How to Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

There is a circular, self-feeding loop in many aspects of human nature, and you can use them to your advantage — or disadvantage. In many of these self-feeding loops, your thoughts play a major role. For example, a person with indigestion (caused by stress) notices a pain in his stomach, and then worries that maybe something is seriously wrong with him. The worry increases his level of stress, which increases the pain in his stomach, which makes him worry all the more, etc. Now at first, there was nothing wrong with him. It was only temporary stress and some indigestion. But his worry that there might be something wrong with him helped to cause a more lasting, worsening problem.

His thoughts have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He predicted something that came true largely because he predicted it.

A few years ago, I was talking with a client named Stacy. Stacy was feeling bad about herself because she read a book on self-esteem. The author had listed all the symptoms of low self-esteem, and Stacy found she had most of them. The author's point of view was that low self-esteem was bad. The result was: Stacy felt bad about herself when she discovered how bad about herself she felt!

The problem with this kind of thing is that it has a tendency to keep going down because as you feel worse, your point of view becomes more and more narrow and biased toward the negative, which makes you feel even worse, which narrows your point of view even more and makes you see more danger, misery or threat in your world, which brings you down even more, etc. It's a negative loop; a downward spiral.

When I was in high school, I had to take a speech class. I was already afraid to give a speech because of an embarrassing experience I'd had with it in fourth grade.

By the time I was in high school, I was so afraid I might look like a fool that when I gave my first speech, I did look like a fool. My attention narrowed. My heart was beating wildly. I couldn't look at the audience. I read my speech in a low monotone, and my classmates who knew me were especially surprised, and I knew it, which made the experience even more upsetting. I was normally a smart aleck, joking and laughing and not very shy. Then I got up to give a speech and couldn't even look at the audience. My teacher, a wise man, took me aside afterwards and said, "What was that?!"

"I'm really afraid to give speeches," I said.

"But in my class last semester you had no problem at all speaking up."

I knew he was right. It was a small class devoted to discussion and I frequently jumped in the fray and spoke passionately without the least bit of shyness.

He went on, "Just treat this the same way. Talk to us. Say what's on your mind. Joke with us. Be yourself."

I went on to have a good time giving speeches in that class. My mind started focusing on how I could entertain my classmates rather than focusing on the thought, "I might make a fool of myself."

That's the way to dissolve a negative self-fulfilling prophecy: Change the focus of your mind. In the example of the guy with indigestion, he could simply go to the doctor. If the doctor said, "There's nothing wrong with you," he would probably stop worrying about it. Or if he still worried about it, he could notice when he was worrying and change the focus of his mind. If he was driving in his car, he could turn on a tape or the radio.

Talk radio or a tape of someone talking about something that interests you is a great way to distract your mind. It is much harder to talk to yourself when you are listening to someone else talk about something interesting to you.

You may be thinking, "It doesn't seem like a good idea to distract myself from thoughts. As a matter of fact, it seems kind of dangerous. Like a form of denial."

I agree wholeheartedly. Alcoholics are famous for it. In fact, drinking alcohol is a very effective way to stop thinking about something. It shuts down your mind. And it is dangerous. So I want you to listen carefully to what I am about to say. Changing the focus of your mind is a very powerful and useful technique, but it should only be used when you have met these two criteria:

1. there is evidence that proves the thought is untrue, or there is no evidence either way

2. and the thought is counterproductive

If the man went to the doctor and discovered his fear was unwarranted, he could then safely change the focus of his thoughts because those thoughts are counterproductive. The thoughts harm him. But when an alcoholic has the thought, "My life is not turning out the way I want it to," she should not try to distract herself from thinking that. She should turn her attention toward it and ask, "How can change it?" (Not, by the way, "Why is life so unfair?") There is evidence that her thought is true, and it can be a very productive thought indeed.

People who get depressed often have a thought, "I'm helpless to change." The thought itself is neither true nor false. Or rather, the thought can make itself either true or false. If you thought you were helpless about something, you probably wouldn't bother trying to do anything about it, thus becoming helpless.

If a man is naked with his wife and he thinks, "I might not be able to get it up," the thought is counterproductive. That is the kind of thought that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because the thought is not a turn-on. The thought will turn him off. Then his worry becomes a reality because of his worry. That is a perfect time for him to change the focus of his mind. One place he could put his attention is turning his wife on.

make your goal a self-fulfilling prophesy

So far I've talked about how to stop yourself from causing a negative thought to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But there is also the positive side: You can help yourself achieve your goals by harnessing the very same forces for good instead of evil. You can create positive self-feeding loops. Self-confidence around people is one of the places this works. Until I got to high school, I was "shy." My mom still thinks I am. It was so much a part of my personality, she just can't seem to get over it. But anyone who knows me now would have a hard time believing I was ever shy.

If you think other people aren't going to like you, when you're around other people, you back off. You are more withdrawn. You don't talk very much. You don't open up. The person you're talking to feels, of course, that you don't like him, so he withdraws. His withdrawal is evidence that other people don't like you. See how that works?

It was easy to fix. I got the idea from Maxwell Maltz's book, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life. When I talked to people, I started thinking to myself, "They like me." I became more comfortable and talked a little easier, and people responded. I started seeing evidence that people liked me, and the self-feeding loop was going. Now I feel comfortable around just about everyone and they feel comfortable around me.

I saw an ingenious experiment on this recently: Students were paired up and allowed to talk for five minutes. Then one person from each pair was called aside and talked to privately. Half of them were told his partner liked him. The other half was told his partner didn't like him.

Then all the pairs were put back together to talk some more, and the researchers watched and took notes. Here's what they found: When a person thought the other person liked him, he talked more personally about himself, leaned in toward the other person more, and used more eye contact. And how did his partner respond to this? By doing the same thing. His partner leaned forward more, talked more personally, and looked him in the eye more.

When a person thought his partner didn't like him, he tended to lean back, talk less personally about himself, and use less eye contact. And again, his partner did the same.

Whether you think other people will like you or not, you're probably going to be right! It will tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy either way.

The same is true for a goal you have. Assuming it can be done will help you make it happen.

When you notice yourself worrying about your goal, ask yourself if the worry has any evidence, and if there is anything you can do about it. If there isn't, then think something else or in some way keep yourself from worrying about it. Doubt and worry drain your energy, take away your drive and initiative, and these qualities are important to achievement.

You can lift yourself up by your bootstraps. This can't be done in normal life. You can't grab your shoelaces and lift yourself off the ground. But when it comes to a long term goal, you can! In the success literature like Think and Grow Rich, there is an important principle called Faith. It is the willful assumption, the deliberate assumption, that you can and will persist with your goal until you succeed. Once you have that, you've literally got it made. It makes your goal a self-fulfilling prophecy. In those books, there are stories galore of people doing it. Many people have read these stories and become convinced they can accomplish the impossible, and then actually accomplished it!

The problem, of course, is doubt, worry, and discouragement. Those also become self-fulfilling prophecies and are easier to think. If you get discouraged, you lose your drive and don't take the steps that would lead to success. And who is going to loan money to someone for a business venture when the person doubts it will work! Faith is electrifying! It moves people. Napoleon Hill says the starting point of all achievement is Desire. And he exhorts the reader to work herself into a state of white hot desire. And you can easily see that if you were in a state of white hot desire, you could achieve things that would be impossible normally.

But how does Napoleon Hill suggest you get to that state? There are some old-fashioned things about this book. After all, it was written during the Great Depression. But there are some things about it which are startlingly modern. The method he suggests is what he calls auto-suggestion. It is basically talking to yourself. What do you think would happen if you constantly pictured your goal in your mind and saw yourself accomplishing it, and winning, succeeding, and you were at the same time saying to yourself, "I will achieve this goal; I will never stop until it is mine; I have the ability; I will follow my plan and if it doesn't work, I will make a new one and follow that; and if that one doesn't work, I will keep trying, I will keep aiming for it, and I will get it!" If your mind was filled with that kind of stuff, do you see you would have a drive — a level of energy — that was far above average? Can you see how it would make you more powerful? More likely to achieve your goals?

This is how you can make your goal into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is how you can lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. You can accomplish the impossible!

I know that sounds drummed-up phoniness. And it is. You really can't accomplish something that is truly impossible. But many of the things that we think are impossible are only impossible because we think they are. So in a sense, it is true: You may be able to accomplish what we now think is impossible. And you can do it by assuming it can be done and committing yourself to doing it.

Now of course, there are not many people with the ambition to accomplish the impossible. Most of us would be content with a new house, or something else that is more mundane. What is your goal? I know you have lots of little goals like a new TV or getting in better shape or making more money. But is there something that really stirs you? Something that makes your eyes water a little when you think of it? That's the goal I'm talking about. It might be something you've written off because it was impossible or impractical. But let me tell you something: You're going to die. Even if you live to be a hundred and twenty, you're going to die. And the goal that stirs you should be accomplished before you die. You can start small or do it however you do it, but it should be done, if only because it will give a meaning to your life and make this experience extraordinary. Determine you will do it, and then get started. Make that dream into a self-fulfilling prophecy and it will truly fulfill your self.

Here's how to make your goal a self-fulfilling prophecy: Keep your thoughts on what you want, and keep your thoughts confident. When you notice you feel doubtful, attack the thoughts. Question them on the basis of their validity. Read more about that here. And then consciously, deliberately imagine your goal and say things to yourself that motivate you and give you courage and confidence. All you have to do is control your mind, which is the subject of this article.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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