THERE IS A CIRCULAR, self-feeding loop
in many aspects of human nature, and you can use them to your
advantage or disadvantage. In many of these self-feeding
loops, your thoughts play a major role. For example, a person
with indigestion (caused by stress) notices a pain in his stomach,
and then worries that maybe something is seriously wrong with
him. The worry increases his level of stress, which increases
the pain in his stomach, which makes him worry all the more,
etc. Now at first, there was nothing wrong with him. It was only
temporary stress and some indigestion. But his worry that there
might be something wrong with him helped to cause a more lasting,
His thoughts have become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. He predicted something that came true largely because
he predicted it.
A few years ago, I was talking with a client
named Stacy. Stacy was feeling bad about herself because she
read a book on self-esteem. The author had listed all the symptoms
of low self-esteem, and Stacy found she had most of them. The
author's point of view was that low self-esteem was bad. The
result was: Stacy felt bad about herself when she discovered
how bad about herself she felt!
The problem with this kind of thing is
that it has a tendency to keep going down because as you
feel worse, your point of view becomes more and more narrow and
biased toward the negative, which makes you feel even worse,
which narrows your point of view even more and makes you see
more danger, misery or threat in your world, which brings you
down even more, etc. It's a negative loop; a downward spiral.
When I was in high school, I had to take
a speech class. I was already afraid to give a speech because
of an embarrassing experience I'd had with it in fourth grade.
By the time I was in high school, I was
so afraid I might look like a fool that when I gave my first
speech, I did look like a fool. My attention narrowed.
My heart was beating wildly. I couldn't look at the audience.
I read my speech in a low monotone, and my classmates who knew
me were especially surprised, and I knew it, which made the experience
even more upsetting. I was normally a smart aleck, joking and
laughing and not very shy. Then I got up to give a speech and
couldn't even look at the audience. My teacher, a wise man, took
me aside afterwards and said, "What was that?!"
"I'm really afraid to give speeches,"
"But in my class last semester you
had no problem at all speaking up."
I knew he was right. It was a small class
devoted to discussion and I frequently jumped in the fray and
spoke passionately without the least bit of shyness.
He went on, "Just treat this the same
way. Talk to us. Say what's on your mind. Joke with us. Be yourself."
I went on to have a good time giving speeches
in that class. My mind started focusing on how I could entertain
my classmates rather than focusing on the thought, "I might
make a fool of myself."
That's the way to dissolve a negative self-fulfilling
prophecy: Change the focus of your mind. In the example
of the guy with indigestion, he could simply go to the doctor.
If the doctor said, "There's nothing wrong with you,"
he would probably stop worrying about it. Or if he still worried
about it, he could notice when he was worrying and change the
focus of his mind. If he was driving in his car, he could turn
on a tape or the radio.
Talk radio or a tape of someone talking
about something that interests you is a great way to distract
your mind. It is much harder to talk to yourself when you are
listening to someone else talk about something interesting to
You may be thinking, "It doesn't seem
like a good idea to distract myself from thoughts. As a matter
of fact, it seems kind of dangerous. Like a form of denial."
I agree wholeheartedly. Alcoholics are
famous for it. In fact, drinking alcohol is a very effective
way to stop thinking about something. It shuts down your mind.
And it is dangerous. So I want you to listen carefully to what
I am about to say. Changing the focus of your mind is a very
powerful and useful technique, but it should only be used when
you have met these two criteria:
1. there is evidence that proves the thought
is untrue, or there is no evidence either way
2. and the thought is counterproductive
If the man went to the doctor and discovered
his fear was unwarranted, he could then safely change the focus
of his thoughts because those thoughts are counterproductive.
The thoughts harm him. But when an alcoholic has the thought,
"My life is not turning out the way I want it to,"
she should not try to distract herself from thinking that. She
should turn her attention toward it and ask, "How can change
it?" (Not, by the way, "Why is life so unfair?")
There is evidence that her thought is true, and it can
be a very productive thought indeed.
People who get depressed often have a thought,
"I'm helpless to change." The thought itself is neither
true nor false. Or rather, the thought can make itself
either true or false. If you thought you were helpless about
something, you probably wouldn't bother trying to do anything
about it, thus becoming helpless.
If a man is naked with his wife and he
thinks, "I might not be able to get it up," the thought
is counterproductive. That is the kind of thought that can become
a self-fulfilling prophecy because the thought is not a turn-on.
The thought will turn him off. Then his worry becomes a reality
because of his worry. That is a perfect time for him to change
the focus of his mind. One place he could put his attention is
turning his wife on.
make your goal a self-fulfilling prophesy
So far I've talked about how to stop yourself
from causing a negative thought to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But there is also the positive side: You can help yourself achieve
your goals by harnessing the very same forces for good instead
of evil. You can create positive self-feeding loops. Self-confidence
around people is one of the places this works. Until I got to
high school, I was "shy." My mom still thinks I am.
It was so much a part of my personality, she just can't seem
to get over it. But anyone who knows me now would have a hard
time believing I was ever shy.
If you think other people aren't going
to like you, when you're around other people, you back off. You
are more withdrawn. You don't talk very much. You don't open
up. The person you're talking to feels, of course, that you don't
like him, so he withdraws. His withdrawal is evidence
that other people don't like you. See how that works?
It was easy to fix. I got the idea from
Maxwell Maltz's book, Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living
Out of Life. When I talked to people, I started thinking
to myself, "They like me." I became more comfortable
and talked a little easier, and people responded. I started seeing
evidence that people liked me, and the self-feeding loop was
going. Now I feel comfortable around just about everyone and
they feel comfortable around me.
I saw an ingenious experiment on this recently:
Students were paired up and allowed to talk for five minutes.
Then one person from each pair was called aside and talked to
privately. Half of them were told his partner liked him. The
other half was told his partner didn't like him.
Then all the pairs were put back together
to talk some more, and the researchers watched and took notes.
Here's what they found: When a person thought the other person
liked him, he talked more personally about himself, leaned in
toward the other person more, and used more eye contact. And
how did his partner respond to this? By doing the same thing.
His partner leaned forward more, talked more personally, and
looked him in the eye more.
When a person thought his partner didn't
like him, he tended to lean back, talk less personally about
himself, and use less eye contact. And again, his partner did
Whether you think other people will like
you or not, you're probably going to be right! It will tend to
become a self-fulfilling prophecy either way.
The same is true for a goal you have. Assuming
it can be done will help you make it happen.
When you notice yourself worrying about
your goal, ask yourself if the worry has any evidence, and if
there is anything you can do about it. If there isn't, then think
something else or in some way keep yourself from worrying about
it. Doubt and worry drain your energy, take away your drive and
initiative, and these qualities are important to achievement.
You can lift yourself up by your bootstraps.
This can't be done in normal life. You can't grab your shoelaces
and lift yourself off the ground. But when it comes to a long
term goal, you can! In the success literature like Think and Grow Rich, there is an important
principle called Faith. It is the willful assumption, the deliberate
assumption, that you can and will persist with your goal until
you succeed. Once you have that, you've literally got it made.
It makes your goal a self-fulfilling prophecy. In those books,
there are stories galore of people doing it. Many people have
read these stories and become convinced they can accomplish
the impossible, and then actually accomplished it!
The problem, of course, is doubt, worry,
and discouragement. Those also become self-fulfilling prophecies
and are easier to think. If you get discouraged, you lose your
drive and don't take the steps that would lead to success. And
who is going to loan money to someone for a business venture
when the person doubts it will work! Faith is electrifying! It
moves people. Napoleon Hill says the starting point of all achievement
is Desire. And he exhorts the reader to work herself into a state
of white hot desire. And you can easily see that if you were
in a state of white hot desire, you could achieve things that
would be impossible normally.
But how does Napoleon Hill suggest you
get to that state? There are some old-fashioned things about
this book. After all, it was written during the Great Depression.
But there are some things about it which are startlingly modern.
The method he suggests is what he calls auto-suggestion. It is
basically talking to yourself. What do you think would happen
if you constantly pictured your goal in your mind and saw yourself
accomplishing it, and winning, succeeding, and you were at the
same time saying to yourself, "I will achieve this goal;
I will never stop until it is mine; I have the ability; I will
follow my plan and if it doesn't work, I will make a new one
and follow that; and if that one doesn't work, I will keep trying,
I will keep aiming for it, and I will get it!" If
your mind was filled with that kind of stuff, do you see you
would have a drive a level of energy that was far
above average? Can you see how it would make you more powerful?
More likely to achieve your goals?
This is how you can make your goal into
a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is how you can lift yourself
up by your own bootstraps. You can accomplish the impossible!
I know that sounds drummed-up phoniness.
And it is. You really can't accomplish something that is truly
impossible. But many of the things that we think are impossible
are only impossible because we think they are. So in a sense,
it is true: You may be able to accomplish what we now think is
impossible. And you can do it by assuming it can be done and
committing yourself to doing it.
Now of course, there are not many people
with the ambition to accomplish the impossible. Most of us would
be content with a new house, or something else that is more mundane.
What is your goal? I know you have lots of little goals
like a new TV or getting in better shape or making more money.
But is there something that really stirs you? Something that
makes your eyes water a little when you think of it? That's the
goal I'm talking about. It might be something you've written
off because it was impossible or impractical. But let me tell
you something: You're going to die. Even if you live to be a
hundred and twenty, you're going to die. And the goal that stirs
you should be accomplished before you die. You can start small
or do it however you do it, but it should be done, if only because
it will give a meaning to your life and make this experience
extraordinary. Determine you will do it, and then get started.
Make that dream into a self-fulfilling prophecy and it will truly
fulfill your self.
Here's how to make your goal a self-fulfilling
prophecy: Keep your thoughts on what you want, and keep your
thoughts confident. When you notice you feel doubtful, attack
the thoughts. Question them on the basis of their validity. Read more
about that here. And then consciously, deliberately imagine
your goal and say things to yourself that motivate you and give
you courage and confidence. All you have to do is control your
mind, which is the subject of this article.