From Pygmalion to Galatea: Five Ways the Power of Expectations Powers Your Productivity

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” – Stephen Hawking, British physicist and cosmologist.

Despite the cynical veneer so popular today, most of us still respect positive thought and great expectations—and for good reason. When combined with hard work, the short-term boost of motivation, and a modicum of talent, the power of expectations can yield extraordinary results on the productivity front. Even if talent is lacking, the grand truth is that as long as someone expects or insists it’s not, the results can be just as profound.

Why does the power of expectations work? The reasons are simple yet profound, and have operated steadily for thousands of years. They’re likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, since these motivators remain basic to human nature. For example:

  1. The placebo effect has fascinated medical science for well over a century, and people have leveraged it for much longer. It’s why many folk remedies, patent medicines, and quack cures actually work: because the people taking and giving them assume they will. A relative few folk cures have been proven and subsequently subsumed into the field of medicine; most, however, have no physical reasons why they should work, and yet often, they do ease the effects of illness when belief in them is sufficient. Even sugar pills can seem to cure a headache or a stomachache when someone believes they will. But then, 90% of illnesses and conditions are self-limiting, meaning they burn themselves out before killing the host. This reinforces the belief in a placebo’s effectiveness, especially if you pair the placebo with something that works: “Take this grapefruit extract with a well-balanced meal of small portions, and you’ll lose weight.” This may be equally true of many productivity blockers. If you placebo yourself into believing you can overcome them, then you will.

  2. The Pygmalion effect kicks in when other people convince you that you can do something, simply because they believe in you. While there will always be outliers who won’t respond, gung-ho, positive leadership can convince even a low-producing team that they’re winners. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the best schoolteachers in the world use this method; some have even had movies made about them. Managers and executives often use this method. But beware: the Pygmalion effect works in both directions. If you think of your team as a bunch of losers and expect them to do poorly, you’ll get what you expect. This is one of the chief reasons to set your performance bar high. Don’t set it insanely high, or people will give up and not even try for it. But put it an inch or two above where they think they can reach on a good day, and they’ll surprise you.

  3. The Galatea effect. Here’s to self-confidence! The Galatea effect gets into gear when you expect you’ll have no problem doing something, because you know you can do it. This sets it apart from the Pygmalion effect, which occurs when you decide you can do it because other people think you can.

  4. Good health. So many times, high productivity comes down to high energy; hence my recommendation that you maintain good health in blog after blog. When you feel well, you inevitably have a better outlook, and expect better of the world and yourself—so that’s what you get. Plenty of sleep, decent hydration, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and an active, healthy mind will give you the energy to take on the world.

  5. Big goals and dreams. You can talk yourself into succeeding, if only because there’s something big you want to achieve lurking in the background. Sometimes it’s simple survival. The most profound thing I recall about Kafka’s “Metamorphosiswasn’t that Gregor turned into a giant bug. Another, more important metamorphosis takes place when his family members overcome their learned helplessness and begin to support themselves for once. Though they’re not especially nice people, they do go from dead weight to contributing members of society when they have to. Convince yourself you “have to” if there’s no other way to pump up your productivity—because it’s true.

Expecting Productivity

While positive expectations may not physically change the world around you, they’re still a powerful force that can change reality by pushing you and others into an incredible state of productivity. So take advantage of them. Even though you know how they work, any of the expectations-drivers outlined can still help you push your performance through the roof.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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