Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch


Megan McGinn, PsyD

Dr. McGinn leads us on a journey to examine how positive expectations can actually help create a better reality.

As you were growing up, at some point you were likely told, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” or “keep your expectations low,” or even “prepare for the worst.”

Whoever told you this had good intentions, as they were trying to protect you from potential failure or the pain of disappointment. This self-protection mode is part of the way our brain is biologically wired so we can avoid threats and survive – however we don’t usually acknowledge that it can also work against us.

First of all, the brain has a great capacity for imagination. When we are habitually imagining the worst case scenario, our minds become toxic places of fear. Instead of building ourselves up and remembering times in the past when we have succeeded, our memories have greater recall for past failures. We start to imagine a previous failure happening all over again, as a way to prevent it from recurring, but in actuality we are learning to expect it.

Expectations are extremely important in psychology, especially when it comes to predicting outcomes. Expectations are often based on self-efficacy, i.e. our belief that we are capable of doing something. Maintaining low expectations corrodes our self-efficacy, often subconsciously, creating self-doubt and low confidence. We imagine that we are ineffective and unworthy of other people’s time.

When we enter a situation with low expectations and low self-efficacy, it changes the way we interact with the environment in an unfavorable way. We are much less likely to take healthy risks or create positive connections. Perhaps we will look away instead of smiling at someone, our handshakes will be weaker, and the way we present our ideas will sound uncertain rather than convincing. Our poor internal expectations (rather than external circumstances) are actually creating failure.

I often ask my patients who are struggling with taking action, how would you behave if you had never been hurt before? It is true that disappointment, pain and failure is a part of life, but it actually occurs less frequently than we believe, and we do not have to allow ourselves to be defined by it. We can have healthier expectations by remembering our strengths, all the times we have succeeded, and manifesting all of our chickens before they hatch.

If you are struggling with a mental health concern or a difficult or stressful moment in life and would like to talk more about how to reframe negative thoughts into helpful ones, feel free to schedule an appointment with me and give therapy a try!

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