On Expectations

When I wrote this week’s Jaguars Wind Sprints there was a desire to continue with the idea of putting forth a new and better mantra for how we observe games. Football might be the direct focus but obviously it is not exclusive to any sport. Entertainment in general, one for which we might find ourselves actively invested with our emotions, can find us at our best and our worst. Because of this it seems we might want to find a better balance – a more rational means by which we experience it.

Sit in any stadium, walk through any tailgate or visit any sports bar and you are likely to find an altercation facilitated by “losing control”. Maybe it is alcohol. Maybe it is dialogue. The point is that we have entered a state of inauthenticity as we would like to see ourselves. Is the debate precipitated by the game really warranting such aggression, either through language or physical act?

If we divorce ourselves from the person to person conflict it is arguably the on-field product which is our direct cause for dissatisfaction. The team fails. The opponent says “you suck”. The impaired state allows us to react without thinking. All would be fine if the team was just winning.

And for whatever reason the fan cannot understand why the failure continues or happened in the first place.

In reality that is a false statement. The fan does know, but instead of approaching the event with reasonable expectations they carry the banner of “best possible outcome”. To a greater extent even if carrying the banner they do so not appreciating that this somewhat implausible outcome is simply a positive approach.

The Notre Dame reference, and specifically the student experience, for me was an incredibly proper way to set expectations. Different opponents at different sites could be contrary but the goal is not to make an absolute claim of these students. Rather it is noting at this given time the mood was approaching perfect.

I was privy to only a single instance of “smack talking” which appeared to be from two drunk groups who may not have been students at either school. All other talk centered around past problems controlling Michigan’s Denard Robinson and that while Irish coach Brian Kelly has made strides to build a better defense there were still questions as to production both defensively and offensively.

Yet even with these faults framed they moved into the stadium with great excitement and in spite of the myriad of turnovers and penalties they cheered and danced on cue from the band. Additionally there were no negative chants against opposing players or officials when the situation became unappealing. In short, they were cheering their team to win and not the other team to lose.

My interest here is creating the best possible game day experience. While some find antagonism enhances things, I tend to see this a lesser path. Sitting with the “enemy” has always been more pleasant when a community exists and one piece to that is what I expect from my team.

In the New York Times article What Did You Expect? It Makes a Difference, Alina Tugend writes:

…there is no template for managing expectations. It seems as if it is best to have low expectations of things out of our control, realistic expectations of things we can control to some degree and high expectations of ourselves.

And, perhaps the greatest truth of all is: always expect the unexpected.

He cites David Rock’s book “Your Brain at Work“.

There are two sides of expectations — what we expect from others and what we expect from ourselves. And how we manage those expectations is critical to how we view our experiences and pursue our goals.

Mr. Rock, who is also director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, which aims to improve leadership through applying the latest research on the brain, says there is a physiological reason we are disappointed when life does not meet our expectations. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brain — and makes us feel good — when something positive happens.

Take an event as mundane as crossing the street. We push the button and expect the light to change in maybe 30 seconds. If it takes five seconds, “there’s a pleasant release of dopamine, and a general feeling of well-being,” he said, even if it’s only fleeting.

The downside is that when our expectations are not met — let’s say it takes a minute for the light to change — our negative feelings are much stronger than the good feelings we get when expectations are exceeded.

The carry over to grasping the problem is that the reach goes beyond entertainment. When sitting in your car and someone moves into your lane without a turn signal the mantra serves in this instance. What was your expectation? That everyone would be mindful and use the signal? If they don’t is it a personal attack on you? We really don’t know why the person performed the act. Maybe they are listening to a song that reminds them of a lost loved one and briefly became less attentive. Maybe they realized they are late to a meeting and immediately reacted to a need to adjust their path. Whatever the reason the fact that we get angry implies we expect things to follow a certain flow.

This does not, however, save us from sadness, anger or frustration. Obviously those are natural reactions when the outcome fails to bring joy regardless of our expectations. Yet our target is not to eliminate those emotions from our menu. What we are looking for is improving how we directly react with others so they are not the bearers of our reactions.

As Tugend further noted:

…how we manage expectations applies to everything, from dating to job searches to what presents we’re going to get for our birthdays.

I have yet to see anyone completely miserable after a football game say they enjoyed that level of suffering. Why not therefore break the chain and invoke a better approach, one that will serve you at multiple levels.


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