Unrealistic Expectations

The month of February is the shortest month of the year. Yet, it is probably filled with the greatest expectations of any other month. Everyone knows the Valentine’s Day is February 14th. Thoughts of this day conjures up romance, roses, and a certain date night for many ladies. In stark contrast, the date is filled with large potential pot holes to dodge for the men attached to these ladies. What is she expecting? A dozen roses exactly when they are triple the price? A date night when no babysitters within a 20 mile radius are available? What kind of dinner? Do I need reservations? Will she like the restaurant I pick? Should I ask her where to go, or take a chance with a more romantic surprise? It just goes to show, what is an eagerly anticipated event for some, can be a nightmare for others. And why? It all comes down to expectations.

A recent article in Physical Therapy entitled “Individual Expectation: An Overlooked, but Pertinent Factor in the Treatment of Individuals Experiencing Musculoskeletal Pain,” discusses the role of expectations in recovery from common bone, joint, and muscle problems addressed in physical therapy. Interestingly, the authors conclude that a patient’s expectation is one of the factors that help determine whether or not a patient will have a successful outcome in physical therapy. Great information, except the authors further conclude that there is no standard definition or a generally accepted measurement tool that exists to quantify expectations. So there it stands, the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there, but no one is quite sure what to do about it.

Poor Communication

Funny thing is, expectations are everywhere. If a busy mom hands her husband her purse so she can carry an unruly toddler, the obvious expectation is for the husband to carry the purse. Dropping the purse and saying, "No!" would be an obvious miss in meeting this unsaid expectation. Expectations are a two edged sword for your favorite football team. If the Packers are expected to make it to the SuperBowl, well, anything less, is a pretty big disappointment for everyone. Then again, in 2010, when there were few expectations on the team, the Packers somehow snuck into the Playoffs, made it to the big game, and wow- won a SuperBowl! Completely unexpected, the lack of anticipation and pure element of surprise somehow made the victory that much sweeter.

Speaking of expectations, I can still vividly recall the day I got rid of my wisdom teeth. Since I only had two, and they were fully in, I just had an in-office visit with the oral surgeon. Because it was not a surgery, I expected a quick recovery, as long as I avoided the dreaded dry sockets I had been warned about. In and out, I thought, as I was planning to travel out of town for my nephew’s birthday party the next day. Without a care in the world, I enjoyed my first hit of nitrous oxide in my life at the start of the appointment, and thought, yup, this isn’t bad. Then I breathed in too much of it, felt like I was going to pass out, and the nurse advised me to breathe regular air instead of the nitrous oxide through the mask. Just as my head was clearing, in walks the oral surgeon. I quickly tried to breathe through the mask again, but it didn’t really help as the oral surgeon put my head in a headlock and began extracting my teeth. He must have seen the more than slightly panicked look on my face as I felt him crack my teeth into pieces and pull them out. He slightly laughingly said, “God didn’t make those teeth just to fall out you know.” Deep thought, deep thought, I mused to myself as the nitrous oxide finally took hold again. After a miserable night of no sleep, gagging on blood and mouth aching, I did travel out of town to my nephew’s birthday party with my freshly plumped chipmunk cheeks now a pretty shade of lilac. It wasn’t until I missed the day after call from the nurse that I realized, maybe this was a bigger deal than I gave it credit for?! Pretty funny, right? I had prepared for this event with the wrong expectations, half due to the laissez-faire attitude of whoever had booked my appointment, and half due to the naïve, unsuspecting, everything is going to be fine attitude of a twenty-something a little wet behind the ears.

So how can one avoid the easy blunder of missing someone’s expectations? Whether it’s a teacher/student, husband/ wife, or a physical therapist/patient relationship, it is important to communicate openly, fully, and honestly to help manage and set appropriate expectations for what is to come. At MotionWorks Physical Therapy, we ask every patient to tell us their goals, and then we talk about their feasibility, and a realistic time-frame for achieving them. It might be a goal to walk without the assistance of a walker, to return to playing sports in time for the conference championship game, or setting a race participation goal for a client, all of these goals are of utmost importance to each individual holding that goal in their heart. While reeling-in over-reaching expectations can be a downer, it’s a wonderful feeling to push a client to set that goal even higher, because you know they can achieve it! Better yet, is the day a client meets their goal, their own high expectations, and is ready to tackle a new, even loftier goal!

Enjoy the beautiful month of February! Between the romance and last full month of snowy brilliance, take some time to communicate to the ones you love to ensure all of you and your family’s expectations come true!

With anticipation,
Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy