Don’t Buy Into the Fear of Expectations


Legend has it that a great commander once burned the ships of his fleet to ensure they had no choice but to fight an insurmountable foe. While they no doubt felt plenty of fear, they had no choice but to face it. Being forced into a situation like the one just described is the ultimate in facing the fear of expectations.

Is Your Fear of Expectations Holding You Back?

One of the things holding you back from playing your best golf during a round may just be a fear of expectations.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Game Of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin once said, “Fear cuts deeper than swords.” Well, for golfers like you, this “sword” can slice right through your on-course performance for the day and/or season. It can drag you into destructive, ineffective ways of thinking, like falling for “Where Did it All go Wrong?”,  you know, the belief that you have the ability to play better, but something is holding you back:

  • Swing flaw 
  • Clubs not fitted for your swing
  • Wife nagging at you playing too much

This can flat-out derail your success.

The Hefty Price Tag of Mental Meltdowns

Mean going crazy due to fear of expectations

Currently, a round of golf can last 4-5 hours or longer. Combine this with the fact that you’ll roughly spend less than a minute per shot. I think buying into this fear consumes your thoughts. Negative expectations are a big culprit for how you play. Think about the windfall of time in between shots you have to ponder. Where the mind negatively dwells and the mental meltdowns that happen after slicing your ball OB, or snap hooking another shot into the houses 150 yards away — sources that often support a belief that your next shot will be just as bad and fan the flames of self-doubt.

This has a hefty price tag: you allow your mind to take you out behind the woodshed, which causes a downward helpless spiral.

My Battle with Expectations

Growing up playing golf in my town was rough with the last name Howard. My dad was a damn good golfer: 

  • Tried for the PGA Tour
  • Became an assistant pro at a distinguished country club
  • Opened our family golf store

This was all before I was 12. Because of this, I created some silly self-imposed expectations. If I wasn’t breaking 40 on 9, or 80 on 18 I would question my abilities.  This led to a distaste for playing at 15. I still worked at the golf shop through my teen years and would play here and there, but it took something very drastic for me to start enjoying golf again.

Freed from the Self-Imposed Expectation Chains

In 2000 I met my future wife and the following year we married and Uncle Sam told her we had to move to Hawaii.

Yes, it was awesome (but not the point).

I got a job working at a Nevada Bob’s golf shop on Oahu and fell in with a staff who loved the game. Playing was borderline a requirement working there, we had weekly tee times at courses like Ko Olina and Kapolei. Here’s the thing though, no one knew me. Embarrassing the family name was of no concern. I was able to drop most of my ‘Silly Self-Imposed Expectations’ (which was good because breaking 90 was a struggle for a while).

Negative Consequences of Past-Self Comparison

But even with my newfound love for the game, I acquired a new monkey-on-my-back that crept in. I started suffering from past-self comparisons. Despite my scores dropping I rarely scratched breaking 80. In my mind, I was a single-digit handicapped golfer. My expectations were based on an idealized version of my past self from when I was most successful.

That past-self comparison led to a set of expectations. These expectations became paralyzing, derailing my progress considerably. I would curse myself because of one or two bad shots. Next thing I know, 2 over after 7 holes turned into a ruined round. Fortunately, I believe I finally overcame this ‘Expectation’ problem this past fall. 

How I Changed My Way Of Thinking…

While at a business seminar, a speaker broke down expectations into two emotions; anxiety and anticipation. I learned that both anxiety and anticipation are the same. Both feelings are expectations of future events – made-up outcomes created in the mind. Think about it this way… 

How to No Longer Have a Fear of Expectations

Anything you tell yourself about the future is a made-up outcome. Understand? 

Anxiety vs Anticipation

Let’s go a little deeper and define those two emotions because there is 1 major difference: 

Anxiety – wasting present energy on a future outcome that is undesirable

Anticipation – using present energy on future results that are desirable.

Do you see how similar those two emotions are to each other? Yet just by changing the way YOU use your energy you can change how you feel about future events, i.e., your next golf shot. Once I understood that little nugget expectation became my superpower. You can, too. Try it out.

Start Thinking Positive

When you’re standing over the ball use your energy in a positive way. Focus on the exact shot you want. Your mind is going to envision some type of future outcome. Why not force your mind to seek a desirable outcome?

I hope I’m not coming off as some incense-burning, yoga pant wearing meditation BS-type guru, here. I just need you to understand one thing…

Anxiety is the thief of your dreams!


I spent the past few months working on a consistent approach to on-course performance and helping others do the same. They were struggling to block these undesirable future golf shots that were entirely made up in their head. More often than not, negative expectations are one of the reasons they struggle.

Now, it’s true: what’s right for me and other successful golfers may not be right for you. However, if you’ve bought into the fear of expectations, you may want to consider rethinking things.

Here’s to better Golf!


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