Those Damned Expectations

Peak performance is about paradox. Be intense and stay relaxed at the same time. Play with bravado and humility simultaneously. Be fully trained nearly beyond the bounds of health – and fully rested too.

The bigger picture of peak performance is the same. When we commit to big goals, we can be seduced by the expectations that go with them. We can lose track of the work needed to get there and lose sight of our progress. Both of these diminish our potential. Today, we’ll talk about setting aside expectations and keeping connected to progress.


Perspective makes the experience of pursuing goals more effective and rewarding.

While it’s useful to attack our huge goals and aspire to greater achievement it’s also important to keep things in perspective and to celebrate successes. Let’s say your huge goal is dominance. You want to be the number one company or the number one athlete or have the greatest social impact of any activist in history. If our expectation is achieving that at the next milestone, we are setting ourselves up for frustration. Becoming the Dominant One can feel like trudging forward, but there is a more rewarding, effective road.

A problem with enormous goals like dominance is that they are always in the future until they aren’t. Sometimes we only see dominance in retrospect.

In the meantime, it can be a pretty bleak road where we only see disappointment at not meeting our expectations. Even the victories seem smaller than we want.

But let’s step back for some perspective. What seems disappointing today might have been an unimaginable performance five years ago. Most of the time we don’t see that. Our progress is entangled with end goals and ego. Expectations. We’ve lost sight of how wonderfully we are moving forward, and with that we’ve lost an opportunity to be even more dominant.


Seeing progress gives us access to confidence. When we are bound by expectations, our self-talk might sound like “why is it never good enough?!?!?!” or “of course! Another mistake that puts me behind everyone else.

Freeing ourself from expectations with a bit of perspective, we are free to say “that’s not the level I’m ultimately going for, but it’s so much better than last time.” We give ourselves credit for progress, but there’s something else available. One of the key factors in clutch, dominant performance is confidence or bravado. By giving ourselves credit, we also give ourselves permission to own a higher level of bravado.

Team leaders take note. If your folks have just hit their number or delivered on a deadline, give ample time for celebration. Talking about the bigger goals too soon spoils the fun and prevents the team from locking in their well-earned bravado. It’s also possible that your newly confident team might have bigger, better ideas for what’s possible next.


Seeing progress also lets us evaluate and see new opportunities. We’ve gained bravado. Now we get to add a dose of humility to shake things up.

True dominance requires tinkering. It requires a paradox of complete immersion in generating momentum toward the goal AND self-awareness of what’s working and what’s not.

Sometimes we get so inside our pursuit of a goal that we lose sight of what it actually takes to succeed. We become reactive instead of strategic. We might take short cuts, sacrificing long-term success for a short-term win. In this moment, we might feel frustrated or drifting or fuzzy about how we’ll ever get where we want to go. It’s at this point that many people give up.

Not you.

By taking a step back and seeing your progress, you can access both the bravado of a champion and the humility that makes a dominant force.

Take an honest look at what’s working and make a comprehensive assessment of what’s needed next. Remember, we don’t always know everything the ultimate goal will require of us. Pausing gives us a chance to notice things like:

Are my assumptions flawed?

What are others doing that might work for me?

What are others doing that might be completely wrong for me…or even them?

How am I enjoying the experience of getting there?

Where can I cultivate a surprising dominant advantage?

We pause. We tinker. Then we do it again.

And through the tinkering, we discover opportunity.

Now go tinker!

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Expertise

Repetition Creates Expertise

In this series we are looking at how repetition can create deeper and deeper layers of mastery. Last time, we looked at discipline. This time we go one level deeper, to expertise.


While level 1 of DEEP mastery – discipline – is about going beyond expectations by practicing, level 2 is about becoming an expert in your specialty.

When we repeat, we build skills. We learn techniques, then refine and sculpt them through repetition. This is the level where the raw talent become reliable. At this level, our repetitions throw roadblocks at us – fundamental errors, odd mistakes, anomalies – and we learn what the fixes are.

Know how to manage a small team? At his level we discover how leadership is different with larger team sizes.

Know how to give a speech at an intimate gathering? At this level, we learn how speaking differs for big audiences or noisy venues or when we incorporate visual aids.

In my sport, it might be about learning a new catch, then discovering how different the skill feels in high winds or a confined space or when I need to make the catch off a pass from a teammate.

Imagine this level as college. We choose a major, then look at that topic repeatedly from different angles. We expand our knowledge, and along the way we conquer misunderstandings, get smacked down a bit by professors when we trip up, and learn the established connections between concepts.

This is the level where we use failure to make our skills rock solid. It’s where we learn the limitations off our skills, then expand and adapt them. At this level, we learn to apply our skills confidently in a wide variety of conditions. We become experts.

Where might you take your expertise further? Have you put in the reps to become competent but not yet an expert? How might it change your career if you expanded your expertise? How might it impact your life outside work to take something you’re familiar with and develop mastery?