How Delusion Makes You More Productive

The first step to getting something done is deluding yourself into thinking you can do it.

How do you get something massive done--like building a business or writing a book or learning how to dance--when you're not sure if you can make it happen? A.J. Jacobs has the hack: self-delusion.

Jacobs, whose gonzo-style method writing has made him live biblically and nearly drop dead from healthiness, knows the necessity of fantasy well.

As he argues on LinkedIn, launching a book is a lot like launching a startup--beyond the precious prose there's the sussing of target demographics, editorial budgets, and marketing strategies, all things as intimidating as the ancient commandments and fad diets he'd be structuring his life around.

Faced with that aggregate daunting difficulty, he found a work-around: deception.

I tricked my brain. I’d force myself to act in an optimistic way. I’d compel myself to email medical experts and request interviews. I’d coerce myself to call my publisher with elaborate plans for the book launch (A health contest for readers? A Dr. Oz appearance? A party with kale martinis?).

And after a couple of hours, it worked.

His oh-no thoughts yielded to his oh-yes actions

Pessimism gave way to optimism. It became a practice: As he wrestled with the "nefarious blinking cursor" of writer's block, he'd just start writing about whatever ridiculous nonsense came to mind--typing an ode to the pigeon outside his window or the decaf in his cup.

Then, momentum going, he'd be able to actually write something of worth--and edit out that fluff at the top.

So, in other words, the delusion of can-do conquers the "realism" of can't-do. So how do we integrate that into our lives?

1) By just starting

As Pixar will tell you, once you get the idea out of your head and onto the paper, you can start fiddling with it. So get it out as soon as possible. (Bonus: In On Writing, Stephen King says to write as fast as possible, which we can guess is for the same reason.)

2) By getting used to it

If you identify as an introvert and thus tell yourself that you can't do public speaking, meet the microphone again and again until it's just another thing. If you can't stand negotiating, find tiny opportunities to negotiate, even over your phone bill. If you can't handle feeling awkward, wade into improv comedy.

3) By faking it

If you're feeling timid, take a powerful, open posture. If you're feeling glum--which short-circuits associative thinking--place a smile upon your face. This works because, as Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal notes on Psychology Today, the avenue between your body and your spirit is a two-way street:

The idea is simple: your brain is constantly monitoring what's happening in your body. It analyzes things like muscle tension, posture, heart rate, breathing, and, yes, facial expressions, to judge how you are feeling.

Put yourself in a happier position, and you can boost your mood.

Hat tip: LinkedIn

[Image: Flickr user Mike Baird]

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5 Comments

  • TheeDesign Studio

    Kinda the same when it comes to web design. You just gotta start doing it, even if you are stuck or uninspired. Once you start putting design elements together and believe you have a great vision of a masterpiece, it falls into place as such. 

  • CLTA

    This. Everyone has always said to me that they've always admired how I always know what I'm doing next and what's going to happen next and where I'm going to go.

    I'm 22 years old and I have no clue. But if I want to make it happen, I just do it. I force myself to enjoy everything.  I dislike indian food. I forced myself to eat indian food for a month straight, and you know what? I tried so many different dishes and things that now I like it, and I kept optimistic.

    If I want to make something happen, I just make it happen. Crazy idea to email the head of the publishing company? Ok, let's do it. Why? Because what's the worst that will happen? You'll be right where you started.  

    Just be crazy and do.

  • Jessie

    Making self confident in own ability and just staying positive and happy really does help.
    I tend to follow the path of "I can and I will". Not in a sense of "failure is not an option", though, because failure is *always* an option, it's the easiest, most available option at all times - we can always choose to fail; or we can choose to make it. With belief in self, the failure option is barely used.
    There's also a great TED talk on the topic (well, close enough to the topic for me to think of it while reading the article): http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_c...
    “Don't fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” :]