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Embracing Ambition, Letting Go of Expectations

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Imagine there is a pill that allows you to be happier, more productive, and more successful, all while being less stressed and focused on your day-to-day results.

What would you pay for it?

A lot, I guess.

This magic pill doesn’t exist. But you can get the same results by using a different mindset. You can apply the ‘Ambition without expectation’ mindset in three simple steps and get stunning results. I know you might be skeptical, but you have nothing to lose. Just give it a shot, and you’ll witness the effects through your own eyes.

The Definition Of A Good Day

Are you having a good day today?

For a long time, I’ve often answered this question with no. Either my health wasn’t what I expected, or I didn’t train as well as I hoped. While an ambitious approach to life is nice, having more ‘bad’ than ‘good’ days inevitably affects your mental well-being. So I had to do something about it.

In a matter of days, I managed to increase the good days and decrease the bad days tremendously. This had a positive impact on my subjective well-being and my motivation to work harder. With a little science-backed mental trick, you can do it too. In this article, you will learn how.

‘Good Day’ Is Subjective

To apply the mental trick, you need to understand a very basic truth: what is good and bad is subjective. Magnus Carlsen performing 2700 = bad day at the office. Nearly everyone else performing 2700 = best day of our lives!

This little example shows that good or bad mostly depends on our expectations. If they are sky high, as they mostly are for super-successful people, it is hard to have a good day if you only measure the result. To increase the good days and decrease the bad days, we have three possibilities, which we should all use to our advantage:

  1. Lower our expectations
  2. Change what we measure
  3. Improve our input so it exceeds our expectations

Lower Our Expectations

My sports psychologist once told me,

“Having expectations doesn’t make sense. They only make you feel worse.”
Robert Buchli, Sports Psychologist

At first, I thought this was just utter bs. How can I work my ass off to improve my chess and not have any expectations? But the longer I thought about it, the more it made sense.

There is a common saying:
“Happiness is the difference between expectations and reality.”

If this is true, lowering our expectations is the highway to happiness! Think about it again in a chess sense. You go to a tournament and expect to perform 2000 or above because you worked hard. Now you perform 1950 and are sad because this is lower than your expectations.

In reality, your rating before the tournament was 1900, so you performed higher than your rating. This paradox happened to me way too many times. As we can’t always outperform our rating, the better solution is to lower expectations.

If you manage to have no result-focused expectations at all, you can nearly assure that you have good days without necessarily performing well.

Input, Not Output

The problem with result expectations is twofold:

  1. We usually overestimate our strengths, so our expectations of our performance are too high.
  2. We aren’t in full control. Sometimes, you play against a super underrated kid and get destroyed.

So the second step to more good days, be it in training or at a tournament, is to change what you measure. We should measure something we can fully control.

Our input!

In short, that means whenever you give your best, you have a great day. What is more to do than train to your best abilities or play a game applying all the skills you have? This is why, for a long time, I rated my focus on any given training day from 1-10. This is something I have control over.

Remember: lower your expectations. You aren’t always going to have a monk-like focus. To start off, anything above a 5 might be a good day. Then, you try to increase your focus power day by day, and that is a win by itself.

Improve Your Input

That leads us to point 3, improving our input. Only champions like Carlsen can get away with a purely result-based philosophy. He once said that the best remedy to being upset when losing is not losing anymore.

This might be something he can work on (he had a 100+ game unbeaten streak), but if you are like 99% of other humans, this simply sets you up for depression.

Now that you:

  • Lowered your expectations
  • Focus on the input.

You can work on getting better every day. This is the key most people miss with the “no expectation” mindset. They think it simply means you are ok with a mediocre life and lying around lazily on your couch.

Hell no!

You might be as ambitious or even more ambitious than most people focusing purely on results. You simply rate your days according to how much effort you put into something, not what short-term results you get.

Before vs. After

Before applying this little mindset trick, I had to tick off a lot of boxes to say, “I had a good day.”

  • Train with full focus
  • Barely feel any pain or concentration loss due to my brain injury
  • Have positive encounters with humans and many more.

Now I can see things differently. Depending on how my health is, I might have a good day if I wake up without a headache. That is already enough! Then I try my best with what I have got and can look back on a very positive day.

Some of these days might seem totally unproductive from the outside. Maybe my injury only allowed for 30 minutes of training before I had to interrupt for the day. It doesn’t matter, though. I have a good day as long as I try my best to improve my situation.

If you manage to:

  • Lower your expectations
  • Measure Input, not output
  • Improve your Input

You will have many more good days and be more productive in the long run. What I find most fascinating is that you will also have better results if you expect them less but still put in great effort.

Try it out yourself. It literally changed my life. I hope it will change yours too.

Want To Improve Your Chess?

Here is how I can help you:

- Get my eBook, The Art of Chess Training, for free.
- Check out my course, Next Level Training, and start training like a Grandmaster.

Last but not least, if you enjoyed this article, please leave a like. Until next time,

Keep improving,
GM Noël Studer