Beliefs, both empowering and limiting, are related to our expectations. Expectation means "to look forward to" some event or outcome. According to Webster's dictionary, it "implies a high degree of certainty to the point of making preparations or anticipating certain things, actions or feelings." Expectations influence our behavior in different ways, depending on where they are directed. Sigmund Freud (1893) pointed out:
There are certain ideas which have an affect of expectancy attached to them. They are of two kinds: ideas of my doing this or that—what we call intentions—and ideas of this or that happening to me—expectations proper. The affect attached to them is dependent on two factors, first on the degree of importance which the outcome has for me, and secondly on the degree of uncertainty inherent in the expectation of the outcome.
People's beliefs and expectations about outcomes and their own personal capabilities play an important role in their ability to achieve desired states. Freud's distinction between "intentions" and "expectations" refer to what are known in modern cognitive psychology (Bandura, 1982) as 'self-efficacy' expectation and 'outcome' expectation. Outcome expectancy is a result of a person's estimate that a given behavior will lead to certain outcomes. 'Self-efficacy' expectation relates to the conviction that one can personally successfully execute the behavior required to produce the desired outcome.
The Relationship of 'Self-Efficacy' Expectation to 'Outcome' Expectation
These types of beliefs and expectations often determine how much effort people will invest, and how long they will sustain their efforts, in dealing with stressful or challenging situations. In self-managed activities, for instance, people who are skeptical about the possibility of the outcome occurring, or about their abilities to perform, tend to undermine their own efforts when they approach their limits. Typically, a lack of outcome expectancy leads to a feeling of 'hopelessness' which causes the person to give up out of apathy. The absence of 'self-efficacy' expectancy, on the other hand, leads to a sense of inadequacy which makes the person feel "helplessness'.
Strong positive expectations, on the other hand, can push people to put out extra effort, and release dormant abilities. A good example of the influence of strong expectations is the so-called "placebo effect." In the case of the placebo, a person is given a "fake" drug or pill that has no medically active ingredients. If the patient believes the pill is "real," however, and expects to get better, he or she will often begin to manifest real physical improvements. In fact, some placebo studies report quite dramatic results. In these instances, the person's expectation actually triggers behavioral capabilities that are latent but largely untapped.
In relationship to learning and change, outcome expectancy relates to the degree to which a person expects that the skills or behaviors he or she is learning or engaging in will actually produce the desired benefits within the environmental system that constitutes his or her reality. Self-efficacy expectation relates to the degree of confidence one has in his or her own personal effectiveness or ability to learn the skills, or enact the behaviors necessary to reach an outcome.
Attaining desired outcomes through effective performance in challenging situations can help to strengthen a person's confidence in his or her existing capabilities. This is because people usually do not perform to their fullest potential, even though they possess the skills. It is under conditions that test their limits that people find out what they are able to do.
Expectations relating to the projected outcomes of one's behavior are the primary source of motivation. From this view, how people feel, and what they do, depends on the value that they attach to, and the causes they attribute to, anticipated consequences. Strong "positive" outcome expectations, for instance, can push people to put out extra effort in hope of reaching some desired state. Expected consequences that are perceived as "negative," on the other hand, will lead to either avoidance or apathy.
From an NLP perspective, expectations are a classic example of the relationship between map and territory, and the influence of internal maps on behavior. According to NLP, an "expectation" is a mental map relating to future actions and consequences. The map may be of one's own behavior, the results of one's behavior, or events which may befall us. When such maps are very strong, they can have more influence on us than our ongoing reality.
All people create expectations, and hope that the world will meet them. The slippage between the world at large and the expectations we form with respect to that world is the basis of many of our disappointments in life. As NLP co-founder Richard Bandler points out, "Disappointment re quires adequate planning." The strong anticipation of the prospect of success or failure is also the basis for what are known as "self fulfilling prophesies."
Thus, expectations serve as another type of powerful 'frame' around our experiences; in many ways influencing or determining the beliefs and judgments we draw from those experiences. Knowledge of the impact of expectations has been used throughout the centuries to influence people's perceptions and their evaluations of particular events and situations. Consider, for instance, the following comments made by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf:
The great masses' receptive ability is only very limited, their understanding is small, but their forgetfulness is great. As a consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda has to limit itself only to a very few points and to use them like slogans until even the very last man is able to imagine what is intended by such a word. As soon as one sacrifices this basic principle and tries to become versatile, the effect will fritter away, as the masses are neither able to digest the material offered nor to retain it. Thus the result is weakened and finally eliminated.
The greater the line of its representation has to be, the more correctly from the psychological point of view will its tactics have to be outlined.
For example, [during World War IJ it was completely wrong to ridicule the adversary as was done in Austrian and German propaganda in comic papers. It was basically wrong for the reason that when a man met the adversary in reality he was bound to receive an entirely different impression; something that took its most terrible revenge, for now the German soldier, under the direct impression of the resistance of the enemy, felt himself deceived by those who so far were responsible for his enlightenment, and instead of strengthening his fighting spirit or even his firmness, quite the contrary occurred. The man despaired.
Compared with this, the war propaganda of the British and the Americans was psychologically right. By introducing the German as a barbarian and a Hun to its own people, it thus prepared the individual soldier for the terrors of war and helped guard him against disappointment. The most terrible weapon which was now being used against him then appeared to him only as the proof of the enlightenment already bestowed upon him, thus strengthening his belief that his government's assertions were right, and on the other hand it increased his fury and hatred against the atrocious enemy. For the cruel effect of the weapon of his enemy, which he learned to know by his own experience, appeared to him gradually as the proof of the already proclaimed "Hunnish" brutality of the barbaric enemy, without, however, making him think for even a moment that his own weapons could have, perhaps, or even probably, a still more terrible effect.
Thus the English soldier could not even for a moment have the impression that his country had taught him the wrong facts, something which was unfortunately the case to such an extent with the German soldier that he finally rejected everything that came from this side as uswindle" and "bunk" (Krampf).
No doubt, a great deal of Hitler's influence as a leader came from his awareness, understanding and application of the principles underlying Sleight of Mouth - and, unfortunately, he stands as an archetypic example of the misuse of these principles. His statements above illustrate the impact that expectations have as 'frames' which influence the conclusions that people derive from their experience. The
German soldiers felt disappointed, deceived, and disheartened when they discovered that their adversaries were not silly buffoons as they had been led to expect. On the other hand, the experience of the British and American soldiers confirmed their expectation that their adversaries would be brutal Huns—strengthening their belief in their cause and "increasing their fury and hatred" against their enemy.
Thus, our expectations exert a strong impact on our motivation and the conclusions we derive from our experience.
Expectations about reinforcement, for example, exert greater influence upon behavior than the reinforcement itself. Experiments, done with students who have received rewards for doing particular behavioral tasks, show that the effort exerted by students decreases significantly when they are led to expect that the same actions will not be rewarded on future occasions - whether or not they are in fact rewarded later on. Thus, beliefs and expectations about future reinforcement have more influence on behavior than the objective fact that the behavior has received reinforcement in the past.
The strength of an expectation is a function of the robustness of the representation of the anticipated consequence. In the view of NLP, the more a person is able to see, hear and feel some future consequence in his or her imagination, the stronger will be the expectation. Thus, expectations may be intensified by enriching the internal images, sounds, words and feelings associated with a possible future action or consequence. Likewise, expectations may be weakened by diminishing the quality or intensity of the internal representations associated with the potential future consequences.
As the example of the students above indicates, the strength of an expectation is also influenced by underlying beliefs about cause-and-effect. If students believe, "The experiment is over," they will no longer expect to be receiving reinforcement for the same tasks they were being reinforced for earlier. In this sense, expectations are often reflections of underlying beliefs. If we believe, "Hard work pays off," then we will expect to be rewarded for our labors. If we believe, "So and so is a good student," then we will expect him or her to do well in class.
Underlying beliefs can also create resistances or "counter-expectations" which come in the form of interfering inner representations. As Freud described it:
The subjective uncertainty, the counter-expectation, is itself represented by a collection of ideas to which I shall give the name of "distressing antithetic ideas"...In the case of an intention, these antithetic ideas will run: "I shall not succeed in carrying out my intentions because this or that is too difficult for me and I am unfit to do it; I know, too, that certain other people have failed in a similar situation." The other case, that of an expectation, needs no comment: the antithetic idea consists of enumerating all the things that could possibly happen to me other than the one I desire.
Thus, expectations may be either 'positive' or 'negative'. That is, they may either support desired outcomes or oppose them. Expectations which run counter to one another can create confusion or inner conflict. NLP offers a number of tools and strategies to help develop positive expectations and deal with negative expectations. The basic NLP approach to establishing or altering expectations involves either:
a) working directly with the internal sensory representations associated with the expectation.
b) working with the underlying beliefs which are the source of the expectation.
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