“When I think about something, I attract it into my life.”
That’s Law of Attraction 101 right there. The basic premise that those things you spend most time thinking about will be delivered into your life by some unseen universal force.
Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. We’re not going to debate the existence of this law here. What we are going to do, however, is explore one way in which this “Secret” may actually be true. We’re going to look at self-fulfilling prophecies and the impact – positive and negative – that they can have on your life.
Are you ready to think your future into existence?
In The Beginning
Self-fulfilling prophecies are by no means a modern conception; they have been used in storytelling for thousands of years. Then, in 1948, American sociologist Robert Merton coined the phrase and defined it as so:
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.
In other words, by making a statement that is as yet untrue, you can change the way people (or groups of people) act so that these new actions subsequently prove the statement to be true.
They occur because the initial statement changes the way a person perceives the situation, and it is this change in perception that induces the altered behavioral state. The statement, though false, challenges the views and expectations they currently hold and plants the seed of a new attitude.
A Very Expensive Example
The 2008 collapse of US bank Lehman Brothers was, in some sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to evidence from former CEO Richard Fuld, the bank’s financial health was ok in the run-up to its collapse. He blamed “increasingly negative and inaccurate market rumors” for the eventual run on the bank and ensuing bankruptcy.
In essence, the statements made about the health of the bank’s balance sheet – which Fuld claims were not true – changed the perception of investors and creditors who then altered their behavior and sent the share price plummeting. Thus, inaccurate statements surrounding the bank’s demise were a major contributing factor in its eventual downfall.
It All Starts In Your Head
The origin of any self-fulfilling prophecy is in the mind of whoever makes the erroneous initial statement. It is a belief that something is one way when it is, in fact, another way entirely. Or, if the statement is constructed by someone who knows that it is false, it is made in the attempt to sway the perception of others and thus instigate the change in behavior that will eventually prove the statement to be true.
Either way, there are two parts to the story: first a mind is convinced that a statement is true, then the owner of that mind behaves as if it is.
This psychological cause-and-effect can manifest itself in many different ways.
Example 1: you have low self-esteem and believe yourself to be unworthy of a promotion at work. Irrespective of your actual performance, your belief (a mental statement) that you do not deserve a promotion causes you to act in a way that will not lead to one – primarily by not asking your manager to consider the possibility.
Similarly, if you go into a job interview believing that you will not get the job, you will unconsciously say things or act in a way that precludes you from being considered for the role.
Example 2: you’ve been invited to a party, but you don’t know anyone other than the person who invited you. Yet you go with the attitude that you’ll just make friends once you get there (a mental statement). This positive approach means you are willing to engage with strangers, discuss a broad range of topics, listen genuinely when they speak (actions), and give off a warmth and openness that will draw people to you (outcome).
Example 3: you have to give a presentation at work and you convince yourself that you’ll stutter and forget what you’re meant to say (a mental statement). You then spend the hours preceding the presentation having an anxious meltdown, pacing the room trying desperately to memorize your script (actions). These stress-fuelled practice runs can disrupt your short term memory recall and lead to the very outcome you predicted.
Example 4: you are selling your house, but you are told that it is a buyers’ market. This leads you to believe that anyone making an offer is going to drive a hard bargain and negotiate with confidence (a mental statement). This leads you to assume that you are in a weak position, and when an offer is forthcoming, your counter-offer (if you even dare make one) is lower than it needs to be (actions). The result is you achieve a lower selling price than might have otherwise been possible.
As you can see in these examples, the initial statement isn’t always strictly false as in the original 1948 definition. It can simply be that the outcome is not yet known, but the belief in a particular outcome is strong enough to drive the person’s behavior in a direction that causes that outcome to come true.
This brings us nicely to the final stage of our journey.
Using Self-Fulfilling Prophecies To Your Advantage
Law of Attraction or not, your thoughts can very much change your reality. Leaving aside the possibility of magnetic properties on a cosmic scale, if you are able to train your mind to think in a certain way, you can generate a corresponding change in behavior which, in turn, influences your life in a multitude of ways.
The challenge is to not only think in a particular way, but to actually believe your own thoughts. Remember, it is your perception of a situation and your role in it that is the catalyst for your subsequent behavior. Change your beliefs and you change your perception; change your perception and you change your behavior; change your behavior and you change your outcome.
Example 1: the relationship with your partner is relatively new, but because you have been cheated on in the past, you are very distrustful and you can’t help but assume your new partner will also cheat on you. These thoughts dictate the perception you have of your partner and you remain unconvinced whether the relationship can last.
This is then likely to cause friction between the two of you and make you behave in ways that push them away from you. Regardless of whether they even have the capacity to cheat on you, your belief that they might could spell disaster for your relationship.
If, on the other hand, you can tell yourself – and convince yourself – that you deserve to have a happy, healthy relationship, you will behave differently towards your partner. The dynamic between the two of you will be more harmonious (though no one is suggesting or expecting perfect bliss) and you will be more likely to enjoy stability over a longer period, and possibly indefinitely.
It is wrong to suggest that a change in your belief and attitude will guarantee a successful relationship because there are many factors in play. What we can say, however, is that starting off with an optimistic mindset will increase the chances of things turning out how you’d hope.
Example 2: you want to quit your day job and start a business of your own doing something you love. Only, you aren’t convinced that you’d make a success of it. This belief leads to one of two outcomes: either you never quit your job in the first place, or you do quit your job, but you make half-hearted attempts to turn your business into a profitable enterprise.
If you believe the chances of failure are high, you will not take the educated risks almost always associated with successful ventures. You won’t put your all into perfecting your product or service offering. You won’t stump up the funds required to bring your production cost down or pay for the necessary training. You won’t try all the possible marketing channels to gain new customers or clients. You won’t put yourself out there and network with the movers and shakers in the industry.
And chances are your hesitant approach will mean you don’t have the success you want.
In contrast, if you come at things with a more positive mindset and believe that you really will take your dream and turn it into a reality, you will do all of the things above and more; you will do whatever it takes to succeed. While there can never be any guarantees in business, the chances of you making a decent living increase dramatically if you start off with optimism, enthusiasm, and genuine commitment to the journey, no matter how long it takes.
Example 3: you start an exercise regime in order to tone up, lose weight, and improve your overall health. If you believe from the outset that you can keep this going indefinitely (or for a set length of time of your choosing), you will be full of drive and determination. This will help you to avoid the temptation to skip a day or do fewer miles/reps/minutes than planned. With every passing day, and as the results of your hard work begin to show, you will grow more energized and more motivated to keep going.
Conversely, if you begin with a mind full of doubts and a fear of failure, you will have your excuses lined up from day one. You won’t believe in yourself and you will be more prone to missing days or sessions from your schedule.
In this example, your beliefs really do play a huge role in your chances of success. While there may be external factors to consider, your sense of purpose and a belief in your capabilities will probably be the biggest factor of them all.
The Law Of Attr-Action
Fans of the Law of Attraction believe that you can manifest something into being by thinking about it. What we have seen here is that there is some element of truth in this. Self-fulfilling prophecies do begin with a thought or belief and grow into outcomes, but the key is that they require action (or the lack thereof) to come true.
Your behavior and actions are what will, ultimately, turn your thoughts into reality. In all of the examples above – both positive and negative – it is how you act that matters most. After all, your thoughts alone cannot influence other people or other moving elements of this grand life we live.
All you need to remember then is this: beliefs alter perceptions alter behaviors alter outcomes.