I'm delusional (but so are you).
On choosing the right delusions.
But that was already obvious to you, dear reader.
Unfortunately, you’re delusional too. We all are.
And I’m not talking a little bit off here and there…I’m talking fundamentally deluded in the most important ways.
Let me explain (and I promise it’s not all bad).
Delusion #1: Perceived Reality
Let’s start with the most foundational way in which we’re deluded - perceived reality. What we see and experience through our senses in day to day life is not reality. It’s a representation of reality created by our brains.
Here’s a simple experiment that highlights a complex truth. Look at the red dot below. As it moves across the screen, the green dot lights up at the exact moment that the dots are aligned on top of each other.
But what do your eyes see? They see a delay. They see the green dot appearing after the red dot has already passed, even though technically that’s not true.
That’s because our eyes, brains, and visual cortex are insanely powerful filters. They absorb an enormous amount of inputs from the external world, and decide in real time what to construct as reality in our minds. We wouldn’t be able to cognitively process (or handle) seeing all of reality, so we only see part of it. There’s colors we don’t see, sounds we don’t hear, and movements and activity that we aren’t aware of. The part we do see, hear, and experience is a reconstruction of reality created by our brains, not the external world.
That false delay between the dots is your brain taking the time to filter information and display to you “reality”.
But the bigger truth isn’t about dots on a screen. It’s about the fact that every single thing we experience day to day is a directional representation of reality, not reality itself. Partial reality perhaps.
Delusion #2: Centrality
I am the center of the universe. At least, that’s what my experience tells me. After all, every single minuscule moment I experience in this life happens through the lens of…me.
Intellectually I know this isn’t true. There’s billions of people on the planet. There’s billions of people that have returned to the dust. And that’s just on one small planet among a literal endless amount of planets in a universe that continues to expand.
The mathematical odds of humans being “special” are impossibly small. We very likely aren’t alone. Scientists are confronted with this reality even if we’ve yet to have proof of life on other planets. That seems to be more of a matter of time than a matter of truth.
But alas, we sit at the center of our imagined reality regardless.
Delusion #3: Cognitive Biases
Much like our brains have evolved to be insanely powerful filters that help us orient our senses in a way that isn’t overwhelming, our biases create filters that ensure we don’t have to fully comprehend information before deciding what to do with it. They serve a purpose. But they’re still a bias.
Let’s take one of the most common cognitive biases - confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out and prefer information that supports our preexisting beliefs. We believe X. So anytime we’re presented with Y information, we fit that information into our existing beliefs, either by discarding the information or manipulating it to fit into our world view.
Religion is the most obvious example.
Billions of religious people will hold onto the beliefs they were taught despite contradictory evidence or experience. It’s cognitively easier for our minds to retain our beliefs and mold new information to fit that belief than it is for our minds to accept new information and change our beliefs.
Our biases obviously don’t end there. Recency bias. Sunken cost fallacy. Hindsight bias. They’re all shaping our “reality” for the simple fact that they make life easier to digest.
Delusion #4: Mindset
Here’s something you probably didn’t expect to read from me today - your mindset about the future is delusional. You can have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, and they’re both delusional, because they’re both predictions about how your future will play out based on information that will change and circumstances outside of our control.
Whether you believe your life 1 year from now will be better than today, worse than today, or the same as today, the truth remains - they’re all delusions. Some delusions just happen to be more helpful than others.
Which is where we get to the part I promised - it’s not all bad.
We can both understand these delusions are real and present, and still choose to use them in helpful ways. Here’s how.
When The Secret was released in 2006, it was easy to poke fun at. But science has been catching up in recent years to the underlying assumption of the movie and book - the law of attraction.
Quantum physics is showing us that the physical world responds to the person experiencing it, not the other way around. Dr. Joe Dispenza is showing us through thousands of brain scans during meditation and visualization that the body responds to the mind, with the result oftentimes being spontaneous healing and irrational momentum in someone’s life. And my favorite - the placebo effect. Our entire medical and pharmaceutical industry is anchored on the reality that placebos can be just as powerful, if not more powerful, than the control. That is quite literally the medical community telling us writ large that the mind can heal. How we aren’t constantly blown away by this and talking about it more, I will never know.
But here’s the takeaway - reality is not the way we see it. And there’s heaps of evidence that our perceived reality will respond based on where we place our attention. We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of deciding we want a specific car, and suddenly we see that car everywhere. Athletes intensely visualize outcomes and those outcomes come to pass. There aren’t more of those cars on the road, and those athletes aren’t instantaneously better. But they’re harnessing the power of the mind by directing attention and letting our minds filter out the noise.
I constantly revisit how small I am in the big picture of life. It takes the weight and pressure off of things. All of our third deaths are right around the collective corner.
I think King Solomon had it right. Maybe our task is simple - to work hard, enjoy our food and drink, and accept the good with the bad.
Read the great philosophers. Read the great religious texts. Zoom out on the world and your life. They all point back to the same thing - we are but a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. But we still have an opportunity to work hard and enjoy our little speck of dust while we’re here.
The appropriate response to the reality of cognitive biases is 1) to understand and accept that we all have them, 2) to stay open minded to where we have them and 3) to have a willingness to change when we recognize them.
Some impact our lives more than others. Recency bias is real, but tends to happen in isolated moments. Confirmation bias, on the other hand, is ever-present, with keeping an open mind being the only antidote.
Whatever your individual cognitive biases may be, start by being aware of and looking for them. And be open minded enough to change when you find them.
Having a growth mindset doesn’t guarantee some particular outcome. But it sure as hell makes that outcome more likely. We aren’t fixed beings. Believing so makes life harder than it needs to be.
We can have hope about the future, rooted in the logic of how growth happens. And amidst that hope we can focus on the only things in our control - the next action we can take, and the next response we can make.
Certified High Performance Coach™
👉 Forward Coaching