Tonight was a pretty good night. The penultimate workout of the 2014 CrossFit Open was tonight and I surpassed my goal of 165 reps in 14 minutes. This is the first Open that I’ve fully participated in and it’s been a rewarding experience. It’s interesting how expectations affect our perceptions of both reality and our experience. Going into both 14.1 and 14.2, I had firm expectations of what my performance would be and I was disappointed with both, sorely in 14.2. Based on the first two, I went into 14.3 with almost zero expectations and after I was done, finishing with 7 reps in the 275 round of deadlifts, I was thrilled. As it turns out, my best performance of the three was 14.2 when I finished in the top 37% in my division. 14.3, a workout I both enjoyed and felt I did well at, resulted in a 69% finish. Our expectations color our experience of reality, often in a negative way. Often, our expectations don’t accurately reflect our abilities either.
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Michael J. Fox
The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius
What does that mean for our happiness? How do we balance our expectations of ourselves and those around us with the fact that oftentimes we are poor judges of what we can or cannot do? Eastern thought teaches us that acceptance leads to happiness but misinterpreted it can lead to complacency and laziness. Reinhold Niebuhr taught us to have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change which is the key. So many of us have expectations, usually of the other people in our lives, that cannot be reached and regardless are beyond our control. Expect nothing of others either positive or negative and accept that people choose to do with their lives as they wish.
The power of expectation comes when applied to our own abilities. For large parts of my life, I have expected little or nothing from myself. Complacency sets in and sadness and despair often follow. However, our own actions are the things we control completely and therefore, applying expectations to them can result in exceptional joy and achievement. When we focus on others, we are doomed to sadness. When we expect more from ourselves and work to achieve it, we are filled with joy. Taking what God has given us and striving to excel leads to happiness. When we are disappointed in not achieving our expectations, the natural response is to lay blame elsewhere. Instead, look inward and discover how to reach those goals that were set. If they were unrealistic and set without concern for constraints, adjust them accordingly and then work to achieve them.
From about the beginning of my generation to the present day, we have been told how fantastic, smart, pretty and capable we are. Most research now seems to imply that this is a mistake. Kids who are told they are smart tend to shy away from doing things outside their comfort zone. I fight this all the time. I have a good friend who thinks you are good at something or you are not. The problem with this entire philosophy is it deemphasizes the effect and meaning of effort. Our expectations are often predicated on what we think we are good at. But with effort, even a reasonably minimal amount, we can improve and grow in all things.
This is another lesson from CrossFit. CrossFit hopes to improve fitness across 10 fitness domains. Coming into CrossFit, it’s likely that people are good in only a few of them, possibly none of them. As we progress as athletes, we typically make broad gains in some domains while lagging in others. This is natural. What is unnatural is to assume we will never be good in the others and ignore them. The modal programming in CrossFit prevents us from focusing only on our strengths. Instead of believing we are only talented in certain areas, CrossFit teaches us to focus on our weaknesses and their improvement as a way to become stronger.
This is another lesson to take from expectations. Find the things in life that you are weak in and focus on them. Make a plan and turn your weakness into a strength. Upon doing that, choose another weakness. Avoid unrealistic expectations of yourself and expectations of others in general. You will be surprised the happiness that can come into your life with such a policy.