From Expectation to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Written by on October 12, 2020 in Perseverance, Self-Determination
From Expectation to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

How you see the world, depends on what you look for.

It seems that few people are ambivalent about the concept of expectations. We either love um or hate um, but rarely ride the fence on their value.

To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s first acknowledge that there is a big difference between assuming others will act the way you want or believe they should, and the expectations you hold for your own behavior, abilities, and circumstances.

Today, we’re talking about the expectations you hold for yourself.

Psychologists have found that the combination of positive expectation and belief can be a very powerful thing.

If you believe in your ability to overcome a hardship or achieve an important goal, you are far more likely to do the work to make that a reality.

But if you doubt yourself, or expect that nothing you do will make a difference, chances are you’re not going to invest much effort, and likely give up at the first obstacle you encounter.

Either way, your expectations have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Nature of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecy is a term coined by the American sociologist Robert Merton to describe how when an individual acts based on a belief they may create the very conditions that will fulfill their expectations.

So, a self-fulfilling prophecy can just as easily work against us as for us.

For example, imagine that you’ve convinced yourself that your romantic partner is thinking about leaving you.

The more you fear this, the harder you try to make things right, and the tighter you cling.

The tighter you hang on and attempt to control the relationship the more likely they are to begin to feel uncomfortable and smothered.

Another scenario might be that you have a knee-jerk reaction and leave them first to avoid the pain of being the one abandoned.

Either way, you’ve created the very situation you feared most.

How We Attempt to Control Expectations

Many people intentionally set their expectations as low as possible (or avoid them altogether) to avoid being disappointed.

The idea is that if you experience a good outcome then you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but even if things go south and something bad happens you’ve managed to protect yourself against the pain and embarrassment of failure.

This may be prudent when it comes to expectations for other people, but remember now we’re talking about you.

By playing it safe to avoid discomfort and potential failure, aren’t you robbing yourself of the motivation to achieve your full potential in life?

Furthermore, studies have shown that when you behave as though you believe in and have high expectations for yourself, others tend to believe that as well, even if you really don’t have what it takes – yet.

Expectations vs. Wishful Thinking

At the other extreme of self-expectancy are those who habitually override common sense by choosing huge goals based on little more than wishful thinking.

In their minds, if they want something badly enough, and wish hard enough for it, they will attain it.

They like to gamble on BIG payoffs but they don’t assess realistically whether they have the talent, resources, and savvy to realize their dreams, or whether the conditions are favorable.

To make matters worse, they are usually so sure of their prospects that they fail to set up contingency plans or prepare themselves emotionally for detours or defeat.

As a result, they don’t merely have setbacks – they often fall back to square one, and sometimes even further.

This is often where people end up disillusioned, swearing off expectations altogether rather than doing the work to find out how to create a better outcome.

What Expectations Do You Hold for Yourself?

Henry Ford summed up how powerful self-belief is when he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Think of all the stories you’ve ever read about people who have achieved great success. They expected to win – but they also expected there would be challenges and failures along the way.

Realistic optimism helped to keep them grounded while positive self-expectancy kept them motivated and moving upward.

They created their own self-fulfilling prophecy for better jobs, more money, good health, better family relationships, financial security, warm friendships, and success — no matter what obstacles life threw at them.

Consider Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind since infancy and yet graduated magna cum laude and devoted her entire life to the service of others.

Here’s what she had to say about expectations for herself:

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as they were great and noble.

~Helen Keller

She never lowered expectations for herself but rather chose to be realistically optimistic about how she went about fulfilling them.

What do you expect for yourself? What self-fulfilling prophecy will you create?

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Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach, and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies, and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Emotionally Resilient Living Start Here.

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