How many days, events, outings, trips, sessions, and relationships have been ruined by expectation?

We are let down when outcomes don’t match what we expect.  As we reflect, we are robbed of any good from the circumstance, good that is usually due.  Setting expectations is the perfect way to be let down, in fact, it’s the most common way we are.  We build up the future in our minds so much that the likelihood of us being satisfied becomes a low probability event.  Setting ourselves up for failure is the common phrase.

So why do we do it?

When you have an expectation set, the only place you have to go is down.  Sure, you will fulfill your expectations sometimes, but this is impossible to sustain and you will eventually return to disappointment.  I know this feeling all too well.


You see, I play games that involve money and prizes (sometimes A LOT of them).  The two games I play are Magic The Gathering and poker.  Both involve a risk of finance and time as well as provide a monetary prize to the winner.  Both are competitive and highly emotional games.  Losing is tough, it takes an emotionally-resilient mind to handle loss consistently and not let it affect one’s play.

Winning provides a temporary high that lasts only until your next loss.  Losing generates hampering internal dialog and makes one question their motivation in playing the game at all.  The “I hate this game” syndrome creeps in.  Breaks are integral to both games because of this.  No one is capable of losing consistently and maintaining 100% mental clarity in their play decisions.  Because of this, one must step away from the game and stabilize his thoughts when going through a losing streak.

While losing is tough and no one wants to do it, it can provide huge opportunity to learn and improve your skill.  Unfortunately, this is hard to do objectively when so much emotion is attached to the result of the game.  Many of the best players in the world have the ability to make analytical and emotionless decisions when playing the game, even when vast sums of money are involved.  This is hard to do, probably impossible, for anyone not playing at these levels.  While these players may have expectations of what they want to win, they are still the best at eliminating that expectation during play.  This is important because results-oriented thinking like expectation has a negative effect on decision in game.

So, what does all this have to do with expectation?  I believe these same pitfalls–results oriented and expectation based thinking–lay in the weeds for us in our everyday lives.  We tie our decisions to what we think could, may, won’t, or should happen.  We try to predict and control the future.  Emotions and incomplete information as well as a health dose of pure randomness will always foil our plans.  We are then let down.

I always set my ambitions high and expect the best results when I play any game–I’m very competitive and I love to win.  And what happens when my results don’t match my expectations?

A bigger crash: more disappointment, more bitterness, more blame.

The irony of this, for me, is that I tend to worry less about life and what happens.  I take a Stoical approach in which I don’t try to cohere the universe to my will and attempt to better accept that which happens.  But in games, the need to control and win overtakes this instinct and I find myself blaming bad luck, others luck, and/or my decisions within the game.  Because of the skill aspect of these games I find myself creating the expectation that I must play better than others and that I should win as a result.  What I’ve been experiencing lately is I do play better than my opponents (this is purely objective observation) and I am still losing.

Here lies the difficult task: I must accept this as a part of the game.

Any game that involves luck and skill involves losing.  There is no way you can ever win 100% of the time.

So what is the answer? I wish I knew.

Detachment from result is a good start–the Stoic way.  When you have no attachment to the outcome you always win.  Then, when you actually win, it’s just a bonus.  But doesn’t this rob us of excitement?  Possibly.  But I would rather, much rather, curb the disappointments and lesson the hi as a result.  The disappointments are what cause the pain and misery.

As a general rule you should always seek to normalize your emotional swings (just like poker swings, which suck).  Most people go through life thinking they are fine and in control.  Sure, as long as the status quo is meet, as long as life is the way you like it.  But what happens when something goes wrong?  For most, life falls apart and they haven’t the slightest clue how to put it back together.  With the correct mindset–one that understands what expectation and attachment is and seeks to minimize it–we can combat falling too deep into a hole when life kicks inevitability kicks us square in the ass.

Emotional control, whether it be for games or life, can go a long way in smoothing out the emotional roller coaster that is all too common for the human condition. When you can make remain objective and analytical in the face of emotion you will make better decisions as well as mitigate the negative mental strain that creeps in.

Study the Stoic principles–free yourself from externals and expectation–and you will be better served and have better results in everything; games, relationships, work, traffic, life, whatever.


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