Even if a belief starts out being based on false pretenses, if you truly believe that something is going to happen, there’s a good chance that it is going to manifest itself. No, this is not because we have the ability to predict the future. Rather, it is because our beliefs dictate our actions and our actions, in turn, influence our outcomes. This is what is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.
As with most things, the paradigm of the self-fulfilling prophecy has both a bright side and a dark side. In both cases, the ramifications can be absolutely tremendous.
Plan to Fail and You Probably Will
If you go into a project with the expectation of failure, you are significantly increasing your chance of failure. Let’s say, for example, that you are training for a marathon race. If you figure that you’re going to come in last anyway, you probably won’t be putting that much effort into your training and when it comes time to actually run the marathon, you won’t give it your all. After all, you’re coming to come in last anyway, right?
By the same accord, I don’t think Stephen Colbert truly ever felt that he could win the Republican nomination and actually run for President of the United States, so it wasn’t all that surprising that he had to drop out of the race. It was inevitable.
By contrast, if you think that you can be very competitive in the marathon if you work hard at your training and improve your overall health, you’ll act as if this is a distinct possibility. You’ll work harder and smarter, significantly increasing the odds of your expectation coming true.
Expectations Lend Themselves to Expected Results
The reason why the self-fulfilling prophecy works is because your expectations have a direct effect on your behavior. If you go to a party expecting to be ignored and snuffed, there’s a good chance that you’re going to act as if this was already a foregone conclusion. You’ll likely huddle into the corner as a wallflower, sipping on your drink and fading into the background. Not too many people want to spark a conversation with the guy hiding in the shadows, so you will emerge from the party with your expectations fulfilled.
It’s all about your mindset and how it affects your actions. Moreover, as with the party example above, your actions affect the perceptions and actions of the people around you. These further feed into your beliefs. It’s a cycle.
Truly Believe You Can and Yes, You Can
Now, I’m not saying that it is prudent to approach the world through rose-tinted glasses. You should still address the worst-case scenario and plan for the future, but you shouldn’t go in with the expectation of failure. The power of the self-fulfilling prophecy will just lead you down the road to failure if you expect to arrive there anyway.
The strange thing about the self-fulfilling prophecy is that it is very difficult to control your actual expectations. You can keep telling yourself to subscribe to belief A, but if in your heart of hearts you truly subscribe to belief B, it’s belief B that will dictate your actions. In this way, it may be worthwhile to consider the self-fulfilling prophecy almost in reverse.
Instead of having your mindset dictate your actions, try getting your actions to influence your mindset. Last year, I don’t think anyone gave Barack Obama much of a fighting chance, but he composed himself with confidence. I’m not really sure if he believed it himself from the beginning, but he sure acted like he could be a viable contender. That was a major factor in his eventual victory.
If you want to be happier, try smiling. Your mind will follow.