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8: The High Cost of High Expectations

High expectations are simultaneously a driver of success and a cause of failure. They’re a double edged sword capable of pushing you to be better and better, fueling motivation, but at the cost of your confidence. Confidence that is needed to handle the intense ups and downs of punting. You want to be steady mentally, not riding a roller coaster of emotions.

On the surface high expectations don’t seem like much of a problem. Why wouldn’t you want to aim for the highest peaks? Of course you do and I agree with you. I don’t want you to think for one second that my intent is for you to lower your gaze and accept outcomes below what you want to obtain. I actually want to help you get there, but to do that you need to understand the difference between goals and expectations, as well as the high cost of high expectations.

Imagine your goals are the peak of a mountain, and to reach them you have to climb up there. You can’t take a helicopter to the top, you’ve got to take every step. When you are making that climb with high expectations looming over you (which damages confidence and I’ll explain more on that in a bit), it feels like you’re climbing that mountain with no rope – climbers call it “free soloing,” where one wrong move means you’ll plummet to your demise.

At any moment you could feel like a failure because you don’t have the confidence to support yourself on that climb. Instead, when you are not “free soloing” and you climb with anchors every 3 to 4 meters, if you slip, you might get a little hurt but you can easily brush it off and figure out how to get past the part where you fell. Metaphorically, confidence gives you those anchors and the ability to recover quickly.

Over the last several years I’ve noticed more and more clients coming to me with problems in their mental game, not knowing that high expectations were the cause. Since this problem can be hard to spot, here are a few common characteristics to help you see if it’s an issue for you:

  • Checking results every day and tweaking your system (both model and staking) after just one day of poor performance
  • Taking a system offline very quickly if there are a few poor days of performance or if profit and loss dips below zero
  • Keeping a system off when it dips below zero for a long time to ‘work’ on the system
  • Spending an unjustifiable amount of time writing perfect code when a fast work around will do
  • Putting intense pressure on yourself to achieve but you can’t handle the pressure
  • Feeling like nothing is good enough, even after winning
  • Never applaud good results, or not for very long
  • Having a hard time moving on, letting go, or getting over a mistake
  • Becoming self-critical over the slightest missteps
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others

With these in mind let’s look at two causes of the damage high expectations inflict on confidence.

Expectations ≠ Goals

Many people think expectations and goals are the same thing, but their difference isn’t just a choice of words. There’s an intent that goes with each that is widely different.

Whether you realize it or not, an expectation implies a guarantee. So in the back of your mind you’re guaranteeing that you will attain the results you want, which means that you believe you either have the required skills to get there or you’re certain you’ll develop them along the way. As a result, expectations don’t care one bit about progress, they only care about getting the outcome that you seek. So when you underperform, even just by a bit, expectations unleash. No wonder you’re anxious – you fear the wrath of a potential beating.

On the other hand, goals imply the road is uncertain and while the skills needed may be known, how you’ll acquire them is not. Goals imply learning. Goals imply ups and downs. Goals imply facing unexpected problems and the potential for chaos, all of which needs to be solved for.

How does all of this impact confidence? You derive no confidence from results that meet your expectations. Why would you get credit for just doing what you’re supposed to do? Since your expectations are so high, most often you fall short and lose confidence, having underperformed relative to your expectation. Over time you develop a negative self-perception because in your mind all you’ve done is underperform.

This, my friends, is a rigged game. The way to make it fair is to convert your expectations into goals, building out a plan with the smaller goals that build on each other along the way. Doing so allows you to get credit for your progress, learning, problem-solving and effort. You can be proud of yourself for each climb up the mountain. Doing this doesn’t undermine your motivation like many fear that it would. Instead it fuels it because your confidence climbs along with you. You’re no longer fearful of outcomes, you launch yourself towards your goals knowing that you have the internal confidence to handle whatever punting throws back at you. Of course, I’m not talking about taking on excessive risk, I’m simply saying to not fear bad outcomes that slow your learning and limit your success.

Reshaping Your Perspective

Now that you have a clear understanding of the problem, here are two things you can do about it. First, you need to change how you evaluate yourself day-to-day. Shift your focus towards the decisions and actions that you take each day and rate yourself on them. Do that first before looking at your daily monetary results. Thus, even if you lost money, if you performed well yourself, your emotions start to shift and you’ll feel less bad. This is a skill like any other so don’t expect your emotions to dramatically change over night. But if you keep up with it day-after-day, eventually you’ll care much more about what you have control over in the short-term, rather than outcomes that are highly variable.

Second, you need to correct your faulty perception of the past that was skewed by your high expectations. To help you complete this task, I’ve created a worksheet that you can download.

Follow these steps:

  • Step 1: List out your accomplishments as a punter, and do your personal ones if punting is new to you, or if high expectations are a problem there too.
  • Step 2: For each accomplishment, answer the three questions listed in the worksheet.
  • Step 3: List the skills you’ve acquired as a punter, or a professional in general (page 3 of the worksheet).

Here’s the trick, you can only do this work for up to 10 to 15 minutes at a time, 3 times per day. Reshaping your perspective is not something you can do all at once. To truly reshape it you must commit to a regular dose of this work.

I like to think of doing this work like eating food. For years your high expectations have been starving you of food that you rightfully earned. You can’t eat all of the food you need for a month in one sitting, you must have meals each day. Do the same with this process and you’ll be amazed at how much stronger your confidence will become. And as your confidence stabilizes and strengthens, you will have the anchors you need to climb the mountain and reach your goals.

Jared Tendler, MS is a mental game coach for world champion poker players, PGA Tour players, sports bettors and financial traders from 45 countries. He is the author of three highly acclaimed books, The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2 and his newest book The Mental Game of Trading. Find out more about Jared’s work at: