Almost every scientific textbook teaches us of the placebo effect, a tactic used by researchers in which their subjects are provided with treatments that they expect will elicit certain reactions. Depending on the nature of the control treatment, subjects may react in ways that confirm the researchers’ expectations, providing contrast to the experimental treatment so that a conclusion can be drawn. The same can be said for the rest of us in that our behaviors, like the reactions subjects have to the placebo pills, are nothing more than projections of our inner beliefs. This phenomenon is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, and you might not have known about it before. Or you might have already known about it, in which case you should probably stop reading this article. What knowledge do you possibly have to gain here?
That right there was a micro self-fulfilling prophecy. I assumed that because you already possessed knowledge on the topic I was covering, there was virtually no value to be gained in continuing to read about it, which might have prompted you to close the page without giving the article a chance. That is, either you knew about the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies, or you didn’t know about the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies. The end result is the same: you don’t walk away feeling like you’ve learned anything new. At least if you stuck around long enough to finish reading the article, you might have learned something of interest.
Self-fulfilling prophecies are defined as beliefs we have about ourselves that cause them to become true in reality, oftentimes unknowingly. My favorite example of the self-fulfilling prophecy is the journey of Anakin Skywalker.
Star Wars fans like to condemn the prequel trilogy because it pales in comparison to the original and was incompetently directed. You wouldn’t know it, but Revenge of the Sith (2005) is actually one of my all-time favorite movies. I find that it explores Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader quite adeptly, and is an intriguing character study.
Anyone who is familiar with the Star Wars universe knows about the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. Anakin fell victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy upon dreaming of his wife, Padme, who died in childbirth. His visions eventually became so disturbing, and his fear so paralyzing, that he went to extreme lengths to prevent his dream from ever happening. He joined the Dark Side, murdered children, and betrayed his long-time mentor, who was basically a father figure to him for more than half of his life. Padme ended up dying in childbirth anyway, and Anakin became the infamous Darth Vader who would go on to destroy entire planets. His transition from Jedi to Sith is an exemplary demonstration of the self-fulfilling prophecy because his fears about his wife’s death are what caused his wife’s death.
Every day, self-fulfilling prophecies can either undermine or nurture the relationships we have with ourselves and others. We might not be aware of them at all times, but we can be certain they are lurking somewhere in the far background, regulating our attitudes toward the world and guiding the behavior that follows. This creates a positive feedback loop of action and reaction, cause and effect, which invariably manifests itself in the real world.
Another example of the self-fulfilling prophecy is the difficulty people experience in trying to find dates and cultivate meaningful, long-lasting relationships. A multi-billion dollar industry was founded on the idea that the dating world is overwhelmingly complicated, and that the average person can no longer find love by conventional means. People contemplate why love has eluded them for so long, endlessly convincing themselves that the standards for beauty have reached enormous heights and that it would be impossible for anyone to ever like them. And yet, have they not stopped to consider that their notions of what constitute beauty and glamour are what inadvertently cause them to appear as unattractive to outside observers and therefore experience difficulty in finding dates? Maybe if they stopped believing they were so unattractive, they would become supermodels.
Since our moods are so strongly affected by our internal self-beliefs, the next time this article comes to mind, I would advise you to take note of something. Focus on your mood in the moment and observe how it is affecting those in your presence, looking for any slight change in people’s behavior toward you. You’d be surprised that how you view yourself deep down goes a longer way in getting others to like you than the façade you spend so much energy sustaining.
Be less like Anakin and more like Luke. Don’t murder children!