The surprising power of expectations

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are probably right.
Henry Ford
1863 – 1947

In the mid-1970s, Jim Fannin, a personal coach for many high profile athletes, did an experiment involving young children. He assembled over two hundred children aged four or five to participate.

The first step of the experiment was to get the children to decide if they were fast or slow. He had all the children in a gym and asked them to divide into two groups; the group on the left were those who considered themselves slow and the group on the right were those who considered themselves fast. The children were a bit hesitant to choose at first, but eventually he got all the children to voluntarily decide whether they were fast or slow.

Jim had each child run an individual 40 yard dash and he recorded the time for each runner. He then told the assembled children that there would be a series of challenge races — that is, they would run a number of races with two contestants per race. In each race, there would be one child from the slow group competing against one child from the fast group.

The results were very interesting. In 95% of the races, the child who had self-selected as being slow actually led at the start. But the child who had self-selected as being fast overtook the other child and won 97% of the time.

Here is what was so fascinating about these results: the way the individuals were paired was to select a child from the slow group who had run the timed event faster than the “fast” child chosen as their competitor. So in the timed event, the slower child actually had a better time than the fast child. But when competing head to head, the belief that both children had about their own speed proved to be a better indicator of the outcome.

There are two very powerful lessons we can take from this experiment. The first is that our beliefs about our abilities are key in determining our results. The second is that this phenomenon starts to manifest at a very early age. By four or five, we’re already allowing our expectations to influence our outcomes. Be very careful about the expectations you set for children in your care; those beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Examine your own life and challenge your self-limiting expectations. You’ll have a very difficult time doing better in life than you think you can.

They can conquer who believe they can.
70 – 19 B.C.

Copyright © 2018 John Chancellor

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