On self-fulfilling prophecies

In spite of what some people might claim, nobody can predict anyone’s future with anything like complete accuracy. Our lives are a complex tapestry of our own actions, how other people treat us, and wider socio-economic forces, and predicting how all of these factors are going to shape our particular lives is practically impossible.

However, predicting the future is not completely impossible. Perhaps you might have heard of the phrase ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’. What it means is that you can predict your future if you keep undertaking actions that exclude a beneficial outcome. For example, if somebody exclaims, ‘I’m never going to get fit!’ and they never exercise and keep on eating high calorie food, then what they have said does accurately predict their future. There is indeed no need to go and see a fortune teller in this case, as they are doing the opposite of what they need to do to reach their goals, and so their actions preclude a positive outcome.

There is a way, though, to create a positive and attainable self-fulfilling prophecy. Solution-focused therapy has a technique known as the miracle question, which is based on the principle that happier outcomes (solutions) are attainable, but they need to be constructed; in other words, for you to be able to have a good idea about how to move towards a desired future, you must take certain steps to reach that goal. This is just another way of saying that, if certain actions prevent you from reaching your goals (a negative self-fulfilling prophecy can therefore be declared), then another set of achievable steps can promote reaching your goals (defining a positive self-fulfilling prophecy).

Here are the necessary steps:

  • Consider an unhelpful, problematic aspect of your current life. Once you have a clear enough sense of how things are, imagine, as vividly as possible, the following scenario: you go to bed tonight and, upon getting up the next morning, you find that your problems have not only completely disappeared but you are now living the life that you want (NB: please note that your imagined future has to be one that is attainable by you and therefore must be realistic; imagining winning the lottery or becoming somebody radically different from who you are is neither realistic or helpful here).
  • Now ask yourself the following questions, answering them as concretely as possible about your imagined future: How does my life look? What things am I doing? How are others behaving towards me? What are their reactions? The reason why these questions are important is that, in order for you to move towards how you want your life to be, it must be described as fully as possible and in terms of what you are doing and what others are doing. How else are you going to move towards it if you do not know how to act to achieve it?
  •  If your imagined future is a 10 out of 10 in terms of a happy and realistic intended state, then ask yourself where you are out of 10 just now. This is called scaling the problem in solution focused work.
  • Once you know your score, then ask yourself the following important question: What actions can I undertake to move me one step forward (e.g. from a 4 to a 5)?
  • Repeat this process again and again. It may not be the case that you will get to 10 (and it is worth bearing in mind that our goals and intended futures can indeed change with time), but at least you know that you are actively taking steps to move towards a constructive future.

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Dundee DD1 & St. Andrews KY16

Written by Dr Alexander Fox

Dundee DD1 & St. Andrews KY16

I am a pluralistic counsellor in private practice in the city centre of Dundee. I am trained to help clients with a wide variety of problems and I am able to employ a number of different therapeutic approaches, so that the therapy process is always tailored to the individual needs of each of my clients.

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