Every single time I walk in my front door, my dog Sadie barks like mad. She celebrates with all she’s got. It takes her a full five minutes to calm down, and even then, she’s still panting.
This happens every. Single. Day. Not once has she ever greeted me like, Oh, it’s you again.
Of course, most people’s dogs are like that. For them, you coming home is cause for maximum joy. Pull out all the stops! Kill the fatted lamb! Break out the fine china—Mom’s home from work!
Dogs are always prepared for happiness. They live in a constant state of waiting for something good to happen. And when it does, they don’t hold back. They celebrate the crap out of it.
There’s a name for that magical quality: positive expectancy.
What if we were like that? What if we were more like our dogs, especially when it came to reaching our goals?
Honestly, a lot of adults these days are the opposite. We fall into patterns of negative expectancy so easily. We get irritated about the smallest things. We lower out expectations so that we don’t get hurt. There's always a rainstorm and rarely a parade.
Because of that, we start seeing everything as a challenge. And it becomes a cycle: we expect crappy things, so we act accordingly. Even when something good happens, we have a hard time breaking out of our slump. Celebrate? Nah, I’m too busy, too tired, too frustrated about work. Plus, what would I celebrate, anyway? I haven't won any major awards. I haven't even done my laundry this week, and I have SO much work do to… And so on.
That negativity is dangerous, because it determines the results we get – not to mention, it’s no fun at all. It’s like being Eeyore all the time.
We need to be more like Sadie. We need to expect good things, and be ready when they happen. Because only by expecting them can we take the actions to make them real.
How you can do it, too
Sometimes, that positive expectancy shows up naturally. Sometimes we go into something just knowing it’s gonna work. When it does, that’s great. But when it doesn’t—and often it won’t—there are ways to create it. It’s about shifting your mindset. It’s about cultivating hope. It’s about letting yourself believe something is possible.
This isn’t just fuzzy, feel-good nonsense. It’s about the physical wiring of your brain.
There’s a term in neuroscience called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity.” In English, that means that our brain changes according to our thoughts and experiences.
“With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time,” writes Annie Wood in an article in Truth Theory. “Throughout our lives we are wiring our brains, based on our repetitive thinking. We get good at what we practice.”
This comes down to a basic question: What do you think about?
Do you complain a lot, and expect the worst? Do you dwell on the hard stuff?
If your spouse asks you how your day was, what’s the first thing you say? “Ugh, it was awful. The staff meeting lasted ten hours, and then I got stuck in traffic, and I didn’t eat lunch so now I have a migraine.”
What we say and what we think on a day-to-day basis? That matters. It matters a lot.
When we complain, our brain creates neural pathways that reinforce negative perceptions. So that negativity gets hardwired into our brains.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true: when we think positive thoughts, our brain creates pathways that reinforce positive perceptions – so they get hard-wired into our brain.
Let’s look at two simple ways to do that.
Self-talk consists of all the things we say to ourselves in a day. This inner monologue starts as soon as we wake up, plays all day long, and often keeps us up at night with its chatter.
If your self-talk is negative, then that constant drip of negativity is eroding away at your foundation – which makes it all but impossible to step into positive expectancy.
It’s time to replace those berating comments with positive self-talk.
It’s vital that you actually believe your self-talk. If you don’t, you’ll feel fake, and you might even feel worse than before. So you’ve got to find ways to talk to yourself authentically and believably. Maybe things like:
By shifting your self-talk away from complaining and berating, toward accepting and learning, you’ll begin to create a belief system of self-worth and self-love. Your brain will become wired for hope, optimism, good feelings, and self-empowerment.
That's positive expectancy.
Affirmations are a form of self-talk. They're usually shorter, more intentional. Things like:
Affirmations work best when they're a regular part of your routine. You can use them in the mirror while you're brushing your teeth. You can use them on your morning commute, in the elevator, at the water cooler. Find times in your day that are repetitive, and build in an affirmation—that way, you'll remember to do it. Eventually, it'll be automatic (that's when you know it's really wired into your brain.)
Again, make sure they feel natural and true for you, or else they won't do much good.
Affirmations also work well at times of acute stress. Maybe you’re gearing up for a difficult conversation or sales pitch. Maybe you have to present to a thousand people and your whole career hinges on not messing up. Maybe you want to start a new project, but it’s big and scary, and you don’t feel good enough. Those are all perfect opportunities to use affirmations. They can help you calm down enough to focus, and they can also help amp you up if you want more energy.
Affirmations are also key to creating positive expectancy.
How do you talk to yourself about your goals and projects? Is it “I’ll never be able to do this,” or "I’m not smart enough, talented enough, good enough for this"?
Or is it “I can do this”? “I am strong,” “I am talented,” “I have everything I need to make this happen”?
Your brain will believe what you tell it regularly, if it feels genuine. So start weaving affirmations and positive self-talk into your thought process. If you catch yourself thinking something destructive, quick—replace it with a positive thought. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get.
Go out, step into a place of positive expectancy, and shine.
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