Expectations: The Other Killer of Joy

Xperience Growthblogposts

I’ve been doing online workouts in the morning over the past two years. These are live workouts done in the comfort of our living room and last one hour.

The workouts can get pretty challenging, yet there’s not been a workout that I haven’t been able to power through since the first few I did. I’m in shape enough to go the full hour.

Recently, my workout partner (my wife Kristen) noticed the offering of a 30 minute “quick hitter” workout. We decided to do that this week as a test. So we signed up for a class.

The class started out as most do, warm ups with escalating strenuousness. By the end of the warm up it felt like the meat of the exercise. Which made sense to me since the warm up lasted 15 minutes.

The trainer announced we were going into the workout. The workout round was a familiar style to many of the other trainers with this company. The round ended promptly at 5:58, with two minutes to spare.

However, the class wasn’t over. The trainer announced the start of the next round. At that moment I realized we had not signed up for the 30 minute class, it was the regular 1 hour class.

I was done. As the trainer was explaining the next expertises for the class, I laid on my mat in exhaustion. She said, “The round starts in 10 seconds.” The background workout music turned up. “Okay, 3, 2, 1… GO!”

I just laid there. It took me another 30 seconds to actually move my body. I lazily went through the first few movements. I was physically and mentally exhausted.

Keep in mind, I’ve been doing this exact style of workout consistently and successfully for over 2 years now. I’m physically capable of going the full hour.

What was different in this workout: my expectation.

I expected a 30 minute workout. I had mentally prepared for a 30 minute workout. When it was clear this was NOT a 30 minute workout, my mind shut down. It took SO much more energy and effort to do my final 10 more minutes of the workout because I was fighting off my unmet expectations. I was physically capable; mentally I was spent.

Dr. Neil Farber writes in a Psychology Today article, “If your expectations have not been met and you believe that the expectations are realistic, there must be a reason – a cause – someone or something to blame.”

When we look for reasons or blame for unmet expectations, we experience stress. We’ll feel bad or angry. Those feelings don’t support the resourcefulness necessary to do hard things like: the 2nd half of a workout, or a difficult conversation with someone, or getting out of your comfort zone at work.

It’s not about NOT having expectations. There are a plethora of research studies that suggest we influence outcomes based on our expectations of ourselves and others.

Here’s a few ways that we can have high expectations while avoiding the experience of unmet expectations:

Drop “expectations”; develop “beliefs”

Expectations focus on an outcome. Beliefs run deeper and over a long term. If I believe my kid will be successful in school, I will be less likely to get hung up on each test result. If I believe that I am capable of success in my business, I am more likely to roll with the ups & downs of business results.

Remember: we’re human

Humans are imperfect. We’re going to screw it up. A lot. Understand that and be willing, ready and able to provide grace & empathy for the inevitable missteps. This will help you meet people where they are. You’ll be much more equipped – mentally & emotionally – to find solutions to problems.

Create and enforce boundaries

A common pushback against “lowering” or not having expectations is that we’ll allow mediocrity and get walked all over. Create boundaries in our relationships, in our businesses, with ourselves. Create a plan for what would happen if those boundaries are compromised. Share your boundaries with the people that you care about. Know that if a boundary is crossed, then you have the power to act. You can own your emotions and stand in your power when you know & enforce your boundaries.

Drop the expectations we have that will cause unneeded or undue stress. When I realized the workout was indeed the normal hour, I got stressed and shut down. When I got over the unmet expectation of ending time, I was able to place my focus on the reason I was working out and ended the workout strong.