This is a cool article on expectations written by Amy Tardio for Perform Sports Psychology titled The Impact of Expectations on Sport Performance. She begins with points athletes make about the apparent need for focusing on the goal and the consequences of doing that:
“Shouldn’t I expect success? After all, if I expect to lose, I probably will, right?”
“I feel so much pressure when I’m expected to win. I become so anxious that I mess up and under-perform.”
She quotes a sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, who states that high expectations are one of the biggest hurdles to performance. Tardio states that Abramowicz also has a solution: have low expectations and high standards.
“This mindset focuses on putting in the physical and mental work every day and paying attention to the little things that contribute to great success. Focusing on your work keeps your mind busy on something you can control and minimizes the stress that comes with focusing on expectations.”
You can see here how focusing on the process, when you’re in the process, is what helps keep your attention on task.
Here are some additional observations:
You can have high expectations and high standards. It’s a matter of when and on what you set expectations.
You can expect to succeed at some point in the future (when). And, you can expect to exert your best efforts (on what) now, as you work toward that success.
“Shouldn’t I expect success?” Yes, but when to expect it is unknown. So don’t put a timestamp on it.
“I feel so much pressure when I’m expected to win.” This pressure is self imposed due to the timestamp we put on success.
How can you not put a timestamp on success when engaged in a specific event that’s bounded by a specific time? Success will happen today, during this competitive event, or not. It won’t happen in the future because this event will be over.
Here we come up against the dilemma for athletes, but also for the rest of us. Know what you can and can’t control. You can’t control when success will occur, but you can control your effort. So, the challenge for all of us, athlete and otherwise, is to acknowledge this and then deliberately focus on the process and the effort. This isn’t necessarily easy to do when you really want to succeed. But, you can shift your focus to really wanting to apply yourself to the effort. You can want to enjoy that struggle. Winning, then, will be a more meaningful experience for you because you’ve enjoy the struggle and the success.