There’s a famous 1960’s study where a Harvard professor named Robert Rosenthal researched on the effects of teachers’ expectations on students. He gave a standard IQ test to elementary children, selected some ordinary kids at random, and told teachers that those few students will soon become very intelligent. Sure enough, after two years, the selected students DID indeed show an increase in IQ.
As Rosenthal’s research continued, he found that the teachers’ expectations affected their interactions with those randomly selected students. Those kids that the teachers expect to succeed were given “more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.” In short, expectations affected their behavior, and their behavior affected their results. They expected the kids to do well, so they behaved in ways that made the kids do better.
So what does this story have to do with you? It’s simple. Your expectations about YOURSELF affects your behavior. Whether you know it or not, you act in ways that will make your expectations reality. Your entire life is a reflection of your thoughts.
Why is this important? If you want to avoid a life of failure and you want to improve the quality of your life, you need to learn how to control your thoughts and improve your expectations.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy – What is it?
This was one of the most interesting lessons I’ve learned when I studied basic psychology back in college. A self-fulfilling prophecy is “when a person unknowingly causes a prediction to come true, due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to come true.”
For example, if you’re going to play a basketball game against a stronger opposing team and you think you’re gonna lose, you’ll likely be discouraged and you won’t be able to do your best. You won’t try to shoot as often, you won’t rush to get the ball every time you can, and you won’t bother tiring yourself out and giving your all because you “know” you’ll lose anyway. On the other hand, if you think you can win, you’ll certainly do your best to succeed. You’ll rush towards the ball, try to shoot as often as you can and get rebounds, and even if the opposing team is several points ahead of you, you’ll still do your best to turn it around and win. By doing your best, you greatly increase your chances of winning the game.
As another example, if you “predict” that your new boss will be mean to you, you’ll act in ways that make it true. You’ll be cold and indifferent to them, rebellious when they give you orders, and you’ll tend to look at them with disdain when they make mistakes. They’ll notice when you don’t respect them, and they’ll be as mean to you as you are to them.
On the other hand, if you expect that your new boss is kind and caring, you’ll be more open to being friends with them and you’ll likely greet them warmly every workday. You’ll be more open to their orders and suggestions and be more understanding when they make mistakes. They will notice that you respect them, and they’ll respect you in return.
Why does it Happen?
The first is through Priming. We tend to notice things that we look for. To avoid information overload, a part of our brain called the reticular activating system filters the information we sense and it only lets us notice the things that are important to us. This is also the reason why you should set goals. Your mind helps you find opportunities that will let you achieve those goals. For example, if you want to buy a red T-shirt and you go to a clothing store, you’ll notice a LOT of red T-shirts and you’ll ignore the purple, green, and gray shirts as if they don’t exist. You drive or commute through busy highways and streets every day to get to work… but you’ll only notice the “apartment for rent” and “house for sale” signs when you’re looking for a new home and you’ll only notice the “now hiring” signs when you’re looking for work.
The second reason why it happens is through Confirmation Bias. We tend to notice things that prove us right, and we ignore or downplay the importance of things that prove us wrong. For example, if you think “rich people are evil”, you’ll notice corrupt businesspeople in the news like Bernie Madoff who committed one of the largest financial frauds in history and think that “all rich people must be like that”. You might also think about the “rich people” who never give you a car or a mansion even though they can afford it (as if “rich people” have infinite amounts of money) as evidence that “rich people are evil”. You’ll likely ignore positive news about them, like singer Akon bringing solar energy to Africa, Bill Gates bringing quality healthcare and education to the poor, and Warren Buffett’s BILLIONS of dollars of donations to charity. You’ll also ignore the vast majority of good examples, like the businessperson who built hospitals, homes, apartments, airlines, computers, etc. Similar to that, you probably won’t remember the time your wealthy friends helped you when you needed money, and you’ll downplay their act of kindness because “they have a lot of money anyway”.
“Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e., we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we are looking for.” – Henry David Thoreau
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and our Future
Whatever you think about and believe about the world, you’ll speak and act in ways that make it happen.
If you think you can’t get the job you want, you’ll act like you’re not fit for the job, you’ll sound defeated and weak during the job interview, and you likely won’t get hired. You quit before you began. Then you’ll just continue the job you have and hate, or you’ll look for another job that isn’t as good as the one you wanted.
If you think you CAN get that awesome job you want, you’ll dress your best, you’ll sound excited and confident during the interview, and you’ll act like you’re the best person for the job so you’re FAR more likely to get hired. If you aren’t fit for the opening, you’ll likely keep looking for the NEXT best job until you find something just as good or better. That’s how you’ve won before you started.
If you think most people are mean, you’ll act cold and unfriendly with strangers, you won’t help people often because you think they might take advantage of you, and you think that people brag whenever they talk about their accomplishments so you criticize them. People quickly find out that you’re not fun to be around so they stop inviting you, they won’t bother helping you since they know you’ll never help them, and they won’t talk to you or they will criticize you because you do the same thing to them.
If you think people are kind, you’ll smile and greet them warmly, offer to help when you can because you expect that some of them will help you when you need it, and you’ll encourage people when they’re down. Because of that, good people will do the same for you.
If you think you can’t become successful, you’ll simply accept what you have right now. You’ll complain about your terrible job, your low income, and all your problems because you can’t do anything about them anyway. You’ll just accept them and hope things get better, but they won’t because you’re not actively working to improve your situation. And thus, you’ll complain even more when things don’t change.
If you think you CAN become successful, you’ll have an easier time thinking of all the ways you can improve your life. You’ll set a great goal and plan for your next career move or business, you’ll study things you can do to improve yourself so you’d know what you can do to be more successful, and you won’t let your problems bother you too much because you think you can always find solutions. You work hard to improve your life, and slowly but surely you make it happen. Your life improves little by little until you finally achieve the level of success that you’re comfortable with (or better).
Your life is a reflection of your thoughts. Whatever you think about and whatever you believe about the world, you’ll tend to act in ways to make them reality. You are responsible for your life, and you are responsible for your level of success… or failure.
Never forget this lesson: You can improve the quality of your life by improving the quality of your thoughts. You must first expect to win before you can succeed.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
– Mahatma Gandhi