A piece of classic literature, Charles Dickens’s novel has been taught in schools across the country for decades. The title of the book, Great Expectations, has multiple meanings. While the scholars could argue for hours about why Dickens chose that title, the message is clear: expectations matter. Therefore it is important that we expect the best out of every situation we find ourselves in.
In psychology, the theory is called the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that you are destined to become a millionaire, you will work hard, take chances, network accordingly, and carry yourself as if you deserve a million dollars. Eventually, with enough hard work and perseverance, you’ll become wealthy. On the other hand, if you are certain that you’ll fail an upcoming math test, you probably will. According to the self-fulfilling prophecy, our behaviors are guided by our thoughts. We adjust our behaviors to align with how we think. A mismatch between the two upsets our psyche, so we are forced to change one or the other. Since behaviors are easier to change than thoughts, we subconsciously make the choice to behave in accordance with our thoughts. It makes sense that self-help books often task us with positively affirming ourselves.
It’s not just science that believes in such a concept. Christians may be familiar with Job’s story. Job 3:25 reads, “What I feared has come upon me…” Most religions relate with a similar notion. You get what you expect, so expect the best.
Even pop culture outlets, such as Harry Potter, acknowledge that often our deepest fears become reality. Think back to the scene where students had to stand and wait for their biggest fears to appear and then had to conquer them with a spell. Just thinking about their fears made them appear right in front of the students.
We can go so far as to say that other people’s thoughts matter, too. Teachers go through intense training to combat their own ideas about students before they enter the classroom. If a teacher believes that a certain race or gender of students is low-performing, they likely will be. Our expectations are important to how our daily lives unfold.
You can think of many examples where this logic has proved itself to be true. If you’ve ever walked into a work function thinking, “This is going to be the worst use of my free time,” then it probably was. However, if you go into a situation with the expectation that it’s going to be a great time, horrible weather, insects, and a change in the plans doesn’t phase you. After all, it’s meant to be a good time, so you take steps to make sure that it is. Expect the best and no matter how bad it, you will ultimately end up with the best.
The idea sounds straightforward. What becomes difficult, though, is acknowledging that our thoughts actually can control our behaviors and can affect the behaviors of others. It’s one thing to talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? Rather, are we willing to put in the required effort?
Let’s consider a few common scenarios we’ve all experienced. If you’re ready to hack your brain and the brains of those around you, keep reading.
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “There’s no way that would happen,” then welcome to the club. We’ve all experienced self-doubt. Unless you’re arguing science, you can’t say something is impossible. Difficult? Definitely. A lot of work? Okay, I’ll give you that. That being said, “Impossible” needs to be taken out of our vocabulary, along with qualifiers such as “Never,” or “Always.” When we change our attitude from, “No way in a million years,” to “That sounds challenging, but I can try XYZ to make it happen,” you’ve got the world at your fingertips.
I’m Not Cut Out for That
It’s important to know our limits, but too often I hear people saying that they aren’t made for one activity or another. If you’ve always wanted to try skydiving, why not pursue it? “I’m not cut out for that,” is code for “I’m not good enough,” or “I can’t.” You’ve got to stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough. If that’s truly how you feel about yourself, I can bet you’ve got a lot of failing relationships in your life. Why? Because you aren’t good enough? Of course not! You’ve just managed to throw yourself a continual pity party, which is no fun for anyone. Once a relationship fails, you reaffirm your original thought that you weren’t good enough, and the game starts all over. To stop the vicious cycle, you have to embrace your abilities and positive traits and work to improve the negatives ones.
He/She is So (Insert Horrible Quality Here)
The minute you begin thinking or saying that someone around you is a certain way, they’ll likely conform to that. Have you already decided that Lisa is no good at web design? You’ve probably made that clear to her, whether it was on purpose or not. Where is Lisa’s motivation to try, then? You guessed it- not there. It’s no surprise when Lisa makes no effort to get better at that aspect of her job. You’ve already decided she’s going to fail, so why should she bother?
In looking at these common examples, it’s important to note that this mindset isn’t foolproof. You could encourage Lisa daily and genuinely believe that she’s going to knock the next web design project out of the park only to come into the office and see a horrible project- or no project at all. Some people are lazy and incapable. The vast majority, though, want to do well and be successful. This goes for us ourselves, too.
The key takeaway here is that our thoughts matter. Our attitudes will determine our success or failure in a given situation. It’s critical that we keep a safeguard on our thoughts in order to put a positive spin on any individual, group, or circumstance with which we are presented.
Watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Watch your words, for they become your actions. Watch your actions, for they become your habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character.