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playing with expectations...

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I have often wondered if expectation is the root of unhappiness.

Reading various writings this weekend, I came across this simple phrase:

‘ much of life happens outside of expectations’ – rebecca parker payne

It’s obvious, but the raw truth of it stuck out to me and stirred some questions…

What percentage of my life meets my expectations – dead on center? Are expectations different than goals? Does it make a difference if the expectation is of my self or of another, or even of the trees, the weather, traffic patterns? What would it be like to act, to do, to be without the burden of expectation? Would that be the very definition of being present? Relinquishing control of the next moment?

Brian has returned to playing tennis after many years of setting it aside. His expectations have shifted this past year as he meets a game he knows quite well, with a new body and mind. Yesterday I watched him play a long match – and I could see him struggle in moments. I wondered why – and so I wrote down 3 questions to ask him afterwards: Is it fatigue? Skill level? Or how you’ve shaped your thought? (The answer to each is a different path to a solution).

Turns out it was how he shaped his thoughts.

Later that same day, he played doubles with a partner who was having a similar difficulty. After several forced errors, the partner kept repeating that he just couldn’t get out of his head.

It’s a common phrase that suggests a physiological impossibility. The body is not separate from the mind. They are interdependent, inextricably entwined. When we say this particular phrase, we're chastising ourself for something we will never be able to do because it’s not how we are organized to function as a sentient being.

Besides, getting out of your head is not what is desired in this high-adrenaline moment… intelligence, perception, and the brain’s ability to assess and coordinate a response is precisely what is needed.

Perhaps what is really desired in this moment is the ability to choose a different thought.

Here's what I offered to Brian - with his permission, of course... since offering someone else another perspective ought to be an invitation.

"When you fail. When a ball goes into the net when you intended for it to pass over. What if you observe this, assess why it may have happened without a qualitative judgment, so you can choose something different the next moment the ball comes my way?

What’s practiced then, is agility of the mind as much as agility of the body – can you (re)frame the information you receive each time the ball passes over or into the net?

Failed expectations are, in a way, just information from an external source. Can you be grateful for the new information that will help you further refine a skill you desire to master?"

I watched Brian and his partner play again the next day with a team that had at least 25 years on them. You'd never know it. The difference was remarkable. Their bodies were less fatigued, more agile, and the younger men were clearly thrown off their game at the top of the match. I couldn't hear what they said to one another in the moments between sets, but I could see the difference in their bodies.

There was more communication, they were less scrunched in the spine, and there was more joy... Brian and his partner ended up losing the game, but they made the other team really work for it.

When they stepped off the court, both of them were a bit glow-y, knowing they'd really played well. I asked Brian about it, and he said one of the things he practiced was saying, "It's just information" - when the ball went to an unexpected place, other than he or his partner intended. 

Choosing another thought didn't always change his expectations, but it certainly affected his next move...

always in motion,


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  • Ah yes, body movement not meeting expectations! I got a heaping dose of that on Saturday when I, 45 years after being in the Nutcracker as a child, auditioned to be in the adult party scene. Hilariously horrifying, and ego-smashing don’t begin to describe it. But I now know to get to ballet class more regularly and try again. My friends are proud that I tried and I need to see myself with that perspective.

    Laura on

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