My dad taught me a fascinating lesson when growing up. It was a lesson about your outlook on life and how, as if by magic, one can control his or her outcome simply by expecting it. How arrogant, I thought as a child. How can anyone control their own “luck”? Harnessing the power of your mind can be the difference between success and failure, happiness and sadness and, yes, retirement and a never-ending career.
The lesson went something like this:
If you set out in life expecting bad things to happen, then bad things will probably happen. If, however, you expect good things to happen, then by in large, you’ll probably wind up pretty damn successful.
Throughout my years on this earth, I learned something important – something so fundamental and basic that it has literally re-shaped the way I look at life.
The truth of the matter is simple: there is very little luck in this world. Everyone living in the United States (or, quite frankly, any first world nation) carries with them a hell of a lot more control over their lives than they may think – or even want. People’s lives are a direct result of what they put into them.
It may be convenient or easy on the psyche to blame failures on “bad luck”, but there is almost always something that we could have done to change the outcome.
How many times have you glanced over at a fit, athletic person and said “Lucky, I wish I could look like that”?
Or, how about “I wish I had more time to do XYZ”?
While things like losing weight are more difficult for some people than they are for others, luck and sheer fortune are not the guiding principles of highly successful people. And likewise, luck and fortune are not what sink alcoholics into a lifetime of drunken stoopers, or drug addicts into a life of roller coaster-like highs and lows.
Your successes and failures in life are a direct result of the choices that you make. If you expect your life to fall apart, then it probably will! If you expect to retire by 40 (or 35!), you’ll be FREE AT LAST by the time that you are 40 (or 35!).
Remember, I am talking about expectations, not wants.
Wants come from our emotional side and usually involve life’s comforts, but may not get backed up by action. You may want that new job. You may want to try that new restaurant this weekend. You may want the Oakland Raiders to make it to the Superbowl this year.
The difference between wants and expectations is important. Our wants stem from emotions, but our expectations come from our brains. Still on the “bash the Raiders” bandwagon, you may want the Raiders to make it to the Superbowl, but nobody in their right mind expects them to. Hat tip to the brain on this one for not getting Raiders’ fans hopes up.
It’s the placebo effect, of course!
Think about how large pharmaceutical companies test their drugs on the public. One group of people is given the real drug, while the other group is given what essentially amounts to a fake one – why?
Because when people expect a certain outcome, it usually happens.
If you’re testing a pre-workout energy pill, you will probably feel more energized before working out because you expect it to work. For a weight loss pill, you will probably find spots around your arms or waist that just “look thinner“. It does not matter whether weight was truly lost or energy was gained – at least from a physiological perspective.
If you feel more energized, it does not matter whether that energy came from the drug or from your head. In the end, more energy is more energy.
People make themselves believe in the expected outcome. X is supposed to happen, so in your mind, X probably will happen. Whether the outcome is positive or negative, it works the same.
The lesson that my dad taught me so many years ago has guided how I look at my life. Amazingly, if I expect to have a shitty day at the office, I generally will. If I anticipate that I will add another 10 pounds to my bench press in a month, then come hell or high water, it happens.
I don’t know if this can be called the secret to life or not, but it’s pretty darn amazing. I love being able to simply use my mind to think positive thoughts, and then nice things happen in my life.
Expect what you want, and you’ll get what you expect.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.