Look Up! – The Power Of Expectations

“We will always tend to fulfill our own expectation of ourselves” – Brian Tracy

As we know, UP is a direction. More importantly, it is a direction that we want to go. The first step in moving UP is to set our sights beyond our current circumstances. Inherent in the definition of UP is that it never stops. There is always one more rung on the ladder, one more battle to fight, one more person to help, and one more analogy to make. So, wherever we are today, we have room to improve.

What’s holding us back? One of the main things keeping us from achieving more is that our expectations are set too low. When an expectation is set, our minds are so powerful and complex that our actions immediately begin to line up with that expectation. Robert K. Merton coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy” to describe this phenomenon in his 1957 book Social Theory and Social Structure. Wikipedia defines a self-fulfilling prophecy as “a prediction that, in being made, actually causes itself to become true”.

My Fair Lady. In George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle is transformed from a Cockney flower girl to a lady. What made the difference? The image that she had of herself changed when others treated her differently. Colonel Pickering called her “Miss Doolittle,” which Liza says began to teach her self-respect. She explained to Colonel Pickering, “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treated me as a flower girl, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”

We See It Every Day. Most of us have observed the power of expectations with a familiar example. A co-worker mentions to us late in the day that they think that they’re coming down with a cold. We may respond with something like, “I’ve heard there’s something going around”. We could even say, “You look all right to me”. It really doesn’t matter what we say at that point as the person really expects to get sick. Sure enough, the next day, they call into work sounding just awful announcing that there is no possible way they could work today.

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.” – Michael Jordan

“Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” – William James

Who Cares? Who cares enough about us to impose expectations upon us? The obvious answer is friends and family. Often, these expecations are normal and positive. For example, if our spouse expects us to be home to have dinner with the family, this could be a wonderful norm. Since we care about our friends and family, they have more power than anyone else to influence our own opinion of our ability. Frequently, well-meaning relatives will deter someone from pursuing their true life purpose.

One of the ways that this happens is by planting doubt. Let’s say we truly believe that we have an ability to write. We also have a desire to pursue writing as a career. In subtle ways, some of our friends and family begin to plant doubts about our skills or the opportunities in this career path. They may think that they are protecting us; however, sometimes, the result is that we choose another path that we perceive to be less risky.

What About Me? That’s right, we are the most important person in our lives in determining our place in this world. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. We hear our own voice more than any other. So, what are we saying to ourselves? If we are saying that we can do it, we are much more likely to dismiss evidence to the contrary. Take one of the most famous historical examples, how successful would David have been against Goliath if he were talking defeat to himself? It’s possible that he would have been unsuccessful if he had not been rehearsing his past successes in killing the lion and the bear with his bare hands.

Aside from the people in our inner circle of influence, there are others that have the ability to set expectations for us, if we give them the power. We just need to be aware that this occurs. Sometimes, we are more likely to change our opinion of ourselves because someone that we respect has a different viewpoint. Instead of taking their word for it, we must evaluate their opinion as objectively as possible. We don’t want to close ourselves off from change, however, we do want to make sure that any change is a conscious choice.

When Did I Choose? Unfortunately for many, the past controls the present. For others, concerns about the future significantly impact their current view. If the past is controlling us, it is generally in the form of guilt. In the case of guilt, we don’t feel worthy of success because of what we’ve done or haven’t done. As hard as it may be, we must let go of our feelings of unworthiness. Additionally, we must forgive anyone for anything that is eating away at us. Unforgiveness doesn’t affect the other person as much as it affects us. In fact, we would be shocked to find out how little time people think about us.

If the future is controlling us, it is generally in the form of anxiety. The Bible tells us with good reason in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Fear of the future has the ability to immobilize us in the present. More than causing us to be ineffective, guilt and anxiety have been linked to many health risks including heart disease, ulcers, and degraded immune system.

From this, we surmise that the only appropriate time to set our expectations is in the present. While we must consider our experiences and education from the past as well as our dreams and goals for the future, the only time that we can actually take action is now. The great news in looking up from where we are is that we can change where we’re going.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake . . . by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”