Wednesday, January 4

The Pygmalion Effect

There has been a story going around the Internet for years about two new students who approached a janitor to ask what the school was like. When he asked about their previous schools, the first replied that everyone was mean and horrible while the second spoke enthusiastically of good friends and great teachers. To each, the janitor then gave the same reply: "you'll likely find the same here." A third student inquired how his curious answer; the janitor explained that our experiences depend much more on attitude and expectations than the actual situation, so each was likely to find exactly what they expected. 

I usually brush the story off as a trite reminder to be a positive thinker, delete the email and move on. But it came back to me recently as I read about The Pygmalion Effect - the phenomenon by which we shape the world around us through our expectations.

It's more than just the idea of a self-fulfilling prophesy - our unconscious and unspoken actions and attitudes actually shape the behavior of others around us! This is no flimsy New Age nonsense either - it's scientifically proven and explainable. (There's a simple, rather boring, diagram here but the case studies are fascinating!)

Like yesterday's challenge, this one really grabbed me - how many of the things I struggle with from day to day are related to or caused by faulty or poor expectations on my part? How many of the difficult people whose doom I'm plotting are largely the result of my own sublimated attitude or assumptions?

Although the world does not revolve around me and a positive attitude certainly won't fix everything, I feel that it is an appropriate challenge for me this year to be intentional about my attitude and critical of my mind-set or expectations when they are low or negative.

The best part about this challenge? Even if nothing else changes, I'll get the perverse enjoyment every day of knowing my good attitude is annoying some gloomy curmudgeon. :)

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