It’s analogous to the idea that the lower your level of expectations, the more likely it is that they’ll be surpassed. An example of this is expecting everyone around you to let you down. If those are your expectations, then you’re going to be pleasantly surprised when the majority of your family and social circle (and humanity in general) turn out not to be unreliable assholes.
But there’s a problem with thinking like this, aside from the obviously extravagant pessimism required to sustain such low expectations throughout a life. It’s this: to be really good at something, your standards need to be the opposite of low. They need to be high, ever-so-slightly unattainable. Not to mention the fact that we like being good at things. We like being good at our work, good at parenting, good at friendship. “Good” and “better” and “best” are fundamental human drives.
But there’s even more to it. Obviously, success is easily attainable if your standards or expectations are barely hovering above the ground. But because we’re social creatures, our vision of success usually incorporates how we appear to others. And in the eyes of other, you’re considered successful only when you have a lot of some precious resource; time, wealth, influence, power, property, status, autonomy. And generally, you only amass a lot of any of these precious resources by being valuable to others, by being really good at some particular thing.
The two conflict. You can’t have both a high bar and a low bar for success. You can’t have incredibly low expectations and be good enough at a thing to be considered successful in the eyes of others. Can you?
Perhaps you can.
Think about it like this. You can define success in two different areas: process and outcome. Process-orientated success is concerned with standards of performance. With moving towards mastery, with analysing performance, working on weaknesses, emphasising strengths and exploring the area and boundaries of a discipline, craft or skill. Outcome-orientated success is concerned with the esteem in which others hold you. The precious resources you can accumulate. The aftermath of your performance and the consequences of the value you provide.
The former is internally-orientated, dependent on no-one except yourself. The latter is externally-orientated, dependent on the perceptions of others.
So, you see, it is possible to have both a high and a low bar for success. But only if we segregate process and outcome. I can have impossibly high standards and expectations concerning process, whilst simultaneously having zero expectations concerning outcomes. And I believe that’s the best approach, the attitude that will maximise the chances of success and happiness. Demand a lot from yourself and little from the world around you. Do the best you can and expect to get nothing for it.