Set Higher Expectations for Yourself


On the drive home today, I listened to an incredible episode of This American Life (you can listen to it directly for free).

The story is about Daniel Kish, a blind man who bikes, runs, and operates just as freely as those who can see.

But this story is much more about a blind man. It’s about the power of expectation. 

Expectations affect students, children, soldiers, in measurable ways. – Carol Dweck, This American Life

Allow me to regurgitate two examples from the podcast of how people’s expectations about others – and themselves – shape society.

Example 1

Researchers took a bunch of random mice and split them into 2 groups. They told a cohort of people that Group 1 was made of intelligent mice. They told another cohort that Group 2 was comprised of stupid mice.

With mice in both groups being essentially the same, the intelligent mice outperformed the stupid mice in a maze experiment by 2 times.

The conjecture? Because the cohort handling Group 1 had higher expectations of the mice, they handled the mice more carefully, which correlates with higher performance in the mice.

Example 2

Lots of blind children from an early age are shipped off to schools for the blind. It makes sense at first, but at many of these institutions, the children are essentially taken care of to such a degree that they don’t develop the independence to navigate the world themselves.

The subtle message being repeated: you’re blind, you can’t do that. 

But Daniel Kish, the blind man who bikes, had a different fate. Early on, Daniel’s mother made a conscious decision to allow him to play, explore, and thrive – at the risk of accident and injury (which happened).

But because Daniel grew up with a different set of expectations – one that he can navigate the world just like anyone else – he was able to leapfrog his peers.


How to Set Higher Expectations for Yourself

None of the above is directly related to UX or design, but as you might have already guessed – this theory of expectancy can affect all aspects of life. We’re going to look at how to leverage high expectations for your professional benefit.

1. Believe in others 

When I was younger and more immature (some might argue I’m still immature), I felt threatened by how much better someone else was than me. Then I’d think yeah, they’re good at X…but they suck at Y!

I’d proceed to make myself feel better with this petty inner monologue. Don’t do this.

Resist putting limitations on others. Resist judging others. Often times you’ll find that the most judgmental people are the most self-conscious and have low self esteem.

As Mark Manson, one of my favorite authors, incisively said how we judge others is how we judge ourselves.

At a certain point I decided it was more productive to see the potential in other people and have higher expectations in those around me.

This simple idea is a game changer for me…

The more you see potential in others, the more you can realize your own potential.

2. Surround yourself with good people

I’ve quoted Jim Rohn probably dozens of times since I discovered his mantra: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” This is why having mentors can pay big dividends.

Seek good people who hold you to high standards. The A Players who have high expectations of you.

Conversely, you may have to cut some people out of your life.

This might mean physically moving out in a space where the people living with you aren’t conducive to your growth. This might mean quitting your job, or getting out of a bad relationship.

Emotional drain is no joke. Set higher expectations for yourself by getting yourself out of a bad place, and surround yourself with better people.

3. Give yourself opportunities

I finally caved and listened to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space. Two lines of her lyrics are particularly poignant:

Find out what you want / Be that girl for a month.

I took this to mean that if a guy wants date a girl with certain qualities he should try having those qualities himself.
(A friend later corrected this was a misinterpretation, but I don’t care.)

It’s whacky, but the lesson I took from this is that you can advance faster in your endeavors if you act like it’s already your job.

Want to be a manager? A designer? An entrepreneur? Act like it’s already your job – even if you don’t have the title. Think of the work you want to do eventually, and challenge yourself to do that type of work now.

This means finding opportunities to be what you want to be. Give yourself the opportunity of side projects, some late nights and long weekends.

You can carve out, little by little, the person you want to be.

This blog is called UX Beginner because I want to help beginners transition into UX, and into their first UX job. This is tough position to be in – I’ve been through it myself. There’s a mountain of information to digest. If you’re transitioning from another career, somedays it may feel like you’re way behind, and everybody else just seems so much better.

Relax. Recognize that you can control only what you can control. The power is in your hands to expect more out of life.

I have high expectations of you. Have a great start to your 2015.