Expectations and Goals: Know the difference to create a process mindset and enhance your performance

June 6, 2017 01:01 PM

By Dr. Larry Lauer

It is important to clarify the difference between expectations and goals because how we think about these concepts dramatically affects mindset and tennis performance. And all of us must become comfortable with those expectations and goals that are challenging us to be our best.

Often players remark that they want to have “no expectations for this tournament.” That is all well and great, but in reality, players do have expectations about how far they want to go in the tournament and how well they want to play. It is impossible to have no expectation or goal. In fact, a player reporting that she wants to have no goal or expectation is actually a goal/expectation. Our brains are wired to have expectations and goals.

It is very important to be clear about the differences between goals with expectations. For example, when going to the movies, the goal may be to enjoy the movie and the experience, but there are also expectations. Expectations might be that movie theater is clean, safe, the movie starts on time, and there is good customer service. Fair enough. These are things that others can control for the most part.

When goals become expectations, they becomes trouble. The expectation is that the movie be absolutely enthralling or the environment be devoid of noise. Or, that the people in the theater have perfect movie etiquette. What happens if the movie isn't as entertaining as expected and everything doesn’t fall into place as it should? The movie experience becomes bad or awful!

The same concept applies to tennis. Players may have goals, such as making the quarters; these are targets they hope to hit. In contrast, expectations are more hard lines of things that must happen; otherwise, it's a bad experience. When the outcome, such as winning or playing amazing and feeling great, become the expectation, the level of stress and anxiety increase and, more often than not, the player will be disappointed. Remember, things do not have to be “just right” to compete. Resilience!

Expectations are things that must occur, like being on time, telling the truth and treating people with respect. They are not the outcome. Think of expectations as character-related.

In contrast, goals are targets we're striving to hit, but players must realize that people, in general, achieve probably less than 50 percent of the goals they set. For example, I set goals every single day and probably reach half of them or less but make sure to achieve the most important goals. But, what if I had a goal to finish writing this piece, but then four important meetings emerged on my schedule that day? Is the day awful now and am I a “good-for-nothing slacker?”

I used to beat myself up mentally for not reaching all of my goals. Now I understand that goals are something to strive for and it’s ok if you miss in the striving. In fact, sometimes my work products are better because I took more time! I wasn’t prepared at that point to finish writing the article.

Continuing this example, expectations are things that are under my control, such as whether or not I am respectful. This does not fluctuate from day to day because it relates to who I am as a person.

Ultimately, expectations are things that players control and can create. It is better to expect character and not outcome. Otherwise, players create unneeded pressure and anxiety. Goals, on the other hand, are targets to strive for, but achieving them is not guaranteed. And this is acceptable if the player has given his genuine best!

Let's remember not to confuse expectations and goals. This way, we all stay focused on the process and yet are not afraid to have expectations.

Take Home, Take Action:

Write out your process goals as well as your expectations. Make sure you differentiate between what is a goal and what is an expectation. Look at what you wrote and ask yourself several questions, like:

  • “Are my goals focused on how I will play and improve?”
  • “Are my expectations realistic and on things that I can control?”
  • “How can I make sure that my goals stay goals and I don’t beat myself up each time I don’t reach the target?”
  • “What do I do if I start to expect outcome goals, such as winning?”