How do we really look at expectation?
With the prevalence of mental health issues surrounding anxiety and stress these days it would make sense to think that we are exposed to unrealistic levels of expectation, and as such we might tend to respond negatively to situations where we are put under pressure. Is this because we expect too much of others or because we live now in a world where expectations are so low as a result of over-reacting to anxiety and stress?
Are we doing ourselves an injustice by not raising the bar high enough? I am not expecting everyone to be an academic genius or sporting super star or artistic master, but are we challenging ourselves enough so that we are extending ourselves beyond our current limits. I am also not focusing on the minority of people who already show signs of performance excellence in the arts, academia, or sports.
Are we now so scared to put ourselves under pressure that we create an environment where we are protected from the level of stress that enhances high performance. We must remember that short bursts of stress that challenge our emotional and physical abilities is what makes us smarter, faster, stronger, more emotionally intelligent and more resilient.
Do our kids sense that our expectations of them are not high and that they are being protected from reality, and that in itself is making them soft. Because they feel that nobody else gives them enough credit to handle life, they start to believe it themselves; they simply reflect the lack of confidence everyone else has in them.
Certainly as parents we don’t want to see our children struggling under emotional pressure, and our first response to them falling, literally and metaphorically, is to catch them or give them a hug. Could we just hold back a little and see how they go picking themselves back up again, dusting themselves off, and trying again. After they try again, could that then be our opportunity to get in and help them by making them realise that we have recognised their fall, and their attempt to get back on their feet. They will understand we will always be there but it was them who got back up, on their own. Our kids will get the best of both worlds - they will realise the expectation is that they are responsible for themselves and dusting themselves off but that they will always have somebody to rely on if getting up is sometimes tough.
From a sporting point of view, if I as a coach execute the skill for the athlete then how are they to learn, and if I jump in every time they make a mistake to correct it, how are they to learn to self correct. My role as a coach should be to let them try, fail, work out why, and try again, and in the process gain confidence from seeing improvement in each time they try. I should be asking more questions rather than making statements. I should be pausing to see what happens rather than reacting immediately to any mistake. In these simple ways I can be sending a message to my athletes that they are responsible for their development, and that the expectation is that they work it out themselves. I should always be available to provide that helping hand and guidance when it’s required but my direct involvement shouldn’t be the first call.
The ideal situation for ourselves would be for us to continually tell ourselves that we are solely responsible for our own development. It is a lesson we should take from the attitude of WADA (World Anti-doping Authority) and ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority). Sole responsibility rests with the athlete. It is black and white, no ambiguity, no confusion. Ultimate responsibility.
With this attitude, we would be able to handle any level of expectation because ultimate responsibility lies with ourselves. If a teacher or coach expects very little of a child, it won’t matter because they will set their own standards and goals. If a parent expects too much of their child, the child will face enormous pressure, but if they set their own standards and gather objective information from other people they will be better prepared to understand whether their parents level of expectation is unrealistic. Much easier said than done for some situations, but the following strategies could help:
Work as hard as you can - do not shy away from hard work. If you do the work it will allow you to set your own standards and be better able to understand the level you are at.
Ask other people - don’t just rely on one persons opinion. Selection is simply one or two peoples opinion. Get numerous people to provide you with feedback and this will paint a clearer picture of the level you can perform at.
Expect to fail - we learn best from mistakes so be prepared to fail and fail regularly. This is the best way to develop and improve.
Extend yourself beyond your current limits - don’t be happy with getting comfortable. You need to keep extending yourself a little bit at a time. Once you achieve the next level, extend yourself a little further.
Don’t try to be perfect - if you keep setting your sights on being perfect them all you will do is disappoint yourself.
Enjoy yourself - we always want to go back to the things that make us happy so make sure you enjoy what you do. If you have a smile on your face, even when it is hurting, then you will appreciate your effort and not worry about the expectation.