Getting a Grip on Expectations


This past weekend a few friends and I ventured down to Southern Utah for a weekend recharge filled with camping, mountain biking and a bit of climbing. Winter in Park City has been lack-luster - limited snowfall has everyone down in the dumps and my knee has officially made its protest to skiing. My normal weekend adventures of skinning and climbing up a giant mountain, then skiing down it, got replaced with couch and computer time. I suspected it had taken a toll on my fitness but was hopeful that there would be some semblance of my former self when I hopped on my bike. Regardless, making the 5 hour drive south for a dose of vitamin D, was exactly what the doctor ordered.

If you've never ridden mountain bikes in the desert before, the riding can be quite challenging. Rugged, punchy terrain, comprised primarily of grippy burnt orange sandstone, littered with varieties of cacti and complemented by loose sandy dirt.  Spring riding in the desert is always a litmus test for where your fitness is at the end of the winter. The short yet steep bouts of uphill will bust your legs and lungs and the relentless technical terrain will test your patience. The first time that I rode outside of St. George, I grew enormously frustrated. The fun I was having rapidly dissipated as I watched my more experienced friends ride off into the horizon. Over the years, the frustration morphed into obsession, but every year I raise the bar for how I believe I should perform.

Heading down south, I knew I'd have to come to terms with my fitness level. While I had set an expectation that my cardio might not be superb, I also expected that my technical skills and abilities could overcome it. Unfortunately, that was not the case as my performance fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself.
Sections of trail that I once easily powered through, I meekly walked up pushing my bike alongside me. Feeble attempts to sneak in one last pedal stroke ended fruitlessly. I figured things I could ride before might seem more difficult, but not impossible! The inner critic started sounding off. You've let yourself get so weak. Why don't you set your priorities better? How could you sacrifice your health and fitness for your career? No wonder your jeans are fitting tighter... You might never be able to ride this again. You'll probably just have to accept that.




  1. a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
    • "reality had not lived up to expectations"
  2. a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
    • "students had high expectations for their future"

Expectations. They can either serve to lift us up or they can pull us down a rabbit hole of self doubt. I've been sucked into this narrative before and have fortunately learned to combat it by shifting my perspective. While it's important to acknowledge where we are in life so that we can find areas to improve, we need to learn to acknowledge without judging critically. The reality was that I was not powerful enough to ride certain sections of steep punchy terrain. Instead of criticizing myself, I can use this opportunity to set an intention for my life to create meaningful change.

3 things to remember when reality doesn't align with your expectations:

1) The only moment that matters is NOW.
You've heard it before: "it is, what it is," or "you are, what you are." It might drive you crazy to hear, but it's true. The only moment in which we can impact our lives is through the present one. You can only improve your life by choosing to do so NOW. Lamenting and complaining that things didn't go as you expected won't actually get you anywhere! “Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
2) Your "expectations" were never real.

We created expectations to manage the source of many of our fears: the unknown. Writing the script for our future can provide some comfort. It makes us believe that we have a plan, that we know what's going to happen and provides us a sense of control. Expectations are the adult version of "make-believe." We've gotten so good at make-believe, that we experience complete disarray when reality turns out different. Remind yourself that your expectations were a fabrication, that there are always unforeseen, uncontrollable forces at work. All we can do is adapt.

3) Expectations can become intentions.
Failing to meet expectations is like shining a flashlight directly at an area of life we wish to improve. If we haven't met our expectations, we're most likely not prioritizing that part of our life or are being unrealistic about the amount of time we're able to dedicate to it. This is a great opportunity to look at your life and ask yourself what's most important. You may find you were holding onto old ideals that no longer serve you, therefor you've created unrealistic expectations. Or, contrarily, you've set achievable expectations, but haven't shifted your time spent to accommodate them. You can simply turn these unfulfilled expectations into intentions or goals for your future.

What expectations have you set for yourself? Are you spending all your time living in the future imaging what may happen? What fears are you trying to alleviate by creating these expectations? What goals can you set for yourself to get you closer to making your reality match your expectations?