“Expect: to look forward to the probable occurrence or appearance.” American Heritage Dictionary
We will be talking about the tremendous impact your expectations have on your life in three parts. This is Part I. It discusses very briefly the effects of negative or positive expectations as they apply to any kind of performance, whether sitting down to start a novel (your first or your twentieth), making a speech, performing onstage, engaging in social networking, becoming popular, recovering from an illness, going on a diet, or making progress in your career. You’ll see in Parts I, II, and III together that your expectations affect most every aspect of your life. Knowing the mechanics of expectations, you can turn yours to your advantage.
We tend to act in ways that conform to our expectations. Your expectation–positive on the one hand or negative on the other–releases performance and sets it on a track of success or failure. One experience after another confirms this.
I was to be interviewed by a woman journalist. I knew nothing about her, so I asked a man who had met her. “Oh, her, she’s a real bitch,” he said. “She’s just out to nail the people she interviews.” So there they were: my expectations. I went to her office expecting trouble. I was tight-lipped and curt and kept looking for any sign of nastiness. I was having a terrible time, and I could see that she was too. It was going all wrong. I asked if we could take a short break while I made an important phone call, and I went to the cafeteria and adjusted my expectations from harmful to helpful. I went back to her office and behaved accordingly. This time I acted as if she and I would get along exceedingly well. I started all over. I smiled, relaxed, shook her hand, thanked her for having me, and showed an interest in her work. Suddenly she was friendly, smiling, at ease, complimentary. We laughed. She was a nice person. I liked her and she liked me. It was not only an enjoyable interview, but a friendship resulted from my having friendly expectations and my behaving accordingly.
Here was an application of The Law of Positive Expectation and The Law of Social Reciprocation. Your expectations, positive or negative, tend to come true, and give people something of value to them, and if they are like most people they will give you something of value in return. What do people generally want in any human interaction? Respect, recognition, individual attention, to be liked, to be listened to. Always give them what they want, and ordinarily they will give you the same in return.
A researcher asked subjects in an experiment to judge in advance of meeting another person whether they would be popular or unpopular with the other person. The subjects were right almost every time. Those who expected to be unpopular were, and those who expected to be popular were. If you expect to fail socially you probably will, but if you expect the opposite, it’s a good bet you’ll succeed. That’s because our behavior conforms to our expectations. Then through our behavior we tend to influence the other person to produce attitudes that fit those expectations, even without being aware that in fact that’s what we’re doing.
Robert and Pete
I have two friends, Robert and Pete. They are the same age, almost to the day. They attended the same schools from kindergarten on. They graduated from the same university in the same major on the same day, and entered the same career, and live in the same neighborhood of the same city. One seems to be about as intelligent as the other, which is quite intelligent. Robert expects to do well whatever he tackles, from repairing a garage door to getting paid well, and does. He has one success after another. Ask him and he will tell you that he is very happy with his life. On the other hand, Pete will tell you, “Everything I touch turns to…” You know what it turns to. And because he expects it to, it does.
The Effects of Expectations on Your Health
The impact of the mind on health has been widely documented. The field of psychoneuroimmunology explores the connection between mind and body regarding the immune system. One finding that has emerged clearly from the growing number of studies and anecdotal accounts going all the way back to the time of Hippocrates, is that psychological factors such as the patient’s and doctor’s expectations can influence the immune system and thus have an impact on the outcome of diseases.
Physicians will tell you it is very common that one patient who is not gravely ill but expects to die enters the hospital and dies, and another who is at death’s door and shouldn’t live much longer, says, “Don’t worry, I’m going to walk out of this place,” and does.
When patients given placebos in medical experiments get better, the experimenters and doctors dismiss it. They say, “That’s just the placebo effect.” But the placebo effect is the most astounding thing about the experiment–people getting better without medical treatment because they expect to get better!
There have been thousands of scientifically-conducted studies of the effects of placebos. In one study, patients who had bleeding ulcers were divided into two groups. Group I was told they were being given a powerful new drug that without a doubt would relieve the symptoms. Group II was told they were being given a new experimental drug that little was known about. Twenty-five percent of Group II found relief from their symptoms, but seventy percent of Group I, the people who expected their health to improve, experienced “significant improvement.” In fact both groups had been given the same “medicine” that wasn’t a medicine at all, but a placebo.
Expectations of Failure
Many people are dominated all their lives by a fear of failing. But the term is a misnomer; they not only fear they will fail, they expect to, so they are dominated by the EXPECTATION of failure and avoid risks. They may take a stab at solving a problem or even at a better life, but if they fail they may never try again. And if they do succeed they may experience “encore anxiety,” the nagging sense that success was just a fluke, and their expectation is that they won’t be able to duplicate their success. On the other hand, there are people who expect to succeed in almost everything they attempt, and having succeeded once, expect to succeed again. If they fail, they consider that a fluke. Even when things repeatedly do not work out, they still expect success to come.
Our expectations affect the smallest things, even the search for ketchup. I’ve often found that when I expect not to be able to find something—a set of notes somewhere in the office or the ketchup in the refrigerator, I tend to be unable to find them. I overlook them even though they are right there. But when I tell myself that they’re here somewhere and expect to find them, they turn up.
Powerful positive expectations propel you confidently into action. Supremely self-confident people approach their endeavors in the same way: as if it’s impossible for them to fail. Suggest to them that in hindsight it was possible that they might have failed, and they will cock their heads a little and get a surprised look in their eyes, and will say these words: “That never occurred to me.”
Whole nations can have such confident expectations. I’ve talked with many Americans who lived during World War II. The most striking similarity is that it never once occurred to any one of them that we might have lost the war, not a single one. They expected total victory.
In the second post on expectations we will look at how expectations affect your motivation, personal relationships, persuasiveness, popularity, learning ability, and more. We will see that our habitual expectations hypnotize us into believing they’re factual when they’re completely fictional. We’ve made them up, but we act “as if” they are true. And so, whether they are positive or negative, they are completely under our control and can be changed from negative to positive.
That makes all the difference.
© 2014 David J. Rogers
David J. Rogers is the author of eBooks Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life and Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority.
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