Puzzles and Self-Fulfilling PropheciesBy Pablo Ricaud Arriola | Tue, 03/30/2021 - 13:03
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein
Thomas Edison famously tried 10,000 failed iterations in his search for the construction of the lightbulb before it actually worked out. Compare that now to yourself, sitting on your couch and moving pieces of a Ravensburger puzzle 10,000 times around before actually completing it. My view is that there is no difference at all, but one of perspective toward certainty.
The brain craves certainty in virtually the same way as it craves food and sleep. You get satisfaction out of getting information that makes you more certain. This is why as humans, we love to follow rules and preconceived paths. Study this, get a safe job, get married, do an MBA, etc., etc. On the contrary, we have a strong threat response to uncertainty about what will happen in the future that makes us uncomfortable and pushes us to gravitate back to “certainty.” Thinking about our challenges or goals as random, intangible propositions is what corners us into throwing in the towel; there is nothing to grip. Avoid risk and drop the challenges that don’t seem to work out on the first try.
No one would spill out a new puzzle on the table and expect to fit all the pieces at one time, nor 10 pieces. It needs to be done one piece at a time. You start with the easiest clues, the margins, maybe something in the middle, then other pieces start to fit. The more pieces you fit, the easier it gets to fit more in, until you are done. The same applies to more intangible problems, we just need to look at them in the same way. Iterarion, patience, starting slow, building up. Completing different sectors and knowing there’s a way down the line to connect those together. The start will always be the most confusing, and the slowest one, but the more you progress, the clearer the image will be and the faster you’ll move toward completion.
Why persist whole-heartedly on a regular puzzle with patience and dedication but not in the challenges we face in our daily lives? It’s just a matter of perspective.
I believe that if we teach ourselves to approach all problems as if they all have an absolute certain solution (like that Ravensburger out of a box), it will actually relax us into keep trying until eventually we find a solution. When you keep on trying with something that just seems futile, maybe it means that the completed image of the puzzle is not what you think it is, but something different that needs to be iterated and looked at in different ways to be understood. If a piece of a regular puzzle doesn’t physically fit in the space you need to fill in right now, it doesn’t mean it cannot be fit in down the line. Think about this really. That job, that person, that business idea … the fact it is not fitting at this precise moment has no meaning at all; maybe you need to gather other pieces first for it to come next. If it has a solution, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Not only is the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies important in psychological research, but it is also a well-known phenomenon in the field of sociology, where it was first discovered and defined by sociologist Robert Merton. Merton coined the term “self-fulfilling prophecy,” defining it as: “A false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” In other words, Merton noticed that sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause reality to match the belief. Generally, those at the center of a self-fulfilling prophecy don’t understand that their beliefs caused the consequences they expected or feared — it’s often unintentional, unlike self-motivation or self-confidence. These studies hinted at the idea that not only do our expectations for ourselves influence outcomes, our expectations of others also have an impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior toward them.
When we believe something about ourselves, we are more likely to act in ways that correspond to our beliefs, thus reinforcing our beliefs and encouraging the same behavior. Again, the final image and those pieces on the box — confidence and motivation for a certain solution, no matter the time or effort.
Waking up at 6 a.m. tomorrow — a small, easy puzzle. Being president — a gigantic puzzle, with a million pieces of the same color, but would you argue against the fact that if you fit certain pieces together, in a certain order, with enough persistence, across time, that it have a solution? Have other people in history become presidents before?
In psychological predicaments though, it is not so easy. To think like this, you must not believe in fate, but rather, believe that you have control of every possible iteration of your reality. In our expanding universe, ponder that there is an iteration where that goal you have exists. Whether you choose to think about it in such relative ways or in more practical ways, I’m convinced it applies. As Confucius said, “the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying small stones.” Small stones, small pieces. What the mountain is, or its size, depends on you.