“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
T-Minus two weeks till February! High Five for staying committed to your New Year’s Resolution! You’ve almost made it a whole month! To help keep your New Year's Resolution alive and well, we will examine the difference between thinking in terms of possibilities versus expectations.
Understanding The Difference Between Expectations and Possibilities.
Expectations are what you expect to happen. It’s drawing up a scenario in your head and expecting things to happen just as you imagined. Unfortunately, when things don’t go exactly as planned, you can get stuck because you don’t know how to respond, and you feel incompetent. They are essentially thoughts that place limitations. It’s the type of thinking that leads to stress, needing to play perfect, and fear of failure. Dialogue includes, “I expect ____, and if I don’t _____!” or “I need to _____, or else I _____!”
On the other hand, possibilities are what you “hope” or what you “want” to happen. When you hope and want, you make it a goal that is open-ended. Meaning, you have a game plan in mind, but you are also aware that there are a lot of random variables that make experiences unique as well. When you think of what is possible, it opens the door to creativity and exploration because you are willing and able to take chances and you aren’t afraid of what could happen, especially when things don’t go as planned. In essence, you just go out there, roll with the punches, and do it.
To imagine what is possible is much different from imagining what you expect because the former focuses on the moment, while the latter focuses on the outcome. Changing your thought from expectations to what’s possible can be subtle yet very different.
a. Expectations can be as big as, “I won’t be considered a great athlete unless I win a goal medal in the Olympics”, and as small as, “I need to beat this opponent because she isn’t as good as I am.”
b. On the other hand, possibilities can be as big as, “ I hope to go to the Olympics and to have an opportunity to win a gold medal,” and as small as “I want to do well against this next opponent. If I play to my strengths, I put myself in a position to play my best and compete.”
Take a moment to reread these examples. Think about how each makes you feel, especially if you have that mindset during competition.
As you know or will come to realize is that nothing ever happens exactly as you imagine, be it work, sports, or a conversation with a friend. However, the expectation of “needing to,” “expecting to,” or “having to” do it a certain way is very rigid and confining. It’s basically locking into a future expectation. And, if it doesn’t go exactly as planning, it will result in catastrophe.
Tips for creating a mindset of (endless) possibilities:
1. Think of all those first time experiences, like the first time you played your sport or the first time you met your best friend. In these moments, the possibilities were endless because you went into it with no expectations. You just went out there, tried it, put forth your best effort, and focused on the moment. It’s this outlook that motivates you to show up the next time, to fully engage, to enjoy the moment, and in certain cases, to seize the moment.
Treat each experience like it’s that first time experience or like each moment has endless possibilities! Just show up and see what happens. My father’s motto is “You never know!” Meaning, just be willing and able to try something, even if it seems scary, because you never know what will come of it.
2. Before you start something, like before the start of practice or competition, ask yourself the following questions:
a. What are your goals?
b. Are these goals realistic?
c. Where is this goal coming from? Are they personal goals, parental, or what the coaches want from you?
3. Take note of your limiting expectations before and during events like practices, trainings, and competitions.
4. Replace those expectations with possibilities. Do this by replacing statements like, “I need to…” or “I have to…” with statements like, “I hope to….” or “I want to…” When you want to do something you tend to feel excited and motivated. When you need to do something, you tend to avoid it like the plague.
5. After an event, reflect on:
a. Whether you accomplished the goals you set?
b. If things went as expected or if you faced some unexpected challenges and setbacks, how did you
respond? I.e., were you happy, satisfied, discouraged, or indifferent?
c. Were your expectations realistic?
d. Was it easier or harder than you imagined?
e. What are there things you need to work on or adjust before the next event (i.e., competition)?
6. Before your next event, feed your self-confidence by creating goals that are task focused versus being outcome focused. Create a list of objectives and strategies, it serves as your game plan and approach (the process) versus what you need to see happen (the outcome).
In the end, it comes down to becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions. Expectations are good to have and can push you to put in max effort and to do your best. They can also rob you of your joy and passion for your sport. Focusing your lens on what possible, rather than on what's expected, will allow you to play for the moment, appreciated the things you do well, and to take each moment as an opportunity to learn and to be inspired by the experience.