How Delusion Makes You More Productive

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

How Delusion Makes You More Productive

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]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.