Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

There are a few things that are just hot-button issues for me. One is “The Point of Diminishing Returns.” I can do quite a lot on that topic. Another is “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.” I’m a big believer that we build a surprising amount of our reality by what we tell ourselves. It’s not that there’s no such thing as objective reality, it’s that our subjective reality is what we pay attention to. We collect evidence to support the things we say to ourselves, and we disregard the rest.

Today at lunch, my mom mused aloud that maybe she should stop calling our house “Chaos Central” and start calling it “Malfunction Junction.” My bias is that she should stop calling it either one of those things. She’s focused on the things that are going wrong. If she stays focused on them, they’ll be most of what she sees, and it won’t feel much like a place worth being.

I’m working much too hard for that to be our story in the first two weeks. It costs both of us way too much money for us to give up this early. Are things chaotic? Yes, they are. Things are chaotic when you’re in transition. But “in transition” by definition doesn’t last forever.

She’s telling herself that there’s no storage space, when we both came from two bedroom condos much smaller than our current space. We do need to get rid of things, but she acknowledges that the things we need to get rid of are threadbare, worn-out, badly functioning things. We get to keep only the best stuff— that’s not that bad a story. We have more than we need— how many people have that as a story? She’s telling herself that everything is broken, but she has a big spacious house and bedroom where she’s been cool in the hottest part of the summer, after living in a building where you could seriously get heat-stroke at 11 p.m.. She’s telling herself that the retired electrician neighbor who can’t quite fix the fan he broke is ruining her life and telling the neighbors we don’t know outlandish tales. Who cares what people we don’t know say to other people we don’t know and may never meet? If they care enough about it, they’ll come to see themselves if we have four heads each, and we’ll get to make our own impression. You pick the evidence you consider, and she’s picking the evidence that reinforces a bad story.

All of these things sap her energy to move us in a better direction. And frankly, I can’t move us in a better direction if she won’t go. I need her to stop telling herself these things. Dead weight or active resistance to making things better is not going to help my forward momentum.

But by the same token, it sounds impossibly Pollyanna: “you have to look for the good in this situation! You simply must!”

Any thoughts about how to say this in a way she could actually hear it? I’m not saying to close her eyes to bad things, I’m asking her to make an effort to see that there are at least as many good as bad things.


8 thoughts on “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

  1. It is difficult but she will not see the positive aspects of your move unless you can confront her with them. (and she will resist!). Perhaps focus on one room (her bedroom?) and really get it to a point where she could not possibly want it any better ………. and then use that as a reference point in future negativity. Draft up some kind of schedule that shows all her “complaints” with a rough time frame to resolve them. Don’t put up with negative generalizations. Tell her that she needs to be specific about what she feels needs to be done so that it can be added to the list! Come up with a more appropriate name for your new home (with her contributions) and then use only that name = correct her as necessary (this may be better if you just happen to agree with a name of her choice!)
    Good luck!

    • These are good suggestions, truly. Some of them won’t work because of the person I am. Mom is all good with making a list a mile long for me to do, but that will discourage and overwhelm me. And since I’m providing the positivity and 90 percent or more of the energy for forward motion, things that discourage me must be avoided. With that said, you’ve given me some good ideas about ways to get us some small wins. I think we can pick one big thing that we work together to resolve every week or every few days, to make progress more concrete for her. And I think we can focus on something that feels good to have done, so if it’s finding a place to hang the family picture (which she’s very anxious to do and I’m less excited about) or putting up my dad’s flag case on the mantel, we can do things that pay off for her emotionally, to get her more invested. There are these furniture movers she wants to get. We can talk about that and either get them from the store she wanted them from (so she feels like it’s her victory) or order them online (less work for me) and just start piling up wins.

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  3. Maybe put up a chalkboard, paint a wall with chalkboard paint and make it the “We’ve got it Good” gratitude/thanksgiving wall. Make a plan to each add something new each day. Or make a number goal and reward…once we have 50 things up, we’ll go to a dinner theater to celebrate how good life is!

    • Though I don’t approach that relationship with the same deference I showed as a child, I don’t want to take a position of authority over her before it’s absolutely necessary, and this is kind of a top-down approach. I approached it as more of a “here’s what I’m seeing, here’s why it concerns me, what do you think we should do about it,” thing, so that she’s invested in the solution. I had a suggestion, she had a suggestion, we’re working on both together.

      • Your approach is far more likely to work i.e. steer her into a number of options and then let her make the decision. With tact and diplomacy, you should be able to “direct her” such that any decision on her part is acceptable to you. The advantage however (and it is a huge advantage), is that she will believe that it was her decision. 🙂

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