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Goals vs. Expectations

How can positive psychology help with an athlete's personal life versus their performance in athletics?

The things that make an athlete successful in their sport are a lot of the same things that will make them successful in life. For example, having discipline and passion for the things in your life will be major driving forces to help people accomplish their goals. Positive psychology does not deviate from this model. Working with athletes to focus on their strengths directly relates to their life outside of sport. Adversity will come up in their personal lives and they will need the tools from positive psychology to handle it to the best of their abilities. (Biswas-Diener, 2010) The psychological framework of a successful athlete allows space for a healthy perspective on the positives and negatives, whether that is thoughts and emotions or their experiences. Being able to manage all of this leads to having successful relationships and that is what life is all about.

What is the difference between goals and expectations? Discuss the differences between any emotional attachments athletes place upon themselves when dealing with outside expectations from parents, media, or coaches as opposed to setting up a goal mapping system.

Expectations can be very dangerous because they have the audacity to predict the future. Parents and coaches throw out these predictions for their athletes with all the talk of potential, whether it is positive or negative, and that can create the self-fulfilling prophecy we discussed earlier in the term. Worst of all, we have a lot of expectations for ourselves that are often wishes and dreams without any real plan for how to make them turn into our reality. Goals, on the other hand, require a great deal of planning and forethought if we want to be successful. (Weinberg & Gould, 2015) Without that plan, we create a system that places too much weight on an emotional investment doomed to fail. (Jayakumar & Comeaux, 2016) Expectations tell a person what they should be able to do. So, if we fall short of that expectation, we have failed to live up to our potential and that results in great disappointment. However, meeting the expectation also becomes a major issue for athletes; simply meeting the expectation is never enough. It should be, but we rarely see that accomplishment for what it's worth because that was the expectation and this makes it seem like what we should be able to do is going to be easy. So, why not just exceed the expectation? This is much easier said than done which is why we actually need to set up a goal mapping system to avoid that disappointment.

The science of positive psychology has now achieved a point where it is comparable to the other sub-disciplines of psychology. What made this happen and where do you see it going?

Positive psychology has burst onto the scene with the work of Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. It's rapid growth in popularity has happened for a number of reasons. First, the other fields of psychology have created a gap where positive psychology fits nicely while also being able to build on those sub-disciplines. It is strongly based in sound scientific principles and evidence-based practices which we have seen work for the vast majority of the population. (Biswas-Diener, 2010) Additionally, while other areas of psychology provide great benefits, positive psychology is very forward thinking and practical. It is something that everyone can apply across many areas of their lives. (Steffen, Vossler, & Joseph, (2015) This is perfect timing, as well, because our society has been struggling to thrive in spite of the incredible period of collective thriving that we find ourselves experiencing. Moving forward, I see positive psychology being incorporated into the various other practices of counseling, coaching, and even education. These are skills that we could all benefit from starting at a young age. If we want to continue thriving as a society, it would certainly help to train our future generations to be able to do so independently.


Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing positive psychology coaching: Assessment, activities, and strategies for success. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Jayakumar, U. M., & Comeaux, E. (2016). The Cultural Cover-Up of College Athletics: How Organizational Culture Perpetuates an Unrealistic and Idealized Balancing Act. Journal of Higher Education87(4), 488–515.

Steffen, E., Vossler, A., & Joseph, S. (2015). From shared roots to fruitful collaboration: How counselling psychology can benefit from (re)connecting with positive psychology. Counselling Psychology Review30(3), 1–11.

Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (6th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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