Expectations Backfire.

As counterintuitive as it seems, drop your expectations, they backfire.  I learned that lesson again this past week.

I had a great week practicing my cello.   I practiced every day at least an hour and on two days I even practiced twice.  I was so pleased!  Then lesson day arrived.  Usually I preface my lessons with a brief summation of my week “didn’t get as much done as I hoped,” or “scattered week again” or I voice some lame reason excusing my lack of progress.  But not this week.  I prefaced my lesson with “Great week practicing” and proceeded to have one of my most frustrating lessons ever. 

My ‘performance’ started off dreadful then deteriorated.  I was catapulted into high frustration mode – a first for me at a lesson.  And of course, frustration only makes matters worse. 

Frustration is something I experience more often than I care to admit, when practicing in the privacy of my living room with only the dog listening (truth be told, she gets up and leaves more often than not!)  If my frustration persists, I simply put down the cello and do something else – which was not really an option during my lesson. 

Fortunately, my teacher has a ton of experience (not to mention patience) with us not-so-novice-anymore-but-still-not-polished-types and was able to help me reframe my frustration into some useful strategies.

Since then I have been pondering what happened.  What triggered my frustration to such a nasty degree when I had a great week practicing? 

Expectations.  I had expectations I failed to meet.  I fully expected my lesson would reflect my week of awesome practice.  Nope.  I just created a ton of frustration. 

What a fascinating paradox!  We set expectations to increase our motivation, to propel us forward and to achieve more.  I expected practicing more consistently would make for a more polished performance.  Instead, I ended up questioning if I should stop wasting my time on such futile endeavors.  Complete backfire! 

I also want to point out that I never defined my expectations, I just had expectations which I ‘just know’ I did not achieve.  Hmmm… If my expectations were never defined, how did I determine if I achieved them or not?  Is it just some random moving target, I use to make sure I never meet the mark? 

Seriously?  How ridiculous is this?

What did I learn from all of this?  At the very least I learned to define my expectations with measurable clarity.  What exactly is it that I am trying to achieve anyway?  What does ‘play cello better’ actually mean?  Hard to define that expectation huh? 

Instead try this reframe – focus on the process.  I can easily define a process.  Practice cello 45 minutes daily.  Identify a problem spot.  Sort it out.  Identify similar passage.  Sort it out in the same way.  Work on measures 1 through 8, then 8 through 16, then altogether.  Work on shifting.  Work on intonation.  Work on bowing.  Work on string crossings.  Work on scales.  Work on thumb position.  So many options!  So much more helpful than ‘play better.’

Focus on the process.

What does this have to do with weight loss?  Everything. 

So often we focus on some ill-defined expectation – feel better, or be healthier.  Or even worse, we let the almighty bathroom scale dictate our success and our happiness.  How many perfectly good mornings has the number on the bathroom scale ruined?  (Actually, I should ask how many perfectly good mornings has your thought about the number on the bathroom scale ruined?)

Want to lose weight?  Focus on the process – no sugar, no flour, no snacking, fast nightly, eat to nourish not console, allow urges, change your thoughts.  So many options!  So much more helpful than ‘feel better.’

Focus on the process.  Then tweak and tinker, and tweak and tinker some more until your process delivers your clearly defined expectation.  Not only that, you will have learned the process that will ensure your weight loss is permanent.

Drop expectations (they backfire!)

Focus on the process. 
Tweak and tinker. 
Surpass your expectation. 

Such a paradox!

Buff it up my friends
Dr. Karen