I don’t know about you, but I’m walking into to 2016 with some high expectations. This year—according to me—will involve big things at Grit & Virtue, having a baby, and attaining arms that rival Michelle Obama’s. None of these things are close to actually happening (No, Mom, I’m not pregnant yet, but I promise I’ll call the second I know). You’ve probably got your own set of seemingly-doable dreams: finding success in your business, going on a date with that handsome guy from church, or fitting into those old jeans from college. But what if your rosy expectations for yourself and for others are actually what’s holding you back?

When most of us think about what we want in the future, we focus on the end result. We often find our minds daydreaming about having achieved that thing we’ve always wanted, building elaborate scenarios of unbridled success in our heads. Optimism is a good lens to view life through, but this purely positive expectation of our future life may be part of the reason we never seem to achieve it.

Gabriele Oettingen, a professor at psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, has been researching this phenomenon for years. She suggests that we are spending so much time and energy up in our heads building a personal utopia that we don’t have the will or energy to take the steps needed to achieve our dreams. So how do we make those visions become reality? “The solution,” says Oettingen, “isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”

Expectations and dreams have a funny way of ignoring the obvious obstacles. In order to have a successful business, marriage, and life you will encounter setbacks and problems. But how often do you think about how you’ll handle an irate customer, turning that experience into a guiding value for you to build a better customer service strategy? Or daydream about how you’ll lovingly share with your spouse the difficult issue on your heart in a way that brings neither guilt nor shame into your relationship? Or imagine yourself in front of a beautiful pastry case with the willpower to order a non-fat latte? By building these not-so-perfect moments into our expectations of ourselves, we are released from the false pretense of gain without sacrifice and effort. So when you do come up against an obstacle on the path to your goals, you won’t immediately burn out or head for the hills. You’ll be prepared. You expected something like this, and you’ve already got a few ideas on how to conquer it.

As you are setting your goals this year, thinking about all that 2016 will bring, dream big. But remember to take the wise advice of Henry David Thoreau: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Consider your expectations and goals for the coming year, what obstacles do you think you’ll encounter? How can you start planning now to overcome them?

Megan Stevens
Megan Stevens

Megan Stevens is embracing her recent move to the South, enjoying the hospitality of Northern Alabama with her husband, 3 year old daughter and soon-to-arrive baby. Megan is passionate about community, celebration and life around the table.

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