The self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saintpaulia velutina

One of the ways in which we psych ourselves up for change, is we create a little self-fulfilling prophecy bubble.

Self-fulfilling prophecy is a term coined by the sociologist Robert K. Merton, and subsequently taken over by social psychologists.  It occurs when you see a situation a certain way, and your behaviors, based on this perception, cause your belief to become reality.  The classic example in the race relations literature is that a person walking down a deserted street late at night sees a black man approaching him.  Unnerved, the person thinks, “I better be on guard, that guy is likely to be hostile.”  (I told you this was a racism example!)  Meanwhile, this is what the other man sees.  Someone glaring at him, in a defensive posture, as though he were some kind of monster.  So, he frowns, beginning to feel a bit irritated with this person.  The prophecy is fulfilled.

I am stretching the term a little bit when I describe my resolution psych-up as a self-fulfilling prophecy bubble, but this is how it happens.

First, I experience the itch for change.  I’m not sure why it’s described as an itch, since it feels a lot more like there is a giant spider inside your stomach, and you have to get it out now.  The so-called ‘itch’ provokes me to see today as an ideal day to turn a new leaf.  I begin to interact with the day, forcing it to cough up new-leafy qualities like sunshine, rain, or particularly large strawberries at the grocery store.  I read its signs as Trelawney reads tea leaves.  There is no room for argument from this day.  It submits without a whimper.

I queue up the next episode of This American Life and it is about Christmas.  But then the next one is about Quitting!  I examine my fortune cookie intently,  and it tells me the time for being practical is now.  Not very helpful.  So, I look up the definition of practical.  “Of or pertaining to practice or action” (  Better!  (There’s the word “action” in it.)  It is just as I prophesied.  Forces are aligning for change.  All signs point to go.

I mean, really, a lot of this is more confirmation bias than self-fulfilling prophecy, but what causes me to think of it as a self-fulfilling prophecy is that perceiving the day to be inherently changeful is a way to double backhand trigger reactive behavior in myself.  And that is when the day truly becomes what I perceived it to be.  A day of change.

It’s almost like, when we first approach the subject of change, we are nervous cowards.  We’ve failed so many times before it’s almost embarrassing to bring it up.  So we approach it with sidelong glances, like an Ivy League school we want to apply to without telling anyone.  That’s what makes us create this bubble of ephemeral signs and signals.  It’s the only way external agents can encourage us without our actually talking to anyone about what’s on our mind.  And we need all the encouragement we can get.  So, we create a magical fantasy in which today is a special sort of day, in which fate is running a promotion.  Embark on your journey today, and today only, and the Moirai will tweak the thread of your life and give you the destiny of your choice.  And that is how we persuade ourselves to begin.

Now onto the good stuff, wherein I start rearranging the furniture of my life and feeling stressed and uncomfortable.  That is, after all, why I started writing this.  As inspiring as it is to read the bubbly success stories of people who either have no problem with change, or are glossing over the gritty bits, I need something a little bit more instructive to work with.  Something that’s going to give me some tools to use when everything starts getting all squirrely in a few days.


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