“This family will just never come together again. Too much has happened and there’s too much sewage under our family bridge.”
I was so very sad to hear the patriarch of a wonderful family say something with such determination and certainty. His wife, on the other hand, had dragged him to my office in hopes there was something we could do to bring the family together.
Over the course of the following few months, I had conversations with all four of their adult sons and their spouses. Much to my surprise, despite years of conflict and misunderstanding, they all wanted to see healing and reconciliation.
Despite presenting their positive responses and even reading their letters to him, the patriarch maintained his statements that it would never happen.
I did with him just what I would like to do with you. It’s an exercise I call the rocking chair challenge. I asked him to imagine he was sitting in a rocking chair five years from now and what his life would look like if he continued on his current path. He said, “Lonely, disappointing, not what I’d hoped.” What about you? What will life look like for you sitting in that rocking chair five years from now?
After that, I lovingly and patiently shared with him much of what I will be sharing with you about self-fulfilling prophecies.
Those of you who have read my blogs, or see me as clients, know that I avoid using “psychobabble.“ Pop psychology often takes the precise terminology of psychology and morphs its language into something else. But “self-fulfilling prophecy” is such a powerful representation of what the term describes. I hope you will allow me to use psychobabble for a moment!
A self-fulfilling prophecy has been defined as:
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief, statement or expectation that an individual makes ot holds about themselves, others, situations or future event that manifests because the individual holds it so closely that it trains the brain to bring it to pass (and often are unaware of doing so)
I recall learning of this concept in graduate school. It was one of those “Aha!“ moments for me. I remember the exact chair I was sitting in, what I had on, and which classroom I was in. Because in a matter of 10 minutes, a missing puzzle piece began to allow me to make sense of my entire life.
My mind was somewhere else racing 100 mph as the lecture continued.
I was back in first grade, hearing comments about my reading. I struggled to read, and it was a day and time when reading disabilities were not yet understood. I had heard far too many comments about not being “smart.” And about how hard it was for me to read. I had begun to say it to myself.
No wonder school had been so hard for me! No wonder I had thought I wasn’t very smart! I had said it, I had believed it! And that “truth” was very present and ominous in my life. Even at that very moment, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Then I was back in junior high school when my dad told me that no boy would ever want to spend time with me. It was near Valentine’s Day, and every single one of my good girlfriends received sweet Valentines. I did not. I believed what my dad said and even stated it to my girlfriends as if it were true. And it was. Self-fulfilling prophesy.
I remember crying that Valentine’s night. I prayed that God would somehow change what was wrong with me so that I might receive a valentine the following year.
Then I was back at my high school graduation. I was leaving on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in a matter of days. My youth group leader asked me if I was excited about the trip. I said yes, but that I didn’t think my relationship with my boyfriend would survive my absence for the summer. And that I would be absolutely crushed because I wanted to follow through with our plan to get married.
The mission trip was so very valuable to me and my development. I returned transformed and ready to marry my boyfriend. I learned that he was engaged to one of my good friends. I was crushed—self-fulfilling prophecy.
Then I was at Church on the Rock in Rockwall, Texas. I was remembering a wonderful teaching by Dr. Larry Lea. It was called “According to Your Faith…”
It was such a powerful lesson to me, and came years before my moment sitting in the graduate school classroom. But I was there again, remembering how my faith for great things would lead my life in amazing directions.
But I was rewriting the sermon in my head and adding a “part two.” Not only according to my faith for great things to happen for me, but also that my faith could be just as powerful in the other direction. The negative direction.
Then I was back in class, but still not tuned in to what the professor was saying. I wanted to cry out and wave my hand and say, “Wait! Wait! Wait!“ You’ve got to help us understand that self-fulfilling prophecy‘s work in both directions! That our thoughts, our words, and our actions are directing our paths and informing our futures every single moment!
And now today I’m standing on the largest platform that I can find to speak to you and cry out, “Wake up! Take heed! You are directing your own path with every thought you think and every word you speak! Stop! Stop! Consider what you’re thinking, consider what you’re saying, consider what steps you are taking! Or not!”
“Please listen! There is no neutral! Every word counts! Every thought counts! Every step counts!”
I wish you could hear the tone in my voice and the urgency as I dictate this.
I am walking through an old factory that has been restored into small shops as I dictate this. And I just noted that people are turning and watching as I walk and dictate. Not because I’m loud, but because of the urgency in my voice.
Please hear me! This is urgent! It’s urgent for your life! My heart is reaching out for yours. I want to help you on a path of a self-fulfilling prophecy: to live a life of amazing, extraordinary, World-Changing!
Now I am again in the classroom, in a surreal manner. It’s like I have never even been there, and like I had been sitting there 25 years all at the same time. I knew that I could not tuck what had just happened away in my pocket and forget about it. I had to make a plan. I had to ensure that I took note. I had to design a self-fulfilling prophecy that led me to everything God created me to be!
So what did that look like for me? I begin studying neuropsychology, studying masters in this field, interviewing and modeling people who had self-fulfilling prophecies that were beautiful.
I wish I could tell you that I got it right overnight. No, it didn’t happen that way. But what I did understand, over a period of time, was that I could re-train my thought processes, the things I spoke, and the actions I took.
This was the impetus that got me started on Designing an Extraordinary Year, which is the workshop I will be teaching on February 20th. (If you would like more info, click here).
Let me get you started on the three things that propelled me forward onto the right path.
1. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR THOUGHTS.
In studying neuropsychology, I learned that the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes negative information, works more powerfully than other parts of our brains. I realized that I could no longer just allow my mind to wonder where it wanted to go. I needed to inform it.
After studying the research, I decided that I would start with informing my brain what to think about each hour, on the hour. And that I would do this for eight hours each day.
So I designed eight topics. I knew my mind would not stay there for the full hour, but at least it was a place to start.
Just to give you some suggestions, these were the eight-hour brain re-train topics I used for the first three months:
- What do I need to have faith for today?
- In what situations have I been kind and respectful in the past 24 hours?
- What words and phrases describe how I hope people will think of me?
- What do I have to be grateful for in the past 24 hours?
- What great moments have I seen or experienced in the past 24 hours?
- What would it feel like if I could teach other people this process?
- What could I do to encourage my classmates today?
- What evidence do I have today about the greatness of God?
I know those may seem a bit self-centered and immature, but it was the best place I could start at the time.
What about you? How can you begin to train your brain? What are eight questions that you can ask your brain at the top of eight hours daily?
Please hear me! This is not just a cute little exercise. This is training your brain to be thinking about what it needs in order for you to fulfill your goals, your dreams, your callings!
Warning: this will not be popular, but I’m not in a popularity contest here. I’m in the fight for your self-fulfilling prophecy! The one that will take you to the great places you’ve been called to be.
You will not get there allowing social media, Netflix, talk radio, news, sports, and commentaries to inform what you think. I’m in for all of the above. (Obviously I participate in all of the above because I am here posting! Duh!)
But I only allow myself an hour to two each day for all of the above. Why? Because I want to inform my brain of the direction I want to go. And there’s not that much to learn from today’s media. Further, too often what is modeled in the media is contrary to where I believe I am supposed to go and what I am supposed to do!
2. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WORDS.
This is such a crucial part of our lives. This very day I’ve already suggested some different words to people around me.
This morning I ask someone to open a drink for me. The response I heard was, “My hands just aren’t what they used to be.” With no anger, but with true concern, I suggested: “What would it be like if you said ‘I am beginning a nutritional health and lifestyle program that will restore my hands!’” As he walked away, he said, “I like that.“
Will he do that? I don’t know. But I will know that I have done my part to interrupt a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
We live in an age where freedom of speech gives us permission to spout off about anything we want to say. But I find myself each day surrounded by words that will create sad futures.
That does not have to be true for you! And I am here crying out to you from the bottom of my heart, wanting it to be very different for you!
Here’s how I began this process for myself. You may not be brave enough to do this. And it is not required. But I got one of those voice-activated recorders that look like a pen. I actually recorded myself for the better part of the day. I did not listen to the whole recording, but I listened enough to hear and understand that my daily conversational talk was not directing me in any direction that I would care to go!
Then I did this. At the end of each day, I began reflecting back and writing down three statements that I did not want to become a part of my future.
Yes, I have saved all of these little notebooks. Here were my first three statements:
- “I will never make it through writing my comps!”
- “I am so tired there’s no way I can study tonight.“
- “I make $25 an hour interpreting classes for deaf students, and I’ll never make that much counseling, so I ought to just drop out of school and make that my career.“
Ouch! Had I not caught those and had continued on speaking those words into my life, I believe that I would have done poorly on my comps, would have been a very tired and fatigued person, and would be doing the same thing for $25 an hour!
The next step was to rewrite what I wish I had said.
Just to get you started on yours, here’s what I wrote that night:
- I have been a diligent student, and I believe all I have studied will come back to me for my comps.
- I have plenty of energy to do what I need to accomplish every day.
- I will pursue everything I’ve been called to be, and my finances will be great.
This served so many purposes. First, it trained my brain that the next day I was going to be reflecting back and catching the errors my brain made. Secondly, it made me less likely to say similar things to what I had already caught my brain saying. And last, I learned to correct what I was saying in the very moment I was saying them instead of waiting until the evening.
Grab yourself a journal. This will take less than 10 minutes each night, and it will begin to re-train your brain. Only do three, because if you are like me, you will be overwhelmed in the beginning, and you could do 100 each night! LOL!
Three is enough to re-train your brain, and that is our goal. Three will get you to where you long to be!
3. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR ACTIONS.
Many of us fall into habits and routines, then wonder why we don’t get things done.
When you formed the habit of getting out of bed and turning on the television — Or coming home from work and flopping down with the newspaper — You may find that you are wasting a lot of time.
I found a common thought among those I interviewed and in every article I read on the subject: you must become intentional about what you do with every moment you have.
We all have 24 hours in the day –1440 minutes. The choice of how those minutes are used is up to us. (Even the hours spent in our workday.)
As a graduate school student, a Mom, a professor, an interpreter for the deaf, a part-time waitress — I felt I had no control over my time. I did not think I had control over my actions or my steps.
But as I track my schedule, I find those “slippery slopes” that my actions and steps lead me to.
Where do you waste time? Most of us waste time at work, at home, in our cars — when we could take steps or actions to use those minutes in much better ways.
Tony Robbins once told me that we all have the same amount of minutes in every day. But what makes some great is that they make wise decisions about what to do with those minutes. The others are selling their souls to things other than becoming what they were meant to be.
I began to look at this by making a determination for the next week: what are three things I would say yes to; then, what are three things I would say no to. I decided this process would lead me to intentionally using my steps and actions each moment to take me to where I was supposed to be.
Here are what my first three were:
Things I need to say no to this week:
- Spending more than 45 minutes for lunch at the Pizza Hut visiting with my classmates and colleagues.
- Doing things to convince my boyfriend to love me.
- Reading fiction for more than 20 minutes a day.
Things I needed to say yes to for the week:
- Running at least 20 minutes every morning.
- Spending 30 minutes daily reviewing notes to prepare for writing my comps.
- Doing something fun for 30 minutes after classes each day that makes me laugh.
Sometimes they stay the same the next week, and sometimes they changed. But I knew that stopping some steps and adding some others would begin to re-train my brain into being intentional.
It makes a world of difference!
During the first year after learning about self-fulfilling prophecies, doing these things brought dramatic changes in my life.
Studying, which had been very, very difficult, became a breeze. I began to have dreams about a future of truly helping people – about sharing all that I was learning. Things looked brighter.
Doors begin to open. The first one was so influential. I had the opportunity to begin my practice in the office of Dr. Harville Hendrix. It was the foundation for all of the work that I have done in relationships through the years.
As for my comps, I “aced” those! Then I wrote my dissertation, which I had dreaded for five years!
All because I became determined to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that would take me to great places. And because it’s a habit and a lifestyle for me, I am always moving toward greater places.
Is my life without hardship, challenges, and obstacles? Heavens NO! Just recently, I encountered a mountain that was greater than Mount Kilimanjaro! I conquered that Kilimanjaro years ago. But what I faced this time seemingly made the tallest free-standing mountain in the world seem like a little speedbump.
There were a number of nights that I laid awake. But I was not worrying or considering the worst possible outcome as I might have done years ago. I was awake re-training my brain, gathering my strength, and preparing to slay yet another mountain!
Because I am determined that no mountain, no tsunami, no nothing will prevent me from continuing my journey! To become my best! To make every contribution that I was meant to make! And a few more too!
As for my patriarch client, unfortunately, he suffered a massive heart attack and had open-heart surgery. I was at the hospital, talking with his children and their spouses, and his wife. The doctors came out to say that it was doubtful that he would recover.
I supported the family through their tears and regrets. All while praying for a miracle. It was then that his wife said something that stunned all of us: “I guess he was right. He would never see the family come together. But just in case he’s in heaven looking down, just imagine how happy this would make him!”
There was a still silence. A silence laden with both gratitude and grief.
Probably half an hour later, the silence was broken when the lead surgeon came out. He smiled and said, “He’s gaining some strength! He wants you all to come in just for a moment.”
I don’t know what happened in that room. But I do remember thinking a miracle was walking into my office the next time I saw him.
As we talked, he said, “Please help me with my self-fulfilling prophecies before I lose my family, and they lose me!”
Over the course of the next few months, we began the journey. What did I have him do? The same three things that I’ve outlined for you.
I’m crying out to you. Take charge of your life. You are valuable. You have great things to offer. But your negative self-talk, predictions, and beliefs must stop!
Please re-train your brain to talk about the great things you are and the great things you will do! Line up your life to take you to the places you were meant to go!
I believe in you!