What is the difference between Goals and Expectations?

Everybody knows what goals are and most successful athletes set goals for themselves. Goals are hopeful, future outcomes or events. They are targets or things people hope to achieve. Successful goal setting can be tricky because of the hope that usually comes with them. For example, a professional golfer may state “My goal is to play on the PGA Tour.” But the goal is too broad and has no time limit on it. Also, the goal may be too demanding for the player at this time. But the player is doing well on a local, developmental tour and “BECAUSE” of that level of success, he “expects” to have similar success on the PGA Tour. The player expects future success due to past success (self-efficacy). This is trap thinking and can lead to failure. Here is why: Expectation is usually accompanied by an emotional component. For example; if I asked you to do something for me and I expect you to do it, but you don’t, you or I may not feel disappointed because we have no history. But what if someone you respected asked you to do the same thing and you didn’t do it? How would you feel? You might feel as if you let that person down because you didn’t live up to their expectations. Now, what if you failed to do this thing over and over again? You would feel even worse and perhaps feel guilty. If fact, you might even ask that person to stop asking you to do the thing since you can’t follow through on it. Let’s take it a step deeper: You expect something of yourself and fail to live up to your expectations over and over again. How do you feel now? Probably very disappointed in yourself. What will you do to stop the emotional pain? You may either quit or self-sabotage any future efforts to avoid further disappointments. You have high expectations but experience low-performance outcomes over and over again. Eventually, frustration could set in and at that point, you may quit. Now let’s examine why it might be smarter to eliminate all expectations of success and replace them with goals instead.

Goals do not seem to have the emotional aspect expectancy has with them. Let’s say you set a goal and after a few weeks, you realize that it was set too high. You are not going to reach it. What do you do? You lower it for now knowing it was set too high from the beginning. But you are not disappointed because you could not predict your progression. After a bit of time, however, it becomes clear how much you are progressing based on measuring where you started and where you are now. You can then re-set the original goal and then extend it out more intelligently. It makes sense. You didn’t expect anything other than to do your best and observe what progress you made up to that point. In other words, you did not let yourself down and have freed yourself from disappointment. You avoided emotional pain and have allowed yourself the freedom to re-think your original goal without guilt.

I realize that expectations can lift the performance within a team environment but this string of thought is primarily for those athletes playing in individual sports like golf or tennis. High expectations can motivate teammates to play harder and they can also motivate athletes to quit due to comparisons. It has been my experience working with great teams that can afford to replace players who do not really enjoy competition, high expectations of success culls out many players. Young, highly talented high school players join a college team and expect to play immediately because of the success they had a year ago. Why are their expectations so high? Because of their past success. But, as I mentioned, this is a trap because the new environment is different and they don’t understand that just yet (they just expect to play). The Web.com player expects to have an immediate impact on the PGA Tour because he had some success on that developmental tour. He makes the Tour and fails to keep his card because his stroke average went up by 2 strokes. How did that happen? His expectations were high and his performance was low and therefore he tried harder and was overwhelmed with disappointment. The harder he tried, the worse he did. How can that happen? It is the combination of cognitive stress that manifests into physiological changes that detrimentally affect fine motor movements.

What is a possible solution to this problem? Forget about expectations and set goals. “Dryly Execute” each goal and then go one to the next. Keep the emotional component out of the goal. That way there is no possibility of failure thus you will eliminate the fear of failure. You will only succeed if you keep moving forward with realistic goals. I mentioned the word “realistic” in that if you are a 20 handicap golfer and state you want to play PGA Tour golf in a year because you have consistently knocked out 2 strokes every month for the last year, you don’t understand the magnitude of your goal. Intelligent goal setting is the key to realization of your goals. Reference the SMART system of goal setting.

In closing, eliminating expectations of success may not be as effective in team environments due to how peer pressure can motivate underperforming athletes. But when you have no teammate, who can you compare yourself to? Therefore, this technique may be more appropriate for those playing individual sports. Dr. Richard Trammel

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