Unlocking your potential
I am afraid of spiders.
On a cognitive level, I know that they are harmless little creatures. But if I see a spider web in my basement, I am immediately on the alert for the dangerous intruder. And when I spot one of them, I am overcome by fear. Because of this mild phobia, the word “spider” catches my attention whenever I see it in print. Such was the situation when, during the course of unrelated research, I learned that if we have a fear of spiders, we are more likely to notice them. This is exactly what happens in my household. I am always the one who discovers the lone spider in the basement, while others are oblivious to its peaceful existence.
If we are anxious about something, we are more likely to notice what we perceive as a threat than those who are relaxed. In other words, whatever we focus on, we see. This is a powerful concept with significant implications for both our personal and organizational
lives. What we see is deeply influenced by what we expect.
Over the years, many scholars have worked on variations of this concept, such as The Rosenthal Effect, also known as the Pygmalion Effect (a psychological finding where a leader’s high expectations of others causes high performance) and the obverse, the Set Up To Fail Syndrome (where low expectations of others causes low performance). While these concepts have to do with expectations we have of others, the Galatea Effect (named after the stone statue of the beautiful woman that the sculptor Pygmalion brought to life) is about expectations individuals have of themselves – it is, in effect, when high self-expectations become the catalyst for greater personal achievements. When that happens, we become our own positive self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is a significant factor in employee performance. A good leader who sets out to help employees to believe in themselves, in their ability to perform well, sets the stage for their possibility to succeed. The confidence that results from employees’ high personal expectations in turn spurs them to higher achievement and productivity – their performance rises to the level of their own expectations.
Perhaps the scholar who has done the most work in this area is Stanford University’s Dr Albert Bandura, who pioneered the concept of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to perform effectively. Bandura’s theory is that individuals who have high self-efficacy expectations – that is, who believe that they can achieve what they set out to do – are healthier, more effective, and generally more successful than those with low self-efficacy expectations.
High self-efficacy determines many of the choices we make – the higher the self-efficacy, the more likely we are to seek new challenges and persist in the face of adversity or failure. High self-efficacy also influences the effort that we put into achievements. One might say that we are what we think we are.
This old adage is now scientifically proven. From the extensive brain research that is being conducted, we know that our brains are not hard wired. We know that the brain is plastic, and has the ability to reorganize itself every time we have new experiences. According to Dr John Kounios, Drexel University Medical School professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscientist, our neural connections change even after a 20-minute conversation!