The Value of Fooling Yourself

There exists a common misconception that having a more truthful view of the world is a competitive advantage.

The theory here is simple: by having a more accurate world view you are able to make decisions that are better adapted to reality, thus you will be more effective in achieving your goals.

I would like to challenge this view and instead propose that the belief which is most beneficial to you, is often not the most truthful one.

A simple example of this would be starting a company. The truth is that most likely it will be extremely time consuming, emotionally draining, and in the end statistically you are most likely to close shop after a few years.

If you are at the precipice of starting a company and you deeply believe these things, it will likely demoralize you and make you less likely to get started. And if you do overcome the initial hurdle and open the business, having the belief that you will likely fail will be an additional drain on your mental energy, making it more likely that you will in fact fail.

Choosing a useful belief

A more useful outlook might be to ignore the likely reality of what you are undertaking. Fool yourself for your own benefit. Believe that it will be easy, that you are the exception, and that in the end you will not even need to spend that much time on the business because the idea is just so damn good.

While these things are less likely to be true than the statistically supported view, it will certainly be more conductive to your success. You will be more likely to get started, have greater emotional resources and be more tenacious when you encounter obstacles. All of these things will increase the chances of your success.

As you can imagine this self delusion is useful not only when considering starting a business. When you go to the gym, pretend the workout will be easy. When sitting down to write your great novel, be crazy optimistic about how long it will take to finish.

But how can we think like this when we know the hard truth? To do this I suggest practising doublethink as described in George Orwell’s 1984.

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

George Orwell, 1984

Learn to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. Compartmentalize your brain and choose the belief that is most useful to you at any given moment. Note that the crazy optimistic belief is not always the most useful one. Certain topics require you to take a hard look at reality and deal with worst-case scenarios.

Sitting down to write this article I told myself I will get it done in an hour or so. Of course as I edit this text I have already spent over a day, with several disregarded drafts. But I did get it done.