on what we can do, and then be right there, appreciating ourselves for our efforts rather than beating ourselves up for what we think we should be doing instead?

I offer to you two questions to ask yourself:

  • What can I do today?
  • Can I let that be good enough?

Perhaps what you can do is schedule daily movement, and know on some days you’ll crave a more vigorous workout while on others you’ll need something gentler. Perhaps you can set scheduled meal times, focusing on incorporating lots of healthy foods, but also allow that on some days you’ll find yourself on the couch with a bag of chips -- and that’s ok, too.

The important thing is to keep moving through the work, through the chaos, through the uncertainty in whatever way is most nourishing to you, in any given moment, as you are able. That really is good enough. 

Honor what you need, and then let that be enough. 

If this idea resonates with you, perhaps you’re already thinking of ways you can give yourself a break from damaging expectations even while taking good care. In case it helps, here are a few ideas for incorporating this practice into your daily routine:

Structure: Offer yourself enough daily structure and momentum to keep yourself feeling sane and healthy, but also give yourself flexibility. This is in honor of the fact that you (& we all) are experiencing great internal swings right now. These swings may not be apparent on the surface, but they really do affect your energy levels. Schedule blocks of time for a morning routine, movement, meals, work, and rest -- they’re all necessary.

Healthy mornings: Speaking of a morning routine -- create one that works for you! This is such a great way to set the tone for your day. My ideal routine involves drinking lemon water, doing a short meditation, and then getting in some cardio and yoga before I start work tasks or look at any screens. This helps my brain to stay calm and focused throughout the rest of the day. 

Movement: When thinking about your workouts, try scheduling a block of time for movement, but know the form this movement takes day-to-day might change. Have a variety of options queued up: streaming classes like boot camp, HIIT, and yoga classes; going for a run or a walk (if you’re able to safely distance yourself from others where you live); and a gentle stretching routine when your energy level is low but you still want to stay committed to moving. 

Meals: Engage in some loose meal planning. Block out mealtimes into your schedule, so you know you won’t a) forget to eat all day or b) snack on junk all day. Focus on incorporating healthy foods into each meal, but know you might be craving some comfort food as well (if we can’t eat comfort food during a pandemic, seriously when can we??).

Kindness: Most of all: BE SUPER GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. Imagine you’ve just brought a puppy or kitten home from the animal shelter. Would you get mad at the little one for not knowing how things worked, or for being scared, or for messing up sometimes? (I hope not). Can you treat yourself like you would treat that puppy? With grace, and compassion, and positive and constructive reinforcement? Because just like that puppy, you are experiencing a whole lot of new things right now, and just like that puppy you’re doing your very best to figure out how it all works.

In an article recently published by Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkeley, I came across a list of truly helpful questions to ask ourselves during quarantine:
  • What am I GRATEFUL for today?
  • What expectations of “normal” am I LETTING GO OF today?
  • How am I GETTING OUTSIDE today?
  • How am I MOVING MY BODY today?
  • What BEAUTY am I either creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?

For now, can we all ask ourselves these questions? And then can we let our answers be enough?

Now. Next step. 

Go work out, or have a snack, or take a walk, or crawl under your weighted blanket and take a nap, or do some work or pet your cat or talk to your plant. Whatever you need to do is ok.