Self-Illusions And Your Success

Would Warren Buffet be insulted because you, and ten million of
your logical friends told him his strategies are nothing but illusions?

Half the psychological community thinks self-illusions are healthy
to successful functioning in our Knowledge Economy. Why?
We never have 100% of the facts and information to make our decisions.

What do you do when decisions have to be made, but the evidence is ambiguous?
Successful people on Wall Street, bankers, and the man-in-the-street, use past experience and faith in themselves to move ahead.

They make their choice with the knowledge they can modify the results if it proves
a disaster. Get this: many billionaires decide Go or No-Go based on their personal gifts and talents. They may use a false set of statistics and ignore contrary independent information to justify their beliefs and opinions.

The Other Half

Psychiatrists often find those with exacting, realistic behavior patterns suffer a greater degree of anxiety, stress and depression. Their requirement for a perfect
environment before making a decision often prevents them from error, but limits
their opportunities because they refuse to accept challenges as they exist.

Remember this: half the experts believe the healthiest, happiest folks, live with
unrealistic positive illusions about their personal knowledge, skills and talents,
and their ability to control the present and future. They pay to play because
they believe in their own genius. Imagine – they put their money where their
mouth is.

Does your experience, your own knowledge, skills and smarts, make you superior to
professional statistics? Do you give up the ghost after the first defeat, or correct
your mistakes and chalk it up to paying your dues?

Depressed folks see themselves as more realistic than you and me, and pick up their marbles and run home after the first loss.

Secret: Americans believe in a better tomorrow than yesterday or today. And this too shall pass, is their mantra. In economic turmoil, they act on the belief the market
will improve, and profits will return. In other words, they are unrealistic. The long-term evidence proves them correct. Google: economic cycles from 1808 to 2008.

Cognitive Therapy

The hottest field of psychology offers three major components to improve personal
mental health. First, avoid unrealistic expectations. Second, stop using distorted thinking, and third, be aware of the negativity of our faulty self-perception.

In plain English they instruct depressed patients to avoid the highs because there
may be lows. Don’t play the game because you might fail, and don’t expect to
succeed because losing will kill you. Are there shortcomings to having unrealistic
expectations? Sure, but we have to accept realistic risks to walk across the street.

What about distorted thinking?

There 13 different ways folks make themselves crazy. Here’s just a few.

1. Filtering: taking negative details and magnifying them, and ignoring the upside.
2. Polarized Thinking: everything is black or white, yes or no, good or bad.
3. Overgeneralization: one experience and we’re a genius. It aint always set in stone.
4. Mind reader: we are so smart we know what folks are thinking and going to do
before they know.
5. Catastrophizing: Henny Penny, the sky is falling, so let’s evacuate now.

More distorted thinking is called Heaven’s reward. I am going to heaven because I’m right and you’re wrong, and guess where you’re going?
How about Emotional Thinking – if I feel this way, it must be so? The Blaming Game, The Victim Game, Personalization – life is all about me. And Fairness, or I’m going to run home tell my Momma what you did to me.

Faulty Self-Perception

If you watch the US Open Tennis Matches, you see the power and dangers of self-
perception. When Federer loses a point, he takes it in stride, says to himself, “It’s
just one point in a long match, move on.”

When Blake or one of the Russians lose a point, they curse themselves for a fool, and break their racquet, and for the rest of the match? They are stressed and out of personal control. Naturally they could recover, but they do not, and often lose the

Self-Perception is what you understand about your responsibilities. Exaggerate that
you are in charge of everyone and every thing, and you often fail and refuse to
forgive yourself, and continue on the loser track.

What is your understanding and awareness of your role in a relationship, your career, and personal growth? When you believe you are responsible for everything,
you become a perfectionist, and create daily stress in your life. You’re the Drama Queen.

It is faulty self-perception when you focus on weakness and difficulties, and decide
it is all your fault. When we stop blaming, we become energized and more productive. It is important to daily acknowledge your specific strengths, skills, and
past successes, but only if you want to be number 1.

Self-condemnation occurs three times as often as it comes from strangers or peers who you know you. Create an unrealistic mental outcome, and use your gifts and talents to make it your reality while others remain nay-sayers.


Illusion of control means we can control, or for sure, influence and persuade random events and outcomes. Huh? But it is often good for our success to act-as if we really can pick the winners from losers because it’s motivating and produces confidence and winning behaviors.

How often does emotion rule reason and logic? Your feelings can change your
mood, and create winning attitudes out of thin air. If you don’t first believe in yourself, and lead the parade, no one else will.

Every best selling author, Hollywood star, and Most Valuable rookie athlete, started out believing they would beat the million-to-one odds. Winners in school, career, and personal emotional relationships, were originally unrealistic thinkers, suffered from distorted analysis, and had a faulty self-perception. It’s called beating the odds.

They all believed in intuitive evidence, what their gut communicated, and ignored
the negative realistic statistics and competition. Too much illusion and you are a nut; too little, and you are never swinging for the fences and succeeding. Choose.

Google: Ellen Langer, The Illusion of Control, Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology 36:886-93

Google: Gary Marks, Thinking one abilities are unique, and one’s failings common.
Personality and Social Psychology 10/2: 203-8

Google: Shelley E. Taylor, Illusion and well-being and mental health. Psychological
Bulletin 103/2:193-210

Finally, would it help your career to read and remember three (3) books, articles and reports, when your peers can hardly finish one? How about doubling your
long term memory? Ask us how to ace school, and get your next major promotion
at work.

See ya,

copyright © 2008
H. Bernard Wechsler

Author's Bio: 

Author of Speed Reading For Professionals, published by
Barron's; business partner of Evelyn Wood, creator or
speed reading, graduating 2 million, including the
White House staffs of four U.S. Presidents.