Delusion is defined as “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder”. It is often described as the triumph of hope over experience, ie acting as if the world is a certain way despite evidence that it is not.
But there can be a problem with taking the opposite approach, ie problems with following a logical path driven by evidence. The issue is that our judgement of the evidence is not necessarily objective. We often are driven by our feelings in the moment rather than a sober assessment of the facts we are considering.
We know that we can’t believe everything we hear but rather than judging the veracity of facts based on how they match up with reality, we believe to be true the things that reinforce our feelings and believe to be false the things that go against our feelings. In fact, almost by definition, anyone who is delusional thinks that they are actually the ones who are being logical and evidence driven and everyone else is the fool.
This is especially true when we are thinking about doing something that really intimidates us. We want to follow a particular career path, or create something, or otherwise do something that feels big.
When something is not that important to us, it’s actually easy to do. Even if it’s something complicated, we put one foot in front of the other, step by step. If something doesn’t work, we try something else. We intellectually care about the outcome but it doesn’t touch our ego so weirdly we are more successful.
When people talk about meditation or acceptance, this kind of mentality is what they are aiming for. To be detached from the end result is to be free to execute in the present moment.
Well, that’s a fine little story but when it comes to things we really care about, when we are talking about following our dreams that sense of serenity, of calmly step by step following a plan is hard to achieve. The more important something is to us, the harder it is to start because the more worried we are about failing.
We don’t have all the information, even if we had perfectly neutral judgement it is still only based on what we already know. So if we have never done a particular thing, our judgement would likely be correct that we can’t do that thing.
But even worse than that when we see evidence that “proves” that we can’t do that thing, we believe it to be true over evidence that shows that we can. Our fear defines or reality.
This is where a little delusion is helpful. We need to “delude” ourselves into thinking that we can do something when we really “know” that we can’t.
In this situation it actually may be helpful to do something “despite your better judgement”. If your judgement is flawed, then the actions that you take based on it may not be the correct ones.
So while delusion is defined as being crazy and not listening to facts, our poor judgement as to what facts are true could mean that sometimes being delusional may be a better way to actually act rationally.
Another way to put this is to realize that delusion in a negative sense is about thinking something that is provably not true while delusion in a positive sense is to think we can do something until proven otherwise.
Optimism is not enough because optimism starts off presuming a neutral stance. Ie, we don’t know if we can do something but think that we can so let’s go for it.
But for the stuff we really care about, things that really resonate, we really want to do well so trying and proving that you can’t is much worse than never trying and thus never failing. When we look at something that we really want to do, we automatically think of the reasons that we can’t do it, as a way of protecting not only our egos but our dreams.
Our evidence turns out to really just be our excuse. We are not starting off from a neutral stance, we are starting off from a pessimistic stance. We aren’t rationally, dispassionately taking an unbiased view of the data to come to the conclusion that we can’t do something, we are afraid and finding reasons why that fear is justified.
If we see some evidence that says, hold up, we can do this, we just don’t believe that evidence. Anything that says we can do something that scares us must be wrong whereas anything that says we can’t do it must be correct. But the delusional person sees that same evidence that our fear is presenting to us to say that we are going to fail and says, nope, I’m going to do it anyway.
So if we are “deluded” about our abilities, if despite all this evidence we see that tells us we can’t do something we decide to go for it anyway, that’s a way we can make progress through the intimidation that we feel.
In order to follow your dreams, sometimes you need delude yourself into ignoring your fears.