Are your thoughts setting you up to fail?
Have you ever worried about how you're going to feel when you do something for the first time, expecting that you can't do it, that you'll mess it up or that you'll be terrified doing it? And then when it comes to actually doing that thing, you were right? You couldn't do it, you messed up or you were terrified? I think we have all experienced this at some point in our lives. Often when we have this experience we feel justified in having the worries leading up to it. But what if those worries actually caused it all to go to pot in the first place?
"Our worries become self fulfilling prophecies, propelling us toward the very disaster they predict" ~ Daniel Goleman
A self fulfilling prophecy is defined as a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behaviour.
In the psychology and hypnosis world, this is known as response expectancy, where basically you experience what you expect to experience.
"I don't believe it." ~ Luke | "That is why you fail." ~ Yoda
If you truly believe in your heart that you cannot do something, then as Yoda said, you will fail. It's the perfect self fulfilling prophecy or dysfunctional response expectancy.
But it's not just about our expectations or beliefs determining if we succeed or fail at something. The expectations that we have in our lives can be a contributing cause of a number of psychological problems. However, they are also how we can over come them. And that is good news for us!
If you expect to feel anxious when you give a presentation at work, meet someone for the first time, or have a tooth removed, for example, then it is very likely that you will experience symptoms of anxiety to some degree. It also means that the next time these things come up, you might assume that you will have a repeat performance of last time. And that's exactly what happens. And now you're far beyond the point of your bog standard anxiety. Now you're anxious about being anxious. Perhaps you go over all the past experiences where it didn't go according to plan, continue to worry about all the worse case scenarios ahead of the situations, and even start to become fearful of these situations and avoid them if you can. Things get worse. And the cycle repeats. You can really see how a problem can develop, can't you? Dysfunctional response expectancies have been shown to partially cause and maintain anxiety (Reiss & McNally, 1985) and depression (Teasdale, 1985).
Changing these negative expectations are an important part of therapy (Kirsch, 1994) and helping to overcome issues such as anxiety, phobias and depression.
Here are a handful of ways that you can change your expectations so that you can have a different experience, one that is more positive:
1. Build awareness of your thoughts.
We get used to what and how we are thinking. When we have no awareness at all, our thoughts can continue unchecked and this can be quite detrimental if our thoughts are negative. Quite often our thoughts can run away with themselves. I often find that just by talking about thoughts with my clients they start to become much more aware of them. I give my clients a postcard with the word “Think” on it for them to put up around their home or at work which acts as a prompt for them to just check in with what is going through their mind at that point. This starts to become a more familiar process to them then.
2. Monitor your thoughts. Each day, write down any negative thoughts. Once you have an awareness of when you are thinking negatively about a situation or yourself you can start to do something about them.
3. Question your thoughts. Where is the thought getting you? Is it contributing to/maintaining a self fulfilling prophecy?
4. Open up to the possibility of another outcome. What if there was another outcome, one which is more positive, calm, and supportive in helping you to feel better about yourself and the situations you find yourself in? Think about whether there is another plausible outcome? How would you like things to be?
5. See the positive outcome as a real possibility. How will focusing on how you would like things to be help you? Can these thoughts create a positive self fulfilling prophecy?
6. Visualise the positive outcome. Spend some time visualising your self, believing that that positive outcome is a real possibility for you, imagine yourself accepting these new positive thoughts 100% and see this reality start to unfold in your mind.
7. Review your positive thoughts/goal daily. Post your new thoughts and positive outcome up on the wall somewhere at home or perhaps on your phone so that you can read them each day to help reinforce this new way of thinking.
Now you have this new positive mindset in place, it's a matter of practice and repetition of thinking and imagining this to be your reality so that you can experience those very positive things you were expecting to happen in reality. Here, a positive cycle is then established. Slowly but surely you overcome that old problem. And you go from strength to strength, feeling calmer, more in control, and with a more positive mindset.
- Kirsch, I. (1994) Clinical Hypnosis as a Nondeceptive Placebo: Empirically Derived Techniques. The American journal of clinical hypnosis. 37, 95-106
- Reiss, S. & McNally, R.J. (1985) The expectancy model of fear. In S. Reiss & R.R. Bootzin (Eds.), Theoretical issues in behaviour therapy (pp 107-121)
- Teasdale, J.D. (1985) Psychological treatments for depression: How do they work? Behaviour Researech and Therapy. 23, 157-165