My eldest daughter Jessi is 5.5 years old. She’s smart and has started to question the existence of Father Christmas. How does he know if she’s been naughty or nice? How could he possibly go to everyone’s house in one night? Reindeers can’t really fly…
Jessi doesn’t know about the ‘Self Fulfilling Prophesy Theory’. She doesn’t yet understand that if she stops believing, some Christmas magic will fade. We will no longer leave out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Her Santa sack may not be filled. She will relate differently to Christmas forever…
American sociologist Robert Merton first coined the phrase ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, and defined this as a ‘process whereby a belief or an expectation, correct or incorrect, affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person or a group will behave.’
In the late 1960s studies were done in a school. All the children in an elementary class were given a test, and teachers were told that some of the children were unusually clever (they were actually normal). The researchers came back at the end of the school year and tested the same class again. They found that the children singled out had improved their scores far more than other children. Many other lab and field studies have since backed this up. (See the work of Robert Rosenthal.)
This happens because of the feedback between beliefs and behavior. We search, consciously and unconsciously, for reinforcement of our beliefs. We act to make it so.
What are you shaping by your beliefs? Where are you fulfilling the expectations of others without question? How would shifting what you believe impact the people you lead?
So now do you believe in Father Christmas? You may not find flecks of soot around your lounge room and your stocking full of presents… You will find you enjoy the magic of Christmas that little bit more.