I had a wise friend once tell me, “Aim low and achieve your goals. Don’t be disappointed. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” While I found his wisdom hilarious, I also thought about the weasel getting a shotgun shoved up his nose by the farmer when he caught it in the hen house.
All joking aside, the reality of disappointment can shake us and throw us off course, sometimes derailing us indefinitely. I believe much of this distress comes because we have overreached in our hopes, or overextended our expectations.
Disappointment is something we all have felt and will continue to feel. The Bible guarantees it when Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In Buddhism, suffering because of desire or craving is one of the four Noble Truths. If it is universal, how can we combat the frustration of disappointment? I am not asking how to deal with it after the fact, but how to avoid it altogether.
When I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my coach, Mr. Ken Hudson, would often tell us, “T-Rex arms.” This was his way of teaching us not to extend our arms carelessly. The result of doing so was almost always an armbar of some sort. For those who might be new to BJJ and Judo, or hope to try it someday, when you are in a bad position, keep your arms bent, elbows at your side. This is the definition of “T-Rex” arms. It will prevent having a sore elbow the next day.
In grappling arts, we often get overzealous escaping mount or doing a guard pass. We forget the “T-Rex” mantra and extend those arms just a little too much. Our opponent capitalizes on it and we are forced to submit. Sounds like life when we get our hopes up. Having high expectations can set us up for failure and instead of an aching arm, we are left with broken hearts and injured minds.
Just like “T-Rex arms” can keep me safe in a grappling situation, not overreaching in what I expect of other people, life events, or any even myself can save me from an immense amount grief. Setting smaller goals also enables me to more efficiently measure my outcomes against my original expectations because the change is minor in the short run. But through the consistent conquering of small obstacles, I build a habit and over the long term, the effects are enormous.
I am not suggesting that we neglect positive thinking entirely, but that we keep it in check with reality. Set attainable goals. Strive for achievable dreams. If you go further than expected, your joy will be that much greater.
Shakespeare wrote, “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” If he could have written a modern day interpretation, he might have said, “Don’t expect too much and keepeth thine arms bent and at thy side.”