Sustaining anything worthwhile in life requires consistency and motivation. Sources of inspiration can include: your sobriety, your newfound friendships, your new career, home – these are all things that can motivate you in recovery. To grow and remain motivated, you need to set goals and new challenges to improve yourself. Becoming complacent is the first step toward resting on one’s laurels after a long period of abstinence. Setting reasonable goals can be a frustrating obstacle to overcome in recovery–especially early recovery. That is because, in early recovery, there will be times when you make great leaps forward with ease, as well as times when you will struggle to not backslide.

Setting goals is not about reaching the end in the fastest way possible. This mindset will only lead to disappointment and frustration. Setting goals should be a lifelong pursuit of making calculated efforts to accomplish the goal set and preparing for the challenges that will likely come up along the way. Many people make the mistake of setting high expectations only to miss meeting a goal and then feel like a failure. Understanding how to better manage your expectations is as much a part of the learning experience as setting goals themselves. If you have been struggling and frustrated, know that you are not alone and that there are ways to manage your expectations. 

Unrealistic Expectations

The best way to start managing your expectations is by learning how to spot them. This might not be easy, especially if you have upheld these expectations for years or if you have misinterpreted your expectations because up until now, things have seemed easy for you. For example, in recovery, a huge component is becoming a part of a support system. This includes rebuilding friendships, making new friends, and learning to trust yourself and others in the process. However, sometimes where people might take a wrong turn is subscribing to the idea that everyone must like them. Sometimes, you can’t make someone like you no matter how hard you try. Instead of getting frustrated and feeling like you are a terrible person, try to accept that you won’t be friends with everyone and appreciate who you have in your life instead of fixating on what one person thinks of you. 

Unrealistic expectations can cause you to believe that you have control that you don’t have in a given situation. Life is unpredictable, so knowing yourself and trusting yourself is a powerful tool to help you through the unforeseen challenges. Instead of trying to predict the future and plan for every possible scenario, accepting that, from time to time, you will have to adapt to unexpected changes and learn to reduce anxiety, manage stress, and curb expectations. Remind yourself, whether with a journal or meditation, of the support and strength you already have to have come this far in recovery. 

Difficulty Curbing Unrealistic Expectations

Some expectations seem reasonable and fair and even realistic. However, the experience suggests otherwise. Your expectations might create more problems than they solve. This is because sometimes setting unrealistic expectations is a way to protect yourself from being hurt. Some believe that by lowering expectations, they open themselves up to be exploited and hurt by others. Understand that if you are worried about such a thing, try practicing mindfulness and challenging your thoughts to help you get outside your head and gain some objective perspective about the situation. Focus on present experiences, not past ones where people might have hurt you. Paying attention to the experience happening lends more information and perspective about your safety than any expectation. 

Curbing Expectations By Getting to Know Them

Expectations can feel like something that has been coded in your DNA, like you are intrinsically wired to think and react a certain way. It takes getting to know your expectations to help you begin to see a pattern in your actions. Keep a journal and try to track every unrealistic expectation or illogical thought that you might have had during a week. Observe the expectation and your behavior that is attached to it. For example, are you hard on yourself when you make mistakes? Do you get upset when someone doesn’t do what you want them to do? Recognizing these patterns and the behaviors attached helps you become more aware of the bigger picture and realize that these moments are fleeting. Never let your sobriety hinge on a singular event. 

Try a Double-Standard Approach

Imagine what you might offer to a friend or family member who shares a similar idea or belief regarding expectations. This approach will help you realize that you are likely more compassionate and understanding to a friend or loved one than you are to yourself.  Why is this? Most often, it is because you are allowing yourself to be more realistic about their situation than your own. Once you realize that you are being too hard on yourself, you can begin to assess your own missed expectations with reason and compassion.


Take some time to reflect and determine if your expectations are helpful or not. For example, does your expectation influence or benefit who you want to be? Where do you want to go? Does this serve your future of recovery and sobriety, including strong relationships and professional goals? Deciphering your expectations can help you ask yourself the question: Does this help me now? Try to determine if your expectations motivate you to strive toward the goals in your life. Remember, repeated attempts that result in the same outcome will only steal time away from prosperity. 

Be Flexible

Allow yourself to be sensitive to the changing circumstances. Instead of looking at a situation as something you should or shouldn’t have done, change your perspective from one of failure to one of progress by thinking: “It looks like I didn’t get to this today, how can I work on this to make sure I get to this tomorrow?”  By communicating your needs, you allow yourself to listen to your rational side and better prepare yourself to respond to the situation in a constructive way. 


Unrealistic expectations are unhelpful expectations. Learning to manage your expectations will help you set reasonable goals for your recovery and keep you from feeling like a failure if and when there are setbacks. Challenge your thoughts, remind yourself of the present, and never hang your hat on a singular moment. Remember the friendships and support you have and understand that recovery is a life-long process; mistakes and setbacks will happen, but they will pass. If you are still finding it difficult to manage your expectations and it is interfering with your sobriety – it is time to seek help. At True Recovery, we offer 24/7 care that is built on the philosophy of individualized care. This means that we strive to find the best treatment for where you are in your recovery. We have a refined telehealth service and a safe and comfortable environment for inpatient care. To learn more, call us today at (866) 399-6528