Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Are You Expecting the Worse?

There are many things that can influence our future – circumstances, the input of other people (whether that be positive or negative), our physical and emotional abilities and much more - but the main thing that will influence what happens in our lives is ourselves.

Self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when we expect something to happen and then act in a way that causes it happen, thereby proving to ourselves that we were right in our expectations. This can work in both the positive and negative sense. For example, someone may expect to get a high grade for an exam. They study hard, which then causes it to happen. Or, someone may expect that no one will like them at their new school/workplace. They then act in an anti-social way (whether that be isolating themselves, acting out or being difficult), which then causes people not to like them. That person may well be thinking, ‘See, I knew nobody would like me,’ without realising that they in fact have created the situation.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, in the positive sense, can be our friend. If we set our minds to achieve positive goals, we are more likely to reach them. But if it’s working in the negative sense and we aren’t even able to identify how, then we become our own worst enemy without even knowing it.

Our predictions may be based on some truth, and or on experiences we’ve had in the past. The person starting at a new school/workplace for example may have moved around a lot and had to start at many new schools/workplaces in which rejection, cliques and isolation were all a reality. Another person may have failed many exams and now think there’s no hope in doing any better. Or, someone may have been let down by so many people in the past that they become cynical about anyone offering genuine help. Starting to think like this all the time, however, causes us to not only expect the worse, but to subconsciously ensure it happens.

Of course, there is a way to stop the cycle. First, we have to identify what we are doing to cause the negative experience. For example, if we feel that people don’t really care about us, what may we be doing to keep them away? If we haven't got the job we wanted, what may we be doing to hold ourselves back? If we feel we are constantly unable to achieve anything, how might our thinking be stopping us? If we expected to have a bad day and did, what may we have done to contribute to that?

Once the problem has been identified we can then make a change. It may mean making more of an effort to be friendly towards others. It may mean monitoring our self-talk and keeping it positive. It may mean giving others another chance before voicing how we know they will fail us. It may mean noticing when we unfairly blame others for things and taking responsibility instead. It definitely means no longer expecting the worse, and doing what we can to make the best happen.

This doesn’t mean that people won’t fail us, that we won’t fail at times and/or that bad things won’t happen – not everything is in our control. But we do have control of ourselves, and if we can stop self-sabotaging, we give ourselves the chance to succeed, to be positive, and to get the most out of life.