“A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.
In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion – declared as truth when it is actually false – may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.”
Pretty interesting. I remember the first time I ever heard of this phenomenon. I was a psychology minor in college, because I find psychology really interesting and it helped break up my science-heavy major classes. One of the classes I took was called “The Psychology of Close Relationships.” One day in class we had a big discussion about how our expectations are self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, if you think something will happen, then you subconsciously act in a way that encourages that thing to happen.
For example, consider a hypothetical John and Jane who are dating. One day Jane starts thinking that John is going to break up with her. Then, sure enough, a week or two later the relationship ends. Jane thinks to herself, “Well, I knew it. I knew John was going to end things. I saw it coming weeks in advance. I was right all along.” Now, maybe he was always going to break up with her. But maybe she started acting in such a way as to actually encourage him to end the relationship. Like maybe she started to withdraw a little because she didn’t want to be hurt as bad when John ended it. Or maybe she started misinterpreting things John was saying, and creating negative situations from out of nowhere. Or maybe she just stopped having fun because she was worried about the health of the relationship. This example is one that we discussed in class that day, and it’s actually pretty common, apparently. Another example is teachers in the classroom. Teachers’ expectations of their students turns out to significantly impact student achievement. You can read about it here.
That is pretty wild! The way we think translates to our behavior in ways we don’t even understand. Numerous studies have showed that our expectations are, in fact, self-fulfilling prophecies.
Here’s the good news. You can create a happier and better existence for yourself just by believing things will be better. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that overnight your world will be filled with money, fame, and glamour. I am saying that just by being an optimist, you can truly improve your quality of life, specifically as it relates to your relationships.
We all have self-doubt. And certainly we have all been guilty, on occasion, of misinterpreting a comment by a friend or family member as a slight or insult, when none was intended. This kind of negativity is bad for the health of our personal relationships. It makes us put up walls and withdraw for no reason. Now, unless you are the god of optimism, it’s inevitable that those negative interpretations will pop up from time to time. The key is that we need to just convince ourselves to discard those negative interpretations, choosing to interpret things in the best way possible. Of course, sometimes the ‘best way possible’ is still shitty and hurtful. But a lot of times we inflict unnecessary pain on ourselves, just by getting stuck in a negative frame of mind.
Now, here’s the rub. The key to making an expectation a self-fulfilling prophecy is to actually BELIEVE it. Easier said than done. I suggest tackling this in baby steps. If you are a negative person, maybe the first step for you is just to entertain the idea that this could possibly work. Then try something small. A friendly, non-sarcastic, brief conversation with a coworker or family member is a good first step. Concentrate on taking the best possible meaning from everything they say. As you do this over some period of time, you will find that it becomes easier and easier. If you continue to make a conscious effort, eventually it will become second nature. And you will be walking around with all sorts of optimism and confidence, thus making those around you view you as a confident and capable human being, thus making your life better and easier, thus making you more optimistic and confident. It really is the opposite of a vicious cycle. We’ll call it a bitchin’ cycle. Plus, confidence is a trait that is almost universally attractive. So, bonus, you will also become more attractive.
I’ve heard the book The Secret is roughly based on this topic, but I’ve never read it. I do know from my own personal experience that this actually works. The hardest part is convincing your brain to play along. As usual, mental hacks are not easy to implement, but if you can get it right, it pays off in a big way. Again, take baby steps. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there eventually. You just have to be determined. As spoken by a legend,
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” – Vince Lombardi
It takes will power to retrain your brain. But you can do it. I believe in you. Expect greatness. If you ever doubt yourself, just watch Space Jam. Also, Michael Jordon is now 50. Crazy.