Don’t Let Your Inner Dunce Get in the Way of Success!

In the early 13th century, a Scottish scholar by the name of John Duns Scotus developed an idea that he believed helped his students become more proficient learners. Scotus was a prolific educator in his time. He was a leader in the fields of logic, theology and philosophy. His idea, though, showed his tendency to be a bit “out of the box” in his teaching methods.

The idea was a cone shaped hat. Silly to think now, but Scotus believed that, when worn, the hate filtered knowledge through the tip of the cone into the brain of the hat wearer. Eventually, as Scotus and the hat became more well known around the educational world, opponents of his teachings began to use the term “Dunce” as synonymous with someone who is stupid or idiotic. The cone shaped hat would then become known as the Dunce Cap, linking anybody who wore the cap to misbehavior and misconduct.

Now, maybe you didn’t know that you were getting a history lesson today (if you stopped reading right now, you can likely say that you at least learned something). But there is a point to this story. To better understand where we’re going, let’s look at another idea that sits on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to labels and expectations.

How Expectations Can Make You Better

Have you ever had a boss or a teacher that you loved? Not necessarily because they let you get away with whatever you wanted (although, those teachers were always fun to have). But because, for some reason, you actually felt like you got something out of that class? Or, more specifically, you felt like the personality of the teacher or boss led you to want to be better?

Well, if you had one of these experiences, consider yourself lucky. The idea behind this experience is called the Pygmalion Effect. The Pygmalion Effect is the phenomenon that higher expectations lead to higher results and better performance.

For the teacher or boss that pushed you to be better, it wasn’t necessarily that they yelled and screamed at you until you succumbed to their will (I’m sure we’ve all had instances like this in our lives as well…not so fun). It was that they high higher expectations for you. They believed in you. They thought that you were more than what maybe you even believed you were.

Pulling It All Together

So, what do the Dunce Cap and the Pygmalion Effect have to do with each other? Well, besides the fact their names sound like something out of a Harry Potter movie, it’s the expectations that were set for the individuals and subsequent performance that brings them together.

You see, when kids were forced to put on the Dunce Cap, they were automatically labeled. And that label, usually problem child, created expectations. And once those expectations were attached to that child, others would start to treat them accordingly, which would then lead the child to act accordingly. In the end, the Dunce Cap was creating expectations for who the child was, eventually leading to downward actions and less success.

On the opposite side, the research behind the Pygmalion Effect is astounding. For instance, research shows that 10thgrade students whose teachers had higher expectations of them were 3 times more likely to graduate from college. Interestingly, teacher’s expectations on students had a higher effect on college graduation rates than did student motivation and student effort. This time, higher expectations were created and high outcomes were achieved.

What Does All of This Have to Do with Your Success?

The moral of both of those stories is simple: setting expectations will have a profound effect on outcome and performance. But, this doesn’t only apply to external expectations on us. Although it is important to surround yourself with others who believe in you (and, yes, that means eliminating the people in your life that drag you down and don’t believe in you…harsh, but true), this means nothing if our expectations of ourselves are no better than those around us.

As Tony Robbins would say, “You get what you expect”. For many of us, we don’t expect much out of ourselves. Maybe it’s because we’ve “failed” at something so many times we just don’t believe we can succeed. Or maybe it is from external forces telling us that we shouldn’t try so many times that we become complacent.

No matter the reason, many of us put our metaphorical Dunce Caps on before we try any new endeavor, leading us to set predetermined low expectations and, eventually, fulfilling them as such. 

This is exceedingly obvious in the realm of health and fitness. How many times have you tried a diet or exercise routine in the hopes of losing weight our toning up or moving better? And, of those times, how many times have you achieved your goal? Well, if you’re still trying diets and exercise routines, then I’m guessing the answer is none.

The good news is, you can turn this tendency towards self-sabotage around. You can start to develop the expectations that will actually support you in your goals. You can enact your own Pygmalion Effect and move toward better results and better performance. All you have to do is follow a few steps…

Improving Your Expectations to Achieve Your Goals

I want to show you 3 ways that you can start to develop higher expectations so that you can start to improve your life. There’s no reason to continue to stand in the way of yourself no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. Whether you’re hoping to earn more money, get a promotion, travel the world, and get in better shape, increasing your expectations of yourself can only help.

Now, these 3 ideas I’m going to share don’t have to be done together. They do take effort and time to implement, after all. However, if you can accomplish all of 3 of the strategies, you’ll be well on your way to an improved life:


To be totally honest, this is my answer for just about anything that has to do with achievement. None the less, the mindset you have about what is possible will dictate your progress in life.

This idea of a growth mindset can be found in the Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. The book explains the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, explaining how having one or the other will have an impact on your success in life. In short, someone with a fixed mindset believes that they cannot get any better and that our circumstances dictate our lives. 

Many of these people grew up as the smart kids, being praised for the inherent brilliance. The problem is, when you believe your brilliance is inherent (meaning, something you’re born with), then you believe that it is beyond your control. Therefore, the mindset is that you cannot develop more knowledge.

On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset believes that we are able to learn and adapt as needed and that life circumstances are useful to help us make changes when needed. Most of these people were praised for their efforts as kids. When they accomplished something, they were told it was because of the effort they put into the task.

The growth mindset, in our case, allows us to change the belief about what is possible. We go from thinking “I’m just not able to lose weight because I’m big boned” to “I can lose weight if I take the time to find the right guidance”. This is imperative to any type of achievement in life.


How we think about situations in life will also dictate how we go about achieving them. For instance, research shows that approaching a given situation as a threat restricts our ability to utilize potential resources, limits our creativity and obstructs problem solving.

An example of this might be joining a gym. For many people, the idea behind joining a gym is excruciating. Having to go in and be hawked by a salesman, then, once you sign up, walking into a place where it’s more important to look good than it is to work hard brings anxiety to anybody hoping to make a lifestyle change (which is why facilities like Thriveology exist…comfort is key). 

Approaching this situation feeling threatened will cause you to keep your focus small (you only look at one or 2 gyms), not try many new activities (you only get the treadmill) and not get any results (you lose 3-5lbs and get discouraged).

On the other hand, approaching this same situation with a feeling of opportunity can breed significantly different results. A feeling of opportunity leads us to be much freer, opening our minds to possibility. 

With a feeling of opportunity, in the above examples, the would seek out a number of facilities, eventually finding a place that is accepting and supportive of our goals (this is something we do abundantly well). We become open to trying new forms of activity, such as weight training. And we believe that our fate is in our hands.


Sometimes, our expectations just get in our way. Even when we do have high expectations for ourselves, we take our accomplishments for granted.

In this instance, we need to learn to appreciate the things we have achieved. Although your goal may be to lose 30lbs, don’t get down on yourself because you’ve currently only lost 12lbs. Appreciate the fact that you’ve put in the effort to achieve that level of success.

This mindset can be hard to develop in a world that is so focused on higher and higher levels and performance. But, if we don’t take the time to appreciate the things we have, we’ll never be happy with the accomplishments in our lives.

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