Don't Think Yourself to Failure—Imagine Yourself to Success!

If you start every day convinced you won’t get your work done, won’t be able to get that promotion, or your boss will be disappointed in you, what do you think is going to happen? You probably won’t be very successful. Self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that a prediction can indirectly or directly cause itself to be true. Any positive or negative expectations about circumstances or events can affect a person’s behavior, thus leading those predicted events to take place. For example if every day you tell yourself you’re too slow to beat your nemesis at the 50 yard dash, chances are you will stand in your own way and won’t be able to beat them. You have officially talked yourself into failure.

I bet you think you don’t do this. Unfortunately, and I hate to be the naysayer here, you do this as much as everyone else. Every time you walk into the office thinking “I’ll never get everything done today” you are setting yourself up to fail. Your own thoughts bring about negative results. If you think positively instead, you are setting yourself up for success, it doesn’t mean things won’t end badly, but your thoughts and attitude won’t get in your way.

On the other hand, self-fulfilling prophecy can also be external. For example, an employer who expects his employees to be stupid will treat them as if they are less capable. This will limit their ability to learn, limiting their expertise in their field and confirming the boss’ belief that they are in fact, ‘stupid.’ If an employer treats their employees as if they’re clever, they will be more confident in their cleverness and intelligence and will have all around better results. Your confidence in each other improves everybody’s attitude, work ethic, and results.

What are the most common negative effects of self-fulfilling prophesy?


According to research at the University of British Columbia employees who are paranoid about workplace rejection or sabotage can bring it upon themselves. When an employee is paranoid about gossip or being snubbed, they are more likely to seek out information confirming their fears. This leads to annoying or alienating coworkers and will often bring about the feared rejection.

The way to prevent this is to keep your outlook positive in the office. Worrying about being accepted makes you uncomfortable around others, and it becomes more difficult for them to accept and want to spend time around you. Instead of worrying or being suspicious, you might try “killing them with kindness.” Positivity in your interactions increases the positive emotions coworkers feel towards you. Negativity born of fear leads to rejection.

As the boss, being paranoid of untrustworthy employees will change the way you treat them, which can cause them to distance themselves or become resentful. Their distrust of you will lead you to believe that you were right all along, when in reality you caused the lack of trust. The way to negate the situation and avoid self-fulfilling prophecy would be to trust your employees until they’ve given you reason not to. Your employees are innocent until proven guilty, unless you treat them as guilty from the start.


I am as guilty of this as anyone. The temptation to say you aren’t good, smart, or prepared enough to complete a task or reach a goal is present whenever you challenge yourself. But these thoughts make success much more difficult. Many jobs require you to react to new challenges and perform tasks you are unfamiliar with. Reacting to these tasks with a sense of apprehension and fear of failure makes it much more likely you will actually fail. Instead, see each challenge as a new skill to master.

Self-fulfilling prophecy isn’t only prominent in negative situations. If you tell yourself this new task, skill, challenge is something you will master, chances are a lot better you’ll master it because you won’t hold yourself back. A positive outlook may be the key to avoiding failure all together.

As the boss, you can instill fear of failure into your employees, or you can tell them you believe in their success. When assigning an employee an unfamiliar task, tell them you trust they can do a good job; don’t say something along the lines of “you better not let me down.” This will change their perspective from “I’ll get punished if I fail” to “my boss trusts me to complete this task.”

When it comes to self-fulfilling prophecy, the effect can be positive or negative and it’s all up to you. Negative language and thoughts lead to negative results, while positive thoughts don’t hold you back. Attitude is powerful and failing to take this into account has consequences. Next time you catch yourself going into a situation with a pre-negative outlook, pause and change your perspective. Maybe this time your self-fulfilling prophecy can be a positive one instead of negative.