The ups and downs of expectations

confidence mindset Mar 20, 2024

I'm writing today's post in this sort of "in-between." I'm in between many handlers—and clients—coming home from the AKC Agility Nationals and my own preparation for my national specialty. So basically, expectations are flying!


My expectations are about the future, while some handlers are sorting through falling short of the expectations they set before Nationals.


I talk a LOT about setting appropriate goals for ourselves because when we do that, we can build our confidence, which in turn helps us perform more consistently and at higher levels. So today, we will first chat about setting such goals and then turn to the topic of disappointment. Because spoiler alert: sport has both and always will.



Understanding expectations:

We all have expectations - they're unavoidable. But it's best to be conscious of our expectations; otherwise, they will sneak up on us! That said, unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and erode confidence, while realistic ones can foster growth and resilience.

The (unsurprising) pitfalls of unrealistic expectations:

  1. Setting the bar too high: While aiming for excellence is the goal, setting unrealistic standards can lead to frustration and self-doubt. I'm not saying to dumb down our goals; just make them appropriate.
  2. Comparing ourselves: We know how I feel about comparison. Comparing ourselves to others can distort our perception of reality and undermine our confidence.
  3. Ignoring the journey: Success is not just about winning competitions; it's about the journey of growth and learning. Expecting instant results overlooks the value of patience, perseverance, and dedication required to achieve excellence. 


On the flip side ... the benefits of realistic expectations:

  1. Building confidence: Realistic expectations provide a solid foundation for building confidence. When we set achievable goals and milestones, each small victory reinforces our belief in our abilities and strengthens our confidence.
  2. Reducing disappointment: By aligning our expectations with reality, we minimize the risk of disappointment. While setbacks and challenges are inevitable, realistic expectations help us navigate them with resilience and optimism.
  3. Fostering growth mindset: Realistic expectations promote a growth mindset, encouraging us to view obstacles as opportunities for learning and improvement. Instead of viewing failure as a reflection of our abilities, we see it as feedback.


Practical tips for managing expectations:

  1. Set SMART goals: Define Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals to guide your training and competition efforts.
  2. Focus on progress, not perfection: Celebrate small victories and milestones along the way, recognizing that progress is a journey, not a destination.
  3. Stay present: Focus on the present moment rather than worrying about past failures or future outcomes. We literally can only affect the present moment so lean in (plus, that's where flow lives anyway!).


Now, if you believe your expectations were realistic and you fell short, you might be feeling frustrated, angry, or like none of this mindset stuff works! Before I lose you forever, here are some ways to respond to setbacks because in sports they are unavoidable (unfortunately!).


1. Embrace failure as feedback: Instead of viewing setbacks as a reflection of your abilities, see them as valuable learning experiences. Analyze what went wrong, identify areas for improvement, and use that knowledge to refine your training approach.

2. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself in moments of disappointment. Remember that setbacks are a natural part of the learning process, and they don't define your worth as a handler. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing a similar situation.

3. Reframe: Shift your focus from the outcome to the process. While it's natural to feel disappointed when things don't go as planned, remind yourself of your progress and lessons you've learned along the way. Celebrate the small victories and milestones, even if they're not always reflected in competition results.

4. Seek support: Don't be afraid to lean on your support network during challenging times. Whether it's fellow handlers, trainers, or friends and family, sharing your experiences and seeking guidance can provide valuable perspective and encouragement.

5. Adjust your approach: Use setbacks as an opportunity to reassess your goals and strategies. Are your expectations still realistic given your current circumstances? Do you need to adjust your training approach or seek additional support? Stay flexible and open-minded in your approach to overcoming obstacles.

6. Stay resilient: Remember that setbacks are temporary setbacks, not permanent roadblocks. Stay resilient in the face of adversity, maintaining your determination and commitment to your goals. With perseverance and resilience, you can overcome any challenge that comes your way.

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