Expectation [ek-spek-tey-shuh n]


1. the act or the state of expecting: to wait in expectation.

Best-pectation [be-spek-tey-shuh n]


1.   the act or the state of expecting the best: to anticipate the best possible outcome.

We can all relate to having expectations, especially expectations surrounding performance; an athlete, for instance, might expect to meet the most challenging competition of their season in the upcoming championship match; a parent might expect their child to receive certain grades on their report card at the end of the year based on their own perceptions of their child’s intelligence; a salesperson might expect to hit a certain sales goal at the end of the business quarter based on a number that was predetermined by his or her manager, whatever the case, we all expect. But how is it exactly that expectations factor into outcomes? Are the two even related? Can believing that something will be good REALLY make it good? Let me use a not-so-typical research finding to answer these.

Three professors (Leonard Lee-professor at Colombia, Shane Frederick-professor at MIT, and Dan Ariely-professor at Duke) walked into a bar… And no, this is not the start of one of those “random bar” jokes; they walked into a bar with a purpose, to research expectations. After all, what better place to find willing research participants? Jokes aside, these professors took two different types of beer, one just a common brand beer, and the other, that same common brand with trace amounts of balsamic vinegar (gross, right?), and had participants taste them. Here is the catch, one group of participants was told the difference between the two beers, and the other group, was given no indication of what made the beers taste different. As you can imagine, those who were told that balsamic vinegar was added to the beer thought it was absolutely atrocious; they did not choose it as their favorite out of the two. What you might not have guessed, however, is that the vast majority of participants who had no clue what was in the beer actually chose the beer with the balsamic vinegar as their favorite. Don’t believe it? Give it a try.

 This is where I need you to consider your best-pectations.

What did this experiment reveal? Simply, that if you go into a situation with a certain expectation, it is likely to impede upon your ability to make an unbiased judgment. Take the experiment as an example; the participants’ foreknowledge about balsamic vinegar tainted their perception of the taste of the beer; BUT, when there was no pre-conceived notion that existed, the beer actually tasted better! We can make similar comparisons to athletic performance…

Take for instance, the athlete expecting to meet the most challenging competition of their season in the upcoming championship match that I alluded to earlier. This expectation the athlete has generated is not a fact… It’s an assumption. The mind gets what it expects, so if in fact you are expecting the competition to be overwhelmingly awesome, your mind is primed to see this outcome in the match. In all reality, your competition might be good, but putting the focus on their abilities instead of your own will surely detract from your own performance. This expectation is unhelpful because it puts the athlete’s focus on what they might lose opposed to what they might gain. A better best-pectation, and something that would surely contribute to the athlete’s performance, would be “I am going to put forth my maximum effort in today’s match” or “My team has trained to the best of our ability, and we are ready for this match today.”

 Long story short, don’t be your own worst enemy. Challenge yourself by having a best-pectation for your next event, and see how it works for you.

…or just experiment with the two different types of beer.