3 Exercises to Help Develop Higher Expectations

Dr Ivan Joseph
September 21, 2020

Strive for More: Developing Higher Expectations

Self-confidence is what I call a master skill. We acquire it when we practice and become proficient at five supporting skills: positive thought, team building, grit, higher expectations and focus.


Today we dive into the magic of developing Higher Expectation.


higher expectation, dr ivan joseph quote

Do you remember My Fair Lady, in which lower-class Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle learns how to speak the Queen’s English?

if not, it’s a legendary story about the role that expectations play in determining behavior. 

It’s also an example of a widely known psychological phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect was first discovered when researchers set out to assess the impact of teacher expectations on student performance. And is still widely studied today.

After assessing the intelligence of students in a California elementary school—without the students knowing that this was the nature of the test they took—the researchers gave the teachers the names of students who had “unusual potential for academic growth” and who could be expected to bloom during the year. 

The twist? The group of students was selected entirely at random and not based on test scores…The “high-potential” kids were just a cross section of the larger group.

When the researchers returned eight months later and performed the intelligence test again, they found that the students who’d been labeled as having “significant potential” scored much higher on the intelligence test than they did the first time around.

Why did this happen? Research shows that when teachers have higher expectations for particular students, those students perform better.

Because when a teacher believes that a student can succeed, they are more likely to provide feedback, attention, support and positive reinforcement, all of which lead students to not only perform better but to feel better about their ability.

As a result, students are more likely to believe they can succeed and to keep working at finding a solution to a problem. 

It’s a reinforced cycle: increased expectations lead to increased performance.

Learning to meet our own higher expectations, and not just those expressed by others, is a skill we can teach ourselves.

No one is born with an innate ability to raise their own standards. But we can  learn the role that expectations play and the best way to set them for ourselves. And then, of course, we can practice. 
Self-confidence grows when we realize that we can set—and are capable of meeting—higher expectations.


Higher Expectations Builder #1: Believe You Can Do It

On a May morning in 1954, a 25-year-old English medical student named Roger Bannister took a train from London and headed for the University of Oxford. Bannister was one of the fastest middle-distance runners in the world.

He was returning to his alma mater to compete on behalf of the Amateur Athletic Association of England’s team against Oxford’s track club in a dual meet event. 

dr ivan joseph self confidence quote


But it wasn’t just any old race.

Bannister intended to break the speed barrier by running a sub–four-minute mile. Middle-distance runners all over the world, including Bannister, had been attempting to break the record for years and it was widely believed to be impossible.

When the gun went off, Bannister took off, with future Commonwealth Games gold medalist Chris Chataway pacing him. Then, when Chataway tired, he signaled to Chris Brasher—a future Olympic gold medalist—to take over. As they got within 200 meters of the finish, Bannister poured it on and raced to victory.

But had he done it?

After the results were finalized, the stadium announcer gave a long, drawn-out, excitement-building announcement of the nationally and internationally broadcast event:

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meet and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three… ”

When the first number was announced, the crowd went wild. Bannister had achieved what no one thought was possible.

He had run 3:59:40.

My players love this story—an athlete who does something that no one had ever done. But that’s not why I tell them about it. 

I tell them because I want to talk about what happened after he broke through the barrier: the four- minute mile became normal.

Increasingly, runners broke that time, often without pacers. These days, high schoolers break that time on a regular basis…



Mainly because they know they can. Ultimately, Bannister broke the record because he believed that he could. And now people know it’s not impossible!

Higher Expectations Builder #2: Push for Continual Improvement

One of my favorite historical figures is Leonardo da Vinci, the artist and innovator who did everything from inventing a way for humans to fly to painting the Mona Lisa. I have spent hours looking at da Vinci’s notebooks and reading about his ideas. He’s someone who loved to expand his thinking. 

dr ivan joseph self confidence quote push for continual improvement

Of all his qualities, his insatiable desire to improve lies at the heart of his work, as seen in the hundreds of sketches of human anatomy, for example.

He never felt he knew enough or was good enough, which, believe it or not, is a quality that confident people share.

Confident people aren’t afraid to say “I don’t really understand” or “I can do better.”

Remember the All Blacks: “I’m never good enough” ? And they are exceptional!

Da Vinci’s belief resembles the business philosophy Kaizen.

An approach often referred to simply as “continuous improvement,” which was developed in Japan after World War II. In essence, Kaizen is an organizational philosophy that emphasizes the power of front line managers and workers to turn problems into opportunities. 

Unlike the traditional Western mindset “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the thinking behind Kaizen is essentially “We need to constantly get better so that we can become and stay the best.” 

If you can adopt a continual-improvement mindset, you will be able to set higher expectations for yourself that keep elevating your performance.


Never. Stop. Improving. It’s critical for peak performance. 


Higher Expectations Builder #3: Learn from Feedback

I once coached an incredibly talented player who I will call Luis.

He had all kinds of natural gifts: quick feet, loads of endurance, good skills. But he often performed below his potential. He was selfish with the ball. He pressed for opportunities to score when the better option was to be patient and share possession with others. He got frustrated if someone didn’t make a pass to him. 

learn from feedback dr ivan joseph self confidence quote

Eventually, he approached four individuals and asked them for feedback about his play: two assistant coaches, a respected senior player and me.

Each one of us independently gave the same message: you are not a good teammate…

At first, he was highly resistant and dismissed the idea. But after he had heard the same thing from all of us, something amazing happened. He took the message to heart and he changed overnight. He went from being focused on his own desire to score goals to being focused on supporting the other players. 

As a result, his opportunities to score actually increased and he put the ball in the net far more than he had previously, while at the same time dramatically improving his teammates’ feelings toward him.

Not to mention making the team better overall. By accepting feedback he didn’t love hearing, he was able to make an instrumental change. 

This is critical for all of us. We all need people who will give us honest, constructive input about how we are doing, and then we need to accept the information and learn from it.

Gather data from a few people you trust.

Then find the key messages and reflect on ways you can improve. It’s about being humble and genuinely accepting that you can do better.

If you can’t learn from feedback and make changes, you may find that your team or organization moves on without you.

Being open to feedback and making an authentic effort to change is an essential quality for long-term membership and participation in any team. Whether it be on the field or in the boardroom. 

RECAP: The Skill of Higher Expectations

Higher Expectations Builder #1: Believe You Can Do It

Even if something seems too difficult or out of reach, begin moving toward it with a belief that it is possible.

Higher Expectations Builder #2: Push for Continual Improvement

Never think things are as good as they can get; commit to small, ongoing improvements.

Higher Expectations Builder #3: Learn from Feedback

Seek feedback from honest and insightful people about how you can improve, and take their message to heart.

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