The Pygmalion Effect

“The ‘Pygmalion effect,’ also sometimes known as the ‘Rosenthal effect’ for the psychologist credited with discovering it, is a theory teaching that people will act or behave in the way that others expect them to”. It is very similar to the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and as such the Pygmalion effect can have both positive and negative outcomes. Such as an athlete that doesn’t think they can win usually will not, whereas an athlete that just knows that they can win usually has a better chance of achieving just that. A person who believes they’re worthless or has other negative perceptions about their abilities and qualities will usually fulfill their expectations. Negative “self-talk” creates self-imposed limitations on performance according to these principals.

I have experienced this in my own life when I was younger. I was at the District Trap & Skeet competition my Jr. year of high school. During my practice rounds I could not get the perfect score (100/100) that would be needed to place in the four round competition (400/400). Often the winners and losers are separated by only 1 or 2 hit targets and very competitive shoot off tie breakers. The previous year i had scored 395/400 with 2 perfect rounds and taken 8th place after runoffs. Needless to say I NEEDED some perfect rounds. I was telling myself that I couldn’t do it, blaming my equipment, and generally feeling down on myself. I was beginning to get visibly frustrated when one of my coaches (a Deacon at my church) came over to me and asked what was going on. I gave him all my excuses and told him that I just couldn’t do it. He grabbed me by the shoulders suddenly and loudly asked “John, how was the world created?” I responded that God had created it. Coach said “I didn’t ask who, I asked HOW!” in a very stern voice. I responded that it was spoken into existence, by God saying ‘Let there be light’. He said “Right, it was SPOKEN into existence, that is the power of words, they can create.” The coach went on to say that words are VERY powerful and that I was right, if I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it I would fail just like I had expected. Whether the reader is religious or not is not the main point of this story, the point is that this was the exact moment I realized how powerful thoughts and words are, and the effect they can have on ourselves and others. Keeping this lesson fresh in my mind I arrived at the contest the following morning and I just knew that I could shoot a perfect round, I had been telling myself I could do it all that morning. With the mantra “I can do this” going through my head I knocked down target after target after target. I had shot 3 back to back perfect rounds, my competitors were starting to take notice, and the pressure was mounting. Ultimately I let negative thoughts creep into my mind and got nervous during the 4th round and missed 3 birds in the last stand as I was closing in on a perfect 400/400. My final score was 397/400 and I took 10th place after tie breaks. This example is one of my biggest triumphs as a young man and I have taken the lesson learned regarding positive self-talk, and the power of thoughts and words with me till this day.

  • JohnHollison
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