While the word "prophecy" might make some people think of Disney movies or gypsy psychics, most prophecies are made right behind our eyes. Meaning we make them, about our own lives, and we believe them because they're from a reliable source.
There is a certain type of prophecy called "self-fulfilling," meaning that the outcome is caused by the belief itself. The thing about self-fulfilling prophecies is that they almost always come true. In fact, the name "prophecy" is really the wrong word for what I'm talking about. These do not happen magically, but because of clear, logical mechanisms. Our belief (prophecy) causes us to take actions in line with that belief. The WAY we act creates a response and feedback from the outside world, which ends up supporting our belief, which strengthens the belief and gets us to repeat the same actions, ad absurdum nauseum via infinitum.
The rubber of our minds hits the road of reality where our beliefs spark actions. We use ours actions to test our beliefs, modifying both of them when they're wrong or unhealthy. The diagram is: Belief -> Action -> Feedback -> Adjustment -> New belief, and repeat. But this isn't always how it goes. Sometimes it's: Belief -> Action -> Feedback (supporting the belief) -> Same Action again, leading to the same outcome over and over and strengthening the belief each time. The missing step is Trying Something New.
A very simple example of self-fulfilling mechanisms: The Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset, concepts introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck.
The Growth Mindset is the belief that I am growing, and that I can significantly improve my ability or intelligence through practice. If I have that belief about, say math, then if I am faced with a choice of whether or not to do math, I will more likely choose DO, which will cause me to practice mathematical thinking skills, which will improve my ability and intelligence around math. Growth Mindset -> More practice -> Improved Abilities -> Stronger Belief in ability to improve -> More practice, and so on. (By the way, the Growth Mindset is neuro-physiologically accurate: intelligence can be improved.) An additional layer is that just by being aware of the Growth Mindset, a kind of meta-self-fulfilling-prophecy takes hold. Not only do I become more likely to practice under normal circumstances, but I will be stronger in the face of bigger obstacles to my practice because I value it more highly.
The Fixed Mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that I cannot significantly improve my ability or intelligence. Let's say I think of myself as not a "math person." This will lead me to choose Not Math when given the choice, which will stop me from practicing mathematical thinking, which will leave me less equipped than those who did choose math, which will reinforce my belief that those people are "math people" and I simply am not. In mirror opposition to the meta-prophecy remark above, being unaware of my Fixed Mindset will stop me from attributing my lack of skill to lack of practice, further promoting my belief that it is something inherently ME that's causing this spiral of weakness.
Another example, that illustrates a sad but kind of beautiful human fragility. When we think we've found something "good for us," such as eating healthy, meditating, exercise, reading, playing music, writing, whatever it is, and we'd like to continue practicing this activity for a long time - the rest of our lives? - we often fall prey to another self-fulfilling mechanism. It is what I like to call the Fear of Falling Off, or the Fear of Being A Dirty Quitter. It's not just fear of giving up though, but the subtle, sometimes unconscious belief that we WILL FAIL JUST YOU WAIT. The mechanism here is similar to that of the Fixed Mindset, but not exactly.
Fear causes anxiety, a physical-emotional sensation of inhibiting tightness. When we feel anxiety, our normal response is to avoid that which is bringing it about. If the source is a thought, perhaps an image of practicing my growthful activity that I really want to keep practicing for a long time because it's good for me but that's a tall order - the rest of my life? - and I'm not sure if I can do it for that long because what if I get bored or lazy or just feel too weak so I lock myself to the couch and watch Netflix until my brain melts into the cushions and my my skin hardens like petrified wood, and what then WHAT THEN?, we tend to avoid such a thought. If we keep the image of us practicing out of our head, because of the anxiety it stirs in us, then we will be less likely to practice ever, at all, period, much less _____________. My fear about not "keeping up" with practice causes me to stop myself from imagining practice. I find ways to keep my mind occupied with other stuff so I never have the "time" to practice. And thus the prophecy fulfills itself.
The interesting thing about this example, and others, is what I believe to be the remedy. In a phrase, it might be described as "Do the opposite," as in, do the action that arises from the opposite belief. I will get into this more in Part 2, but for now, let's say: if you're afraid of getting bored, then consciously forbid yourself from practicing too often or for too long. Make it impossible to be bored by always leaving yourself wanting more. Stop during the peak moment of enjoyment, (or just after but that's a slippery slope), never allowing yourself to experience the feeling of "OK great, what's next?" or "Enjoyment Now < Enjoyment 2 minutes ago."
Here is a graph illustrating how too much practice leads us to quit. At the onset, we have an accelerating desire to keep practicing. The line is curving upward. As we approach the peak, we may feel at one with the activity (in Flow), and excited by our power. This is a great feeling, which also always ends. The peak of the curve is about that point, after which there is a rapid downward-acceleration of our desire to keep practicing, and if we push ourselves past that point, we will not want to practice again for a long time. This will fuel our anxiety about Falling Off and will cause us to self-fulfill in a glorious blaze of TV marathons.
This idea of leaving ourselves wanting more is one of those things that people have trouble with. That's partly because we confuse the future with the present: How skilled I am today seems like it represents how skilled I'll be in the future, but it really doesn't, and we forget that.
Leaving ourselves wanting more also goes against much of what we've been taught by our culture. "Push yourself," "Winners never quit," "Life isn't easy," "U-S-A, U-S-A!" These are exactly the types of messages that have made us scared of Falling Off in the first place. When we treat ourselves like machines, forcing ourselves to follow a time-dependent routine (such as 1-hour a day), rather than an energy dependent routine (such as "Practice when I'm excited, and stop while I'm still having fun), it tends to bring out how we are exactly the opposite of machines. That is, when we're forced to do something, we will usually find some way to undermine that force, even (especially) if that force is us.
If the belief that we MUST NOT QUIT (but prolly will) is what's causing us to involuntarily do so ("no time" or "it's boring"), then what happens if we do the opposite of our intuition? Instead of fighting so hard to hold on, what if we step on and step off so quickly that we don't give ourselves a chance to fall?