Wright Foundation | March 12, 2019

Are You Living Out a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

“Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”  – “Auntie Mame

Learn how to stop living a self-fulfilling prophecy.

…And why are they starving to death? The reason they’re starving to death is because they’re preprogrammed to miss – and don’t even see – the food at the banquet. Many people are stuck living out a self-fulfilling prophecy where they only reach for the limits of what they can see.

So how can we break out of this cycle of falling into the self-fulfilling prophecy trap and take back our personal power? We have to start seeing the whole picture.

What is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Another way to think about self-fulfilling prophecy is to compare it to a new, modern grocery store. Now, when I was a kid, we had a corner market. You’d ride your bike there and pick out some candy. The selection was limited to the major brands. Often if you wanted, say, dish soap, you’d be stuck choosing between Lux and Dreft—two options, if you were lucky!

Now, look at the modern grocery stores! We can get fresh-cut flowers, ready-made dinners, pre-made foods. We can choose from hundreds of different brands and options for nearly every product. If we want organic fruits and vegetables, there are entire sections. You can get sushi, jicama, kombucha, and dragon fruit…you name it and you can find it at almost any market!

Modern stores pre-packaged food and create delicious bakery items to tempt us by the checkout. If most of us were left to our own devices, we’d stick to the list, but grocery stores are built on encouraging the impulse buy. They’re designed to spur us to crave purchases we didn’t even realize we were looking for.

The seat of our consciousness is our frontal lobe. It doesn’t have much bandwidth to recombine new variables. When we enter the grocery store, we scan the aisle looking for items we recognize. We aren’t looking for all these new and amazing treats, because we don’t even know they exist yet!

The same is true for any meeting we’re taking part in. It applies to any relationship and interaction we have. This same truth applies to anywhere we go and any experience we have. We look for sameness, the items we recognize, and the familiar.

But we have to ask ourselves why. Why does this limited perception happen?

Way before neuroscience had let us know all the ways we were pre-programmed to become how we are, Alfred Adler identified that each of us had what he called a “lifestyle.” This lifestyle was determined by what he called “apperceptions.”

He identified two types of apperceptions: empowering and limiting.

Coming back to our banquet or trip to the grocery store, this gives us a way to think about our neurology. We’re not choosing new experiences because we don’t realize they’re available to us. We have limiting beliefs, which define the limits to which we can use our positive beliefs and positive skills. These beliefs determine the actions we take.

When we base our actions on these limiting beliefs, the world confirms exactly the way we act. We get stuck in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy, where we act in such a way that the world constantly reinforces our beliefs, even if they aren’t correct or true.

For example, if I believe I’m not good enough, then I will carry myself as such. People around me will view my timidity and self-doubt as confirmation I’m not up for the task. As they treat me like I’m not good enough, it reinforces my limiting belief…and the self-fulfilling prophecy cycle goes around and around.

If we’re lucky and our bosses, friends, and partners don’t buy into our limiting belief—if they see beyond the vibe we’re putting out and challenge us instead of accepting it—then our limiting belief gets put to the test. Through the challenge, we discover we ARE good enough. The tide starts to turn on our limiting belief and self-fulfilling prophecy; we start to internalize and believe we are actually worthy of the life we want.

Stop the Voice That Says “I Can’t”

The good news is, we don’t need to wait for our boss, our friends, or our lover to change our limiting beliefs and stop the self-fulfilling prophecy. We can start to work on them ourselves, right away. One of the first ways to fight limiting beliefs on your own is by assessing your good ol’ internal monologue.

What are some of those statements you say to yourself (that you don’t always say aloud)?

Those statements right there are reinforcers of our limiting beliefs—they prophesy what we can’t do. We can’t do it, because we believe we can’t. These beliefs cause us to feel like failure, mistakes, and missteps happen more than they should. They stand out to us and reinforce our limiting beliefs. Rather than learning from the situation and moving forward, we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t.”

If we want to fight those self-fulfilling prophecies, we should start looking for evidence to contradict those limiting beliefs.

How can we find contrary proof that those beliefs are wrong? How can we identify all the times when a situation goes better than expected, where we do a great job, or where we find a fantastic learning opportunity amidst the challenge? We can start to prophesy the positive rather than predicting and expecting the negative. When we do that, our prophecies still come true, but they’re propelling us forward instead of back.

One of the ways to reinforce our new beliefs about ourselves is to start hanging out with and surrounding ourselves with those who see us differently; those who challenge us because they believe differently about us. Rather than sticking with the same interactions and patterns that no longer serve us, start seeking out those who push you toward your best self.

We can also call ourselves out on our own B.S. Start by saying, “I see I’m about to do what I’ve always done. This time, I’m going to choose to change what I’m doing. This time, I’m going to view the situation through a different lens.”

Don’t believe those new views on your potential? That’s okay. You can literally fake it ‘till you make it. Start reframing the situation and looking for proof to reinforce those new thoughts and beliefs. Start looking at the endcaps of the grocery store. Check out what they have in the deli. Don’t just go in and grab your TV dinner and leave—see if there are better, more nourishing options out there.

Even when we “fake it” or take a different path, we’re influencing the world around us. Like a mirror, the way the world sees us will be reflected at us and will reinforce our new perception.

Guess what—when you feel self-doubt, you’re in good company. In fact, there is absolutely no one in this world who doesn’t have limiting beliefs. Even the most confident, self-assured, and poised person you can think of still have limiting beliefs. Those people who claim they don’t, or even believe they don’t (because they believe they’re “superior”), actually have an inferiority complex at their core. Admitting your vulnerabilities and insecurities is the first step to stopping your self-fulfilling prophecy cycle.

You Are in Charge of Your Own Life

If we want to change our limiting beliefs about ourselves, we must realize we’re each the creator of our own life. We can choose from infinite possibilities. We may keep going into the same grocery store, buying the same list of familiar items, but we’re missing out on the banquet before us.

We could read all the self-help books in the world and take self-improvement classes, but they won’t change us unless we learn how to be truly vigilant in the way we talk to ourselves.

These aren’t easy actions to take. We may feel defensive or disheartened at the prospect of taking these on at first. It’s important to remember, those who are constantly defending themselves are often caught up in their self-fulfilling prophecy. They aren’t allowing themselves the opportunity to learn and grow from experiences.

As you listen to your self-talk and affirm yourself, seek evidence your new beliefs are true. Surround yourself with people who push you to explore your boundaries and challenge these beliefs.

Friends become allies when they help us break out of our loops and become aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy trap we may be stuck in.

One of the great benefits of our personal development programs at the Wright Foundation is our students are surrounded by others who are also seeking to break out of their own self-fulfilling prophecy cycle. These people aren’t committed to accepting your limitations. They’re ready to help each other break out of boxes because they’re committed to breaking their own limitations as well.

It’s like training for the Olympics—you surround yourself with coaches and other athletes because they’ll push you harder. They’ll expect as much from you as they expect from themselves. This kind of support is necessary if you want to live an Olympic-sized life.

So, if you’re ready to break out of your cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, take a hard look at your self-talk and limiting beliefs. When you walk into the banquet or peruse the aisles at the grocery store, are you trying all the new and exciting possibilities before you?

Visit the Wright Foundation for more ways to grow and learn. Join us for an upcoming networking event, where you’ll connect with new friends and allies who can help support you on your journey. Go forth and ignite your world.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.