The greatest lie ever told…
“If you want it bad enough, you can achieve anything you want.”
Who doesn’t want to live a better life? Who doesn’t badly want to live a better life?
Human beings are wanting machines with endless desires. Yes, desire can shape your decision-making and help you improve your life, but it’s only one small part of the equation.
Either the vast majority of people in society are too weak to change, or change is hard. The truth is the latter.
These psychological roadblocks get in the way.
Elephant vs. The Rider
Imagine a human being riding on top of an elephant. Due to the sheer size of the elephant vs. the rider, you can imagine how hard it might be for the rider to control the elephant.
Many famous psychologists and writers like Jonathan Haidt and Robert Greene have used this analogy to describe the battle between the part of your brain that does long-range planning and critical thinking vs. your older brain that makes subconscious snap decisions.
To improve your life, the rider has to have at least somewhat of a handle on the elephant. You can look at many of the problems in your life as an evolutionary mismatch:
Fear of social rejection: Your mind thinks your life is at risk when you’re put into situations where you can face rejection and embarrassment. Lowered status in the tribe meant isolation and death.
Dieting: Your caveperson brain still thinks sweets and fats are scarce, which causes you to crave them when you see them, even though they’re abundant now.
Survival and reproduction: Your subconscious mind doesn’t care whether or not you succeed, only that you live and make babies. I’ll let you fill in the various applications of this issue.
How do you learn to tame the elephant and let the rider take control? First, you have to find a way to trick yourself into breaking the initial barrier of your doubts, fears, and negative urges long enough to create positive feedback loops that make new habits stick.
Confirmation Bias: Man With a Hammer Syndrome
Your past experiences shape your worldview, and your brain will filter out new evidence based on what you already believe.
Some people can’t see upward mobility. Their life story is shaped by failure, so if they’re failures and they’ve never moved up in the world, then every ‘average joe’ is being held back.
People in poverty suffer from circumstantial and psychological roadblocks. People in poverty can lift themselves out of it. Many do. But it’s harder for them because they see nothing but evidence of why they’ll never make it. This leads to them repeating the cycle.
You are telling yourself a story about the world. Even if you’re not a full pessimist, you sell yourself short because you filter out future possibilities based on your past experiences.
Once you attach your identity to a belief system, you’re fighting an uphill battle. And you see people living lives of insanity because they keep repeating the same mistakes to conform to their story.
Attempt to be dispassionate, examine the stories you tell yourself and analyze whether or not they’re true or useful.
You prefer immediate rewards vs. long-term gains. You have a hard time delaying gratification because immediate gratification was a survival tool.
It can still be a survival tool today. In some situations, it makes sense to value the immediate. This is a problem poor people tend to have as well. They can’t afford to save money. I
n your case, it’s hard to imagine such a large future payoff by forgoing an immediate one.
You can train yourself to delay gratification. This goes back to the elephant and the rider. You have to develop reasoning skills to see far into the future.
You need faith.
You can combat hyperbolic discounting by reducing the risk. You can reduce the risk by attempting projects in your spare time.
You’ll go through up and down swings in life. Your response to them will, partially, shape the outcomes to get.
Kantian Fairness Tendency
“Should” is the most dangerous word in the world.
Life isn’t fair. You need to learn the difference between the way the world works vs. the way you think the world should work.
People who suffer most from Kantian fairness usually have utopian visions that can never be met in real life.
In general, your tendency to hope life should be fair doesn’t account for:
Blind luck: Is it fair that I was born in America while others are born in Africa? People start out in different places due to luck. Luck shapes your success, too, even if you try hard. Sometimes you’re just at the right place at the right time or vice versa
Human nature: You’re going to need to persuade people to be successful. To persuade, you need to understand what drives people, including the darker parts of their nature. People with Kantian fairness tendency give too much credit to the rider and not enough to the elephant.
Characteristics: Is it fair that LeBron James is 6 foot 9 and I’m 5′ 10? Sure, he works hard, but he makes hundreds of millions in part due to genetics he didn’t earn. Tough cookies.
Life isn’t fair mostly because there are too many variables involved for it to be fair.
Over Optimism Tendency
On the one hand, you doubt yourself. But, on the other hand, when you daydream about your success, you imagine things going well with no hiccups.
You think your business will make you a millionaire. You think your book will become a best seller. I see this tendency in many aspiring writers — they think their work is supposed to be successful just because they wrote it. I’ve read books by some writer colleagues that really sucked. And they were shocked when sales fell flat.
You have to balance this thin line between confidence and self-doubt. This quote from Sam Ovens describes the process well:
“It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel them toward success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionally. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third, impulse control.”
Trait number three keeps you from being overly optimistic and lets you create sound strategies.
This is why I talk about making little bets — low-risk ventures that have a known downside and a high upside. You can continue to try these strategies over and over without going bust.
Pain Avoiding Psychological Denial
Most people won’t change because they have to face the reality of their life head-on.
You use rationalizations to cope. In some areas of your life, you’re in denial to avoid pain. Maybe you’re in denial about your job, telling yourself that it’s temporary when you know deep down you’re deeply stuck in your profession. Maybe you’re in denial about your relationships.
You’re likely in denial of the role you play in your success. Blaming something or someone outside of yourself for your problems is the ultimate form of denial. We all do it to different degrees.
If you want to face your life head-on, again, try to think long-term. You have to ‘rip the band-aid.’ If you don’t, you’ll accumulate more total pain from living below your potential than you would have by facing things up front.
If you don’t make the decision to change your life now, you’re just going to get more stuck. Your denial will create more and more inertia until you give up.
Read also: Seven life ‘shortcuts’ that actually works
You can live a decent life in denial. It’s not the end of the world. But if you want to succeed at a higher level, you have to tell yourself the truth.
The Lollapalooza Effect
I could write a list of 100 or more of these.
And that’s the biggest problem. If you had to deal with these one at a time, it might not be that hard. But you’ll often experience many of these problems all at once.
This is known as the lollapalooza effect.
You’re experiencing the equivalent of that, a giant lollapalooza effect, every single day of your life, constantly. I don’t have an easy answer for you. I never try to provide them.
Working against your biases and mental defects is a life-long journey that you’re never able to perfect. But you don’t have to be perfect. Just get the slightest edge over most people in society and you’ll do well.
Contributed by Ayodeji Awosika
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