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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Lower Your Expectations

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 29th 2013

depressedFrom time to time we slip into feeling down. We can find ourselves feeling disappointed, angry or guilty about something we’ve done to ourselves or another.  This could lead to feeling more tired with thoughts like "what's the point" or "this is hopeless.” This leads us to believe we can’t actually do anything to help ourselves. What can you do if you notice this? 

Set your expectations lower. That’s right, lay off yourself a bit! 

Think about this. When you have a cold, it's good to ease off a bit to promote healing. This is the same concept. I often ask my patients who are feeling depressed, "What do you think you can do today?" Depending on the situation, they might say "I think I can go on a 15 minute walk outside." I then follow with "Great, just walk for 5, you think you can do that?" The answer is invariably "Yes". 

We want to take some of the pressure off so we feel more at ease. When we feel more at ease, we’re more likely to have the energy to do something. Even if it’s something small, doing something is better than nothing. If you walked for 5 minutes outside, instead of just feeling overwhelmed by it and not getting to it, you have won the battle. In fact, when most people just get outside to walk for those 5 minutes, once they're outside, it's more likely that they'll stay outside and just continue walking for a bit. It's that initial inertia that is important to get over and setting your sights lower can help out with that.

Here's the amazing piece, if 5 minutes seems like too much, ask "do I think I can do it for 1 minute?" Start with that.

Whether it's exercise, household chores, or the workplace, ask yourself what have you been putting off or slowing down with? Then ask how long you think you can do it for, and then aim for a little less. You can always just choose 1 minute's work and then build from there. You can always come back to web surfing. 

Take a minute right now to ask yourself what you believe you can do. Whatever that task is, dial it down a bit and ask yourself if you think you can accomplish that? Invariably the answer is yes. 

Either do it right now or make a plan to do it. This may seem too simple to be true, but it’s part of the plan to feeling better. You may just catch yourself feeling a bit better and instead of a spiral down, you’ll notice a spiral up. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Good reminder - Lynne - Aug 9th 2013

Thank you for this excellent reminder that actions are not dependent on feelings. When depressed, this does not seem the least bit possible. "Seem" being the operative word. Also addresses the "all-or-nothing" thinking so common in depression. On my wall above my desk I have a note that says, "BEWARE the false dichotomy!" :-)


:( - - Jul 31st 2013

There is a big difference between feeling depressed and actually beign clinically depressed. Therefor your advice of lowering one's expectation isn't going to work with someone who is clinically depressed. Severely depressed patient may feel even worse if you ask them to do something too early.

With severe depression doing anything is a constant battle. I'm not pleased to read something like this where you compare feeling depressed and clinical depression.

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