Thicken Your Skin

Innovative tips, strategies, and cutting edge applications of psychology for all aspects of life enhancement.

Obama, A-Rod, Criticism & Unrealistic Expectations

Before you criticize A-Rod and Obama, make sure your expectations are realistic!

I just finished eating in a Vietnamese restaurant and paid the check quickly. I wanted to get back to my hotel room in a New Brunswick, New Jersey to watch the third game of the ALCS and second debate game. Since I’m an expert in television watching, I knew it would be a breeze to switch back between the games and not miss one significant detail.

If you follow baseball, you know A-Rod has been striking out frequently, and in his other at bats, has performed miserably, perhaps a bit worse than Obama who might not have struck out in the first debate, but certainly did no more than scrape out a week single or two.

Neither of these two gave their fans what they wanted so both heard the boos, lots of negative criticism, a lot of mine included. Tonight, during game three of the ALCS and the second debate game, each would have the chance to redeem themselves. I was hoping both would and was also wondering who would do better, A-Rod or Obama?

Like Lady or the Tiger? We will never know. A-Rod had given such a poor performance, he was taken out of the game; he was benched.

Obama, however, did have a chance to play. Whether he performed well is a matter of opinion highly influenced by your political alliances. For me, I thought Obama had some big hits and that he played well under pressure. 

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Before I went to bed, my thoughts turned to the presentation I was going to give the next morning to Robert Wood Johnson Children’s Hospital on the subject of giving and taking criticism. Robert Wood Johnson Children’s Hospital is one of the most preeminent hospitals in the country so I thought it an honor when I was invited to speak to 150 of their top department managers and share my expertise on positive criticism, a subject that I have been continually studying and learning about for thirty years. I was excited and curious about what I would learn from their questions, comments, examples, and experiences concerning giving and taking criticism.

My presentation was over at noon, and since I live in Westport, Connecticut, I had about a two hour drive to get home. I didn’t mind; I’d use the drive time to reflect upon the presentation I just gave and to listen to ESPN radio where I knew I would hear more criticism about Arod’s performance, the rationale for benching him.

As soon as I got on the New Jersey Turnpike and my route turned straight, I started to mentally multitask: A-Rod, presentation comments, questions, examples, Obama performance, and criticism. Each of these thought streams merged with each other .

The thought that emerged applies to A-Rod, Obama, many of the managers at RWJ Children’s Hospital, and to most people. Many times, we give criticism to others because they are not giving us what we want and what we want is a function of totally unrealistic expectations.

We all want A-Rod to hit home runs, but the fact is, he is far from his prime and is no longer one of the game’s best. We have unrealistic expectations about his performance, and it is a well-known psychological fact that when expectations are not met, a frequent response his anger. In this case, we get angry at Arod whereas we should be readjusting our expectations to the fact that there is little chance that Arod will perform like the superstar we want him to be.

We give Obama a lot of negative criticism and anger about his performance concerning the economy. We all want the economy to improve at a much faster rate. When it doesn’t we get angry and criticize Obama for not delivering on his promise. However, just as our expectations are unrealistic for Arod, perhaps our expectations for Obama’s economic performance are also unrealistic. Just because he wants to improve the economy quickly and just because we want him to succeed in this area, that does not mean we are being realistic.

In fact, if you step back and think about all the factors that impact the economy, and where the economy was four years ago, I think you’d have to be a fool to think that the economy could currently being doing much better. The majority of us are operating on unrealistic economic expectations. We all want to continue our spending habits, make more money, and our investments to have a greater pay-off. If this be you, you are, for the next few years being unrealistic—regardless who is President.

Instead of blaming Obama with our criticisms, we-and the country-would probably be better off if we readjusted our expectations to current reality. Cutting back on our own spending—something most of us do not want to do-would be a good start. After all, it’s not the President’s fault that most people max out on their credit cards because of eating out. I wanted a Porsche but I’ll have to settle for an Audi 6—it’s a big difference.

So, my message to Yankee fans—be realistic when it comes to A-Rod and you will find yourself feeling less anger when you watch him play.

Voters: before you go to the polls, reassess your expectations and when you realize they are unrealistic, I think you will realize the President has performed well and you may want to extend his contract. 

For everybody else, make sure your criticisms are based on realistic expectations. If they are, you increase your chances that you will increase the likelihood that your criticism will be helpful.

Hendrie Weisinger is an organizational psychologist and the author of The Genius of Instinct.

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