This is the final part of my post on expectations and reality. Part one is here, on setting realistic expectations as a leader or for yourself.
Rumbling with Reality
Even with realistic expectations, what happens when the result falls short? You can’t change what happened. It is what it is. All true, but we’re left with a choice. A choice of perception. What direction do you want to accept your reality? Up or down? We can choose to anguish over the less than desired outcome or be grateful there is any outcome at all. Even if it was a complete disaster, some fail to even try.
Every year the Olympics are here, old articles and research sprout up on the happiness levels for each athlete on the podium. Through decades of research, they’ve found that bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists despite their final ranking. Bronze medalists choose the upward state of reality that they made it to the podium, that they beat the dozen other athletes behind them.
Silver medalists, while excited, didn’t get gold. They choose the downward state of reality. They were that close to be being number one. The fact they beat thirteen other Olympic athletes is ignored and so begins the what ifs. If only they could have ran a little faster, scored a couple more points, could they be on top. The point spread between Gold, Silver, and Bronze is infinitesimal, normally a few milliseconds or hundredths of a point. That’s the reality. They all did amazing so one would think their happiness is proportionally equal. The choice of mindset is what makes the difference.
Our Reality is Our Choice
We have the same choice as world-class athletes when we’re faced with outcomes. We can choose to see the downsides, the shortfalls, or the achievements that exist in the contours of them. There’s a reframing of reality that has to happen that is much harder than just being optimistic or “looking on the bright side”. Optimism is an attitude. It’s maintaining energy and hopefulness throughout the process even when not everything goes how you expected. Once we get to the end though, what is there left to be optimistic about? Next time? Sure, it’ll be better then but you still have to manage the first one.
Reframing our reality is understanding the meaning, recognizing the growth and progress made along the way. It removes the what if questions and rewards us presence, to Show Up in the moment. For trivial outcomes, reframing can be effortless and you’re able to shrug it off. Larger outcomes like career changes, tough feedback, and losses take more effort, more mindfulness to see though it to the end. The larger the gap between expectations and reality, the more difficult it is to reframe the situation.
When reality hits hard, the emotional triggers are immediate – disappointment, anger, and regret. These are unavoidable but choosing the reality you subscribe to lessens the time they are felt. Choosing the upward state of reality shifts our mindset from disappointment to determination for next time, from anger to acceptance, and from regret to reflection. When mindfulness is practiced, the quicker it gets until both the emotions and reframe happen simultaneously.
To help, weight the importance of the outcome against your own life. Ask yourself if this would matter in a week? A month? How about a year or five? So much of our angst comes from feeling like it must be right in this very moment. That what happens today or this week is premonition for the next six months. In truth, what happened today doesn’t flow into tomorrow so long as you’re willing to shift your mindset, choose a better reality, and move on.
Ready, Expect, Reframe
Expectations versus reality. A continuous battle we all share. Start on the right foot by setting realistic expectations that make sense to you. Don’t be fooled by society’s expectations. As new information comes in, stay optimistic but adjust your expectations accordingly. When reality knocks and the outcome is absolute, your choice is your mental state. Think like a bronze medalist. The sooner you can reframe and reorient your reality, the better off you’ll be.