As a network marketing leader and learner, have you ever thought about the impact our thoughts, beliefs, and expectations have on others?
Through a phenomenon known as the Pygmalion Effect, we are able to move, nudge, or pull those around us in another direction almost invisibly by how we think about them, what we expect from them, and what we believe they are capable of.
The term was derived from the story from Greek mythology about a sculptor from the island of Cyprus named Pygmalion who poured so much of his passion into a statue of a woman he carved from stone that he fell deeply in love with it. The goddess of love, Aphrodite, was so struck by Pygmalion’s love for his creation that she descended to earth and fired a magical arrow into the heart of the sculpture, instantly transforming the stone into a living, breathing woman named Galatea. Together she and Pygmalion lived happily ever after.
Every great teacher, coach, and network marketing leader has mastered the Pygmalion effect, the principle that our thoughts, beliefs, and expectations can impact others almost magnetically.
Whether conscious or unconscious, these great leaders are able to convey belief in others at key moments that can flip the switch of possibility for them and shoot their lives off on entirely new trajectories.
When I was a freshman in high school, my guidance counselor, Mr. Anderson, called me into his office one morning. Looking unusually serious, he said, “Brian, a student like you only comes along about once every ten or fifteen years.”
Now, the truth was, when he said it, there was a really good chance he meant it more in a bad way than in a good way. While I was doing pretty well in my coursework, all I really cared about was goofing around, hoping that everyone would think I was funny and cool. I was that kid you remember from high school who couldn’t wait to interrupt class with a joke or some smart-alecky remark. Deep down inside, I was just scared. I desperately wanted everyone to like me.
Somehow Mr. Anderson saw through all that. And the next words he said changed my life. “There’s something special in you Brian. Stop wasting it! Every day is a gift.
But only if you open it. You haven’t opened one. Stop messing around and being afraid to try your best. Put your heart into your life. Stand up tall and be the student, leader, and person I know you can be.”
Even more important than Mr. Anderson’s words that day was the way he said them. He wasn’t interested in appealing to my intellect; he was committed to reaching into my heart. The impact was like Aphrodite’s arrow.
Looking back now, I’m certain that had he not said those words to me that morning so long ago, I never would have worked hard enough to have been accepted into Stanford University. Had I not gone to Stanford, I never would have discovered my passion for coaching, which led me eventually to my search for balance, with ultimately brought me to my wife and daughters and wonderful life.
Mr. Anderson believed in me more than I believed in myself, and when he had the chance to express his expectations, he seized that WOO. That’s what positive Pygmalions do!
It was in my years as a swimming coach that I had the unforgettable experience of working with an athlete who took the lesson that Mr. Anderson had taught me to a whole new level: only when we see the best in others do we have the chance to inspire it. Positive Pygmalions look for strengths and WOOs; negative Pygmalions see only weaknesses and obstacles.
Throughout his swimming career, Ron was the kind of young man who caused coaches to shake their heads in disappointment and throw their hands up in frustration. Blessed with a great personality and considerable natural ability but seemingly little grit or determination, he skated by, never digging deep to bring out his true potential. His attendance at practice was as unpredictable as the weather. Just when you’d begin to think he had turned the corner in his commitment, he would disappear for days at a time, negating any progress he’d made in conditioning and focus. Though he had enough talent to do well even with his halfhearted effort, he simply didn’t seem to care that much.
Ron joined my team when he and the rest of his former club merged with ours to create a real swimming powerhouse.
I had seen him at meets over the years and knew of both his talent and his reputation for lackluster training habits. What I didn’t know when he walked onto the pool deck that September afternoon was that buried beneath Ron’s happy-go-lucky exterior beat the heart of a champion. There was a spirit of passion and energy within him just aching to come out. He was just frightened and hiding from his potential, as so many of us do. What if he gave his best and it wasn’t good enough? What if he committed himself and failed? It was so much easier to amble along on talent alone, protected by the invisible comfort zone called “unrealized potential.”
Ron’s past coaches had tried to needle him into caring, calling him a loafer and a waste of talent—a strategy that clearly did not work over the long term. Occasionally he would respond with an “I’ll show you!” effort, but quickly he would slide back even further into his blasé attitude.
I have never believed in sarcasm as a motivator because the energy it evokes comes from embarrassment, fear, or revenge. These emotions can generate short-term results but not long-term inspiration. From the moment Ron joined our team, I focused on his potential and praised him for every effort that moved him a little closer to it. I wanted to be a positive influence for Ron, and so I left his past behavior in the past, understanding fully that what we focus on is what we create. I knew how important it is to see what’s possible in people, even when they don’t see it themselves.
After his first week with the team, Ron came to me after practice one afternoon and said, “Coach, I’m having fun here. I’ve never felt like someone believed in me as much as you do.”
I responded, “Ron, you’ve been a joy to have here this week. You’ve got everything it takes to be the California Interscholastic Federation champion if you decide it’s something you truly want. The greatest fun in life is to put your heart and soul on the line one hundred percent and discover what’s really inside of you. I do believe in you, and I’m really excited that you’ve joined our team.”
He smiled and turned just a tad red. But I could see the positive impact of the faith I had expressed in him far overpowered any embarrassment he felt at receiving such compliments.
After that talk, Ron became a dream to train. In all my years of coaching, never had I worked with an athlete who tried harder and had more fun doing it. Ron made the decision to go for it; he attacked his senior year of swimming, placing his full faith in me and in himself. On the rare occasions when he didn’t have his A-game, he never let his positive spirit dissipate. As a result, he had few subpar days and bounced back from any disappointment almost immediately. More than any swimmer with whom I’d ever had the pleasure to work, Ron looked inside himself to determine his success, rather than evaluating his ability according to what everyone else thought, or on the basis of one poor performance. Even on days when he didn’t turn in his fastest practice times, he was able to feel good about his effort. With this fresh spirit, Ron improved dramatically.
By the time the high school season began, Ron was performing workout sets and drills I had never seen accomplished before. And he obviously enjoyed every minute of it. He came to practice each day with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye that seemed to say, Come on, Coach, let’s see what we can do today.
Where years of the negative Pygmalion staples of sarcasm and ridicule had left him uninspired and uncommitted, he responded to praise and positive energy with boundless enthusiasm.
His attitude and effort had quite an effect on the entire team. For the first time in his life, Ron knew what it felt like to be admired. He became our team leader by his extraordinary example. His enthusiasm was infectious, and all of the kids seemed to have more energy and worked harder while complaining less. Practices had never been so much fun.
It was hard to believe how swiftly the year flew by when we arrived at East Los Angeles City College for the California Interscholastic Federation High School Championship prelims. Ron was to swim three events—the 200-yard individual medley (50 yards of each of the four competitive strokes), the 100-yard backstroke, and a leg on his school’s medley relay. With all my heart, I wanted this transformed young man to experience a moment of great triumph at the high school championships. He deserved no less.
The prelims were the qualifiers for the finals that would occur three days later. Because of his fine performances during the dual meet season, Ron was seeded in the top three in both of his individual events, though there was no clear favorite. The top swimmers were closely bunched, within a few tenths of a second of one another.
In the sport of swimming, just as in network marketing, top performers work extremely hard.
These determined kids rise each morning around four-thirty and hit the water by five for a two-hour workout before school. Then, after a full day in classes, they come back for an evening workout, another grueling two-hour test of stamina. On top of their endless hours in the pool, they lift weights four days a week. As a result, during the season, they are dead tired. The entire training strategy points at one shining light at the end of an exhausting tunnel—the taper and peak period. This is the three weeks or so before the big meet when they stop morning practices and gradually reduce the intensity of their afternoon workouts. With the added rest, their muscles and spirits begin to rejuvenate, and they prepare psychologically and physically for their best performances. It is a very exciting time for a swimmer. With a couple of days to go before the target competition, the kids begin to feel so much energy they could pop.
The last big step is to “shave down.” The night before the big meet, the kids shave the hair from their arms, legs, back, and stomach—some even shave their heads, though most opt for a cap or a short haircut. When they hit the water after shaving, they feel incredible—it’s as if they are suddenly lighter than air. It’s an amazing sensation and a huge boost mentally and emotionally.
For the preliminaries, Ron and I decided that he would not shave down. Though it was slightly risky, we felt confident he would easily qualify in the top eight anyway and then would have an extra edge when he shaved for the finals.
The day of the prelims finally arrived and we were psyched. Ron’s goal for the 200-yard individual medley was 1:57.9, and I secretly hoped that he might go as fast as 1:55.9 in the finals if everything went perfectly. He had never broken 2:02 before, but we both were visualizing the best. In his preliminary heat, he started off the race looking strong, but his timing seemed a bit off when he reached the breaststroke leg. The effort was there, but he tired as the race progressed and really struggled the last 25 yards. His time was 1:59.9, and though it was a personal best, I could see his disappointment when he came over to me to talk about the race. Indeed, I was worried, because he had really looked tired in the last half of the event, and the finals were only a few days away. He had worked so hard, and our hopes were so high. What if we had overestimated his ability? What if his goals were out of reach? As he looked to me for answers, I could sense a tinge of doubt creeping into his mind.
I did my very best to instill more confidence in him than I actually felt at that moment. I smiled at him and said with great conviction, “No worries. You’re still three days away. When the finals come on Thursday, you’re going to be awesome.” Thank goodness he didn’t know I was trying to solidify my own faith as much as his. True to the spirit he had shown all year long, he bounced right back as he listened to my pep talk, nodding at me with the twinkle back in those laughing eyes of his. He felt even better when we found out he had qualified first in the individual medley and second in the backstroke. But when we left the prelims that evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to fall far short of his goals. He deserved his moment, and I prayed he would find something magical inside him by Thursday.
That week at our short practices, Ron was right back to his cheerful, upbeat self. We both knew Thursday would be his one big shot at his dreams.
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