A few years ago I was in the entrance of a Chinese food restaurant waiting to be seated. I was enjoying the ambiance of their waiting area when I noticed the fish swimming in their indoor ‘pond’ that flowed around the perimeter of the room. Although these fish were quite large, they resembled goldfish. The same tiny goldfish that I unsuccessfully attempted to keep as pets when I was a child. I was informed that they were in fact the same type of goldfish. Other than the possibility that these fish were of a healthier stock than those I bought from the local pet shop, I was told they were essentially the same kind of fish.[i]

I was amazed. When I asked how it could be that these huge fish, each easily weighing fifteen to thirty pounds could be the same fish, I was told that they grow to match their environment, much like how plants’ growth is affected by the size of their pot. What that means is that if you keep a fish in a small bowl, it will remain a small fish; but if you put it in a pond, it’ll grow to a much larger size.

Human nature can often operate the same way. If you set your goals ‘small,’ you are likely to achieve on a small scale. If you set your goals ‘large’ you are more likely to achieve large. You may not achieve all your goals, but you never achieve the goals you never set.

That is why it is important not to confuse goals with expectations. A goal is a target, an aspiration. You can set higher goals than you are likely to achieve because that can often motivate you to get a better performance than you might have otherwise produced. An expectation is a reasonable belief of what you anticipate you will likely achieve.

So, for example, say you are about to take an incredibly hard test. One in which only a genius studying for a year could hope to get a 90%. You may expect that you can get a 70 or 80 based on how confident you feel, and how you have done in the past. But you may set a goal of 90, or even 100, because then you might work harder, and end up doing better. But if you confuse your goal for an expectation, you might then get down on yourself if you ‘only’ get 75%. The important thing to remember is the difference between a hopeful goal and a reasonable expectation.


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“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky



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[i] This appears to be quite likely, considering quotes from Ernest Jaquez, southwest fisheries manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in a newspaper article. Thompson, Fritz. (1999, June 13).  Goldfish Chase Away Trout. The Albuquerque Journal. p. A1.


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