Are Our Lives Determined by a Series of Personal and Societal Self-Fulfilling Prophecies?

Do you ever get the feeling that some fateful hand of destiny is reaching in and steering the course of things? Without speculating on the concepts of divine or fantastical intervention, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that we unwittingly slide into the rails of self-fulfilling prophecies all the time. You might well ask, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, it can be either, depending on the prophecy in question! American industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Things start to get really complicated is when we see that self-fulfilling prophecies are generated at a societal level. This phenomena is not something that we can overcome alone, but understanding the impact of our pre-conceptions can be a powerful tool to help us navigate this weird and wonderful world towards greater prosperity.

Prophecy Of Our Own Creation

Imagine a couple, in which one partner can’t stop imagining that their partner is cheating. After endless anxious probing, the accused begins to feel that they might as well be unfaithful, because their guilt is perceived whether it’s based in fact or not. Elsewhere, a struggling athlete who can’t seem to pull their performance up to standard switches from one team to another, and becomes an overnight success. Perhaps you can recall your own past self-prophesying. Perhaps an interview or business meeting that you didn’t feel confident about, that was just as awful as you thought it would be — or another, which you thought you would nail, and low and behold, it went like absolute clockwork.

What can be traced is that when we anticipate a certain outcome, we tend to shift our behaviour in such a way that propels us towards what we anticipated. Truth or illusion, and conscious or sub-conscious, our pre-conceptions steer our course more than we know. This holds a huge power for reinforcement. When we expect a negative outcome, and that prophecy indeed self fulfils, we can wind up getting stuck with a negative narrative: “I was right to believe it will always go wrong.” The negative cycle that follows is damaging if we don’t catch on to our own prophetic powers.

Prophecies On A Grander Scale

Back in 2014, a very bizarre turn of events was triggered at the New York Times. A tongue-in-cheek, and utterly self-parodying trend piece was published, announcing that the monocle was coming back into fashion. With some astonishment, the fashion industry, and indeed anyone who noted the trend, were dumb-struck as monocle sales made a massive leap. Simply imagining that others had confidence in the monocle actually led people to desire them!

The scale of the self-fulfilling prophecy knows no bounds. We can trace it to research into the Chinese stock exchange, and results indicating that this highly speculative market is powerfully influenced by investors’ expectations. The publication in question referenced British statistician Francis Galton, who identified that when a consulted crowd is large enough — even without professional understanding — the aggregate amateur wisdom of that crowd will closely predict end results in just about any area. Galton dubbed this phenomenon “wisdom of the crowd”. So, which crowds are you a part of?

In the US, a writer for Forbes expressed concern that the media was chattering over a looming economic recession, despite economic experts predicting no such calamity. Could rumour of recession be enough to tip an economy into an imaginary abyss? Across the pond in the UK, the Brexit saga continues to unfold, and we have to wonder what level of self-fulfilling prophecies are driving that particular run-away train. Political scientist Nicholas Aylott observed rumblings of a general election before the planned October Brexit date, and anticipated what would come to pass: “Once speculation has begun, it feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy.“ Here we are, a couple of months later, and party campaigns are ramping up for an election that may, or may not, nudge the divided nation towards some kind of closure.

The Potential Of Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be harnessed towards the most extraordinary forward leaps, given the right circumstances. For example, many of our modern technologies were once nothing more than the fanciful dreams of science fiction writers — from the internet to electric cars — and the world would no doubt look very different today without imaginations unfettered by current practical limitations. Indeed, companies from Ford to Pepsi have been known to hire science fiction writers to help them conceptualise what the future might hold. Industry calls this “corporate visioning”, although one might also consider it taking self-fulfilling prophecies by the reigns.

The cause-and-effect of this phenomena can have damaging repercussions too, when the perception in question is negative in nature. Research from the American Psychological Association revealed a self-fulfilling prophecy unfolding within the US police force, as officers appeared to react to increasingly negative opinions of the force in terms of racism and unreasonable force by becoming more inclined to those exact behaviours. The reality that any negative stereotypes we allow to permeate our thoughts can be self-fulfilling, creating self perpetuating cultural divides, is something that should send us all into some deep-delving introspection!

Avoiding Creating Our Own Negative Prophecies

When we recognise that allowing expectations to manifest in our minds can bring those very expectations into reality, there’s something to be said for cultivating some speedy self-awareness. It is important to tease apart our emotional responses — you can feel anxious about an approaching interview — and our prophesying — your nervousness and a bad interview are not mutually exclusive! When we buy into negative expectations that we place on ourselves, we alter our outwards behaviour, and then experience those expectations mirrored right back at us. By being mindful of the narratives that we allow to run in our minds, and correcting them positively, we can make good work of creating self-fulfilling prophecies for ourselves that we want to manifest. From relationships to finances, what power could you unleash if your own prophecies became a force for your own elevation?

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