A self-fulfilling prophecy is an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, cause the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own ‘accuracy’ • Paul Watzlawick
Years ago a very troubled colleague of mine told me that she found a cure to her unbelievable unhappiness. She bought a freshly published book written by the Austrian-American psychologist Paul Watzlawick. “The Situation is Hopeless But Not Serious” or “Sorge Dich Nicht, Lebe” in German, helped her cope with her own misery and made her laugh at herself, something she has not ever done before.
And we both laughed when she told me the story of a hammer:
A man wants to hang a picture on the wall. He has a nail, but does not have a hammer. He considers borrowing it from his neighbor, but before he even leaves his home a thought crosses his mind. He remembers seeing his neighbor just the other day. “The guy did not even greet me yesterday. Who knows what he thinks of me. Maybe he has something against me… He probably will not even lend me his hammer. Who knows what is going on in his mind. I am not like that. If anyone have asked me for a tool I would gladly lend it to him. How can a human being be so heartless! Such people make our lives miserable. On purpose! He probably even thinks that my life depends on him only because I need to borrow his hammer. Nasty man! But that’s enough! I will tell him what I think of him!” Agitated, the man knocks on his neighbor’s door. The door opens and before the neighbor can even say a word our protagonist shouts out “You know what, you can keep your bloody hammer, you…!” and walks away leaving his neighbor completely perplexed.
The poor man in this story has written a whole book before he even knocked on his neighbor’s door. How many stories do we write before we act? How often we do not act at all because the story we have written did not have a happy ending?
Over the years I met many people with complete stories of their entire lives. One bad experience in the past destroyed all hopes for better future. Life was what it was and there was no reason to expect anything else. It even seemed to me that such lives ended long time ago and the unfortunate people were only there to turn the pages of their own creation.
Of course, things are not always as dramatic and not all of us get stuck in some kind of morbid scenario. Most of us write short stories, especially when we have to make difficult decisions or face particular situations or people.
Our creative activity begins early. Maybe as kids we did something wrong and were terrified to talk to our parents. Maybe we were terrified not because our parents were very strict, but because we imagined that they would punish us severely for what we did. The story we wrote not only prevented us from acting, but also protected us from pain that we might have experienced if we did talk to our parents.
Over the years we may have become masters of the genre. We always know better, and we know for sure that there are forces much stronger than we can even imagine that always act against us.
A scary scenario unfolds when we interact we people who represent some kind of authority: parents, teachers, credit facilitators, spouses. We don’t even need to try. We already know the outcome. So we leave things undone and words unspoken and indulge in our misery.
But would anything change if we stopped writing the book?
Change does not happen overnight. It takes time and determination to change behavior patterns that were perfected over the years, but they can be changed. With a little practice we could learn to shift our attention and concentrate on the action that has to be taken and not on the outcome we expect.
Once we have mastered this new behavior we could learn to shift our attention and start creating positive outcomes, but this is a different story…