Managing expectations so failure turns to success.

I had a breakthrough with my eldest son Bobby last week and whether you see this as a parental triumph or just a great lesson in life will depend upon your circumstances. One thing is for sure, it is so common for us to expect more from ourselves than we can truly deliver and the result of this is a sense of failure which might not otherwise exist if it wasn’t for the additional pressure we place on ourselves.

Bobby and I were at the park playing football one day after school. We were practising a few things and typically Bobby was getting upset with himself from time to time when he didn’t kick the ball perfectly.

I know that judging makes things worse and besides we were over there as father and son to have fun so there was no pressure nor comment coming from my side of the pitch. As his frustration developed i had a good think about where this pressure comes from and how i could use my life coaching background to help him see its detrimental effect.

I called Bobby over and we sat for a second to take a little break. I asked him what kind of standard he expected of himself, to which he replied he wants to “do everything right”. So you don’t like to make any mistakes? I asked. No. Who told you that it was not ok to make mistakes? Myself he replied.

Ok so how old are you? 12. How many days a week do you train? One. Ok so you’re young and you don’t play very often? His facial expressions changed like he had been found out. Dropping the defensive body posture he added that he just wants to do his best.

So how do you help yourself do your best? I try hard. If you try hard and it doesn’t go where you want it to? I get annoyed. When you get annoyed does it improve your performance? Not really. He was right. I pointed out that when he got annoyed five minutes ago, his next five kicks after that got progressively worse.

So when you get annoyed you actually play worse. Telling yourself off really doesn’t make things any better does it. We had discussed the fact that Bobby expected too much, but what should he replace that expectation with? The same thing any of us need to remind ourselves of constantly; reality.

What if you expected to kick the ball to me perfectly six out of 10 times instead of 10? That would be easy he said. Ok Bobby to find out the reality of what you are capable of, you are going to kick the ball to me across the pitch 10 times and we will repeat this three times so we will take your score out of 30 and divide it by three giving us the absolute truth about where your expectation should be.

He thought it was a good idea and when he managed to kick the ball to me eight out of 10 times on his first go he started celebrating. Suddenly his confidence visibly lifted, his technique improved for being visibly less self-pressured and he went on to get a 10 and a seven giving him an average of 8.3.

We had used a measurement to present Bobby with a solid reality that came from fact and not one that came from his self imposed expectations which were evidently met with his disapproval.

I recommended that Bobby tapped himself on the shoulder every time he criticised himself. When he asked why the shoulder I explained how sitting on his shoulder was a little version of himself that liked to remind Bobby what he should be doing. I explained loosely how this is where the saying comes from about how everyone has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Bob’s little devil had far too much to say for himself so by reminding it to be quiet with a tap, we are taking control of, in adult terms, how the ‘second self’ communicates expectation via criticism.

Bobby tapped himself on the shoulder playfully when he found himself habitually groaning when something didn’t go perfectly but over the next hour or so it reduced in frequency and instead of it being an almighty ‘Oh my God!” it became a little murmur that he quickly controlled and refocused.

I asked Bobby what he had learnt that day and he articulated how he had seen that expecting something unrealistic meant that he was always going to get frustrated, but when he lowered his expectation to match his abilities he was able to make himself feel good by doing better than he had hoped.

He also said that to get better he would need to stop making it harder to improve by being unfair on himself. To improve simply requires practice; that’s a fact. To improve also requires all aspects of one’s personality to work together, to be aware and to silence the part of us that is self critical. This is going to really speed up the improvements. To learn how not to judge ourselves and just have a ‘lets try again’ attitude will make it easier for us to go from where we are to edging closer to where we want to be, one step at time.

We can’t just want our abilities to improve and expect that to be enough. Like with anything in life you have to bring the change by doing something to deserve it and not by putting pressure on yourself so that you don’t.

  1. Less expectation.
  2. What’s your reality?
  3. Silence the critic.
  4. What’s your goal?
  5. What’s the next step?

Move forwards.