The Dark Clouds of Expectations

Expectations, our own or that of others, can be good.  They help us to extend ourselves, go beyond our comfort zone and realise our potential in the various endeavours of our life.  However, when expectations become too great, they can be disabling and damaging to our physical and mental health.  Excessive expectations can lead to unhealthy levels of stress and the attendant negative impacts on our bodies and minds.

Previously, I discussed the tyranny of expectations, drawing on a blog post by Phillip Moffitt, author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity.  In this post, I want to focus on the disabling effects of expectations when expectations become too great.  Recent events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the catalyst for this reflection.

Impact of excessive expectations on elite athletes

During the Tokyo Olympics what struck me was the number of elite athletes whose performance was adversely affected by excessive expectations, their own and that of others.  An athlete who readily comes to mind is Ash Barty.

Ash Barty, world No. 1 tennis player, was beaten in the first round of the Olympic women’s singles by world No.48, Sara Sorribes Tormo.  The straight sets loss created a media storm.  Barty commented after the match that “she wanted to do really well” at the Olympics but her game was “too erratic” – she made an uncharacteristic 55 unforced errors.  The expectations of others around Barty’s performance prior to the Olympics constantly made headlines in the press – she was  Australia’s only  guaranteed gold medal hope and would meet Osaka in a classic final that would decide who was the real world No.1 tennis player.  Barty admitted after the match that she felt the stress of expectations but did not perform at her normal best. 

What was interesting as an observer, was her failure to demonstrate her normal trade-mark skill of being able to assess an opponent’s strategy and adjust her own game if things were not going well.  As Phillip Moffit points out in his book, excessive expectations can lead to “emotional chaos” at the expense of clarity – the resultant excessive stress can lead to “frazzle”, a state of conflicting thoughts and emotions, blocking out access to personal creativity in the situation. 

Ben Crowe, Barty’s mentor and performance coach, makes the point that one of Barty’s great strengths is her capacity to block out distractions which can take the form of expectations, who is watching the match or any multitude of things that draw attention away from the present moment.  Ben sees his job in part as helping Barty to manage distractions and he gives her feedback after a match about his observations of how she has handled distractions during a match (drawing on both displayed non-verbal behaviour and performance level).  He stated that one of her “superpowers” is to be able “to separate self-worth from expectations of others”.

As Ben explained, you have no control over the expectations of others and limited control over outcomes.  So many things can impact the outcome such as the excessive heat during the Tokyo Olympic tennis matches, the absence of spectators, anxiety about the pandemic and its impacts or personal weariness, ill-health or injuries.  Ben observed that being able to separate your own sense of personal worth from outcomes enables you to separate goals/dreams from whether or not you achieve them.  He explained that Barty’s sense of her own self-worth is rooted in her foundational values of “being a good human being” who is both respectful and respected.  He maintains that her healthy self-confidence flows from a focus on “human-being” over “human-doing” – the being vs doing focus that is prominent in mindfulness.

Reflection

If we define ourselves by our outcomes in whatever arena we operate, we will be captured by the “tyranny of expectations” – our own and that of others. However, if we focus on the process rather than the outcomes and express gratitude for what we have and can do, we are less likely to be caught up in the distraction and disablement of expectations.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and other mindfulness activity, we can become better at paying attention in the present moment, achieve greater clarity about the present situation (however challenging it might be) and tap into our inner resources including our creativity.

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Image by mbll from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Healthy Confidence or Superior Conceit?

In a previous post I discussed how mindfulness can be an effective antidote to narcissism, both in curbing our own narcissistic tendencies and managing the aftermath of a relationship with a narcissistic boss or intimate partner.  I also highlighted the work of Rick Hanson who promotes healthy confidence to achieve an effective balance between needing to be seen as superior and developing a grounded but strong sense of self.  Rick pursues this dilemma in his podcast titled, Confidence or Narcissism?  One of our challenges in developing healthy confidence is to find effective role models  – many of our leaders in government, business and sport have failed to resolve this dilemma in their public lives.

Superior conceit displayed by sports stars – defective role models

In the earlier blog post, I shared Bonnie Duran’s perspective on narcissism where she relates it to the Buddhist concept of superior conceit – the need to be “better than” or “superior to”.  Bonnie explains superior conceit in one of her podcast talks titled, Conceit and Latent Torments.

There are many instances of elite sportsmen and sportswomen displaying superior conceit and related narcissistic behaviour.  For example, narcissistic behaviours have been exhibited by international tennis stars who:

  • Abuse chair umpires and line umpires
  • Throw their racquets in disgust or anger and/or throw tantrums on the tennis court if things don’t go their way
  • Demonstrate a total lack of empathy or concern for the feelings of others
  • Boast about how much they have earned from tennis and their total asset worth (as if their financial resources are a measure of their personal worth)
  • Show a lack of respect for their opponents and/or tennis fans
  • Seek to win at any cost, even if this means cheating or bullying others.

Ash Barty – an effective role model for healthy confidence

Ash Barty has achieved more in one year (2019) than most tennis players (male or female) achieve in a lifetime.  She reached World Number 1 ranking in June 2019 (and held it at the end of the year) and won the French Open, the Birmingham Classic, the Miami Open, and the WTA Women’s Finals – Shenzhen (after being runner-up at the China Open).  Ash was the winner of a tour-topping 52 matches

On top of these achievements, she has been awarded (in 2019) the Don Award (by Sport Australia Hall of Fame), the Women’s Health Sportswoman of the Year, and the ITP Fed Cup Heart Award (for outstanding courage and distinctive representation & commitment).   The individual Don Award is for an Australian athlete “who, by their achievements and example over the last 12 months, are considered to have the capacity to most inspire the nation”.   These awards recognise that in so many ways Ash is a role model, not only for sportspeople but all of us who aspire to achieve “healthy confidence” and its attendant rewards.  Her status as a role model for other Indigenous women had been recognised in 2018 when she was named Australia’s first National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador.

Ash demonstrates healthy confidence through the following traits:

  • Resilience in the face of adversity and setbacks
  • Recognition of the need to take time out to achieve a better balance in her life and master self-management (she spent 18 months playing state-level cricket)
  • Respect for tennis opponents, officials and fans (a trait that is widely acknowledged and appreciated)
  • Empathy and compassion for others
  • Authenticity and humility
  • Amazing capacity to focus and sustain her concentration
  • Valuing and publicly recognising her support team.

Ash readily acknowledges the profound contribution of her mentor and mindset coach, Ben Crowe, in shaping her outstanding success.  Ben observed that, in addition to the abovementioned traits, Ash demonstrates the following characteristics:

  • Acknowledges that there is strength in vulnerability, rather than needing to claim or pursue perfection
  • Recognises that she can “write her own story”, not accept habituated, negative self-stories
  • Has the ability to let go of the things she cannot control while maintaining focus on what is under her control
  • Does not let tennis define who she is, but pursues her true self and values depth of character
  • Is prepared to put in the hard work to achieve continuous self-improvement and excellence.

His insightful and revealing explanation of the underlying philosophy that he has been able to impart to Ash explains why she is an exemplar of healthy confidence. 

One of the problems for us in trying to develop our own healthy confidence is that bad behaviour has dominated the attention of mainstream media, whereas Ash’s exemplary behaviour has been buried under the controversy associated with narcissistic behaviour displayed by some international tennis players.  Kate O’Halloran, writing for the ABC, expressed the hope that Ash’s French Open win will turn the spotlight more on “an exemplary sportswoman whose respected demeanour and success” has failed to attract the media attention that it deserves.

Reflection

There are some very profound lessons for us in the philosophy and behaviour of Ash Barty and some ideas about how we might develop our own healthy confidence.  However, we should be careful of joining the chorus to criticise the narcissistic behaviour of individual international sports stars while indulging in narcissistic tendencies ourselves. 

We can ask ourselves when the last time was that we made a point of highlighting our qualifications or the nature and breadth of our experience when meeting someone for the first time? When did we attempt to outdo someone else’s story (about the drama we experienced, the places we have seen or the achievements we have realised)? How often do we interrupt others’ conversations to focus attention on ourselves? When have we thought that our car/house/dress attire is better than that of someone else’s?  Do we ever measure our personal worth in terms of the assets we have or the importance of our job?  As we grow in mindfulness, we can become progressively more aware of our own narcissistic tendencies and begin to develop a healthy confidence and deep sense of our real self.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.