Why Optimism is Dangerous

Most of us are wildly optimistic and unrealistic about our goals, and this is dangerous.

We decide to start self-improvement, we get a huge surge of good emotions, and we imagine that the success has already come.

I personally start seeing visions of FutureMe.

FutureMe is going to be 230 lbs of ripped lean muscle, with a cool $500mm in his bank account.

He’ll be chillin’ in Greece (which will have conquered all its financial woes and be safe and sane again) and looking out over the butter-blue Agean as a honey-colored honey spreads tanning lotion (not sunblock) across his thickly-muscled back.

FutureMe is a total lie. He prevents me from taking action.

The emotional reassurance I get from him is deadly. “I’m going to make it” is poison.

What actually works is this:

What if I don’t make it?

Even more importantly:

When am I going to fail?”

How am I going to fail?”

How am I going to weasel out of following through on this new commitment?

And more:

  1. When am I going to be tempted, and how?
  2. How will I rationalize my way out of this?
  3. What am I going to say is “more important” than this goal, letting it distract me?
  4. What will I say to myself to give myself permission to give up, or give less than my best?

Research shows that predicting how and when you might be tempted to break your vow increases the chances you will keep a resolution.

The Willpower Instinct, p 154

When I coach people who want to change their lives, the ones who say, “Nothing can stop me!” are invariably the FIRST ones to get stopped. And it’s really sad.

Are you going to get stopped?

You can avoid it, but you must be willing to ask yourself the tough questions — and answer them realistically.

The harsh truth is, FutureMe isn’t a Greek god.

He is the same as PresentMe — except older, weaker, poorer.

Unless I do something about it.

Unless I design my environment to constrain my lazy, shiftless future self and force him to make the right decisions.

When trying to gain weight, I have to admit to myself that FutureMe has zero willpower.

He’s sick of eating healthy food. If healthy and tasty foods are not in the house next Saturday, he will order pizza instead.

So PresentMe has to stock up really well and prepare at least 21 healthy, tasty meals the previous Sunday evening.

Is that my idea of a fun Sunday evening? F**** no, I’d rather have a personal chef.

But until I’m at the level of success where I can afford that, I STFU and do it myself.

That way FutureMe has ZERO chance to escape the behaviors that will lead me to my desired level of success.

“The tempted self is an unpredictable and unreliable enemy. . . we need to take steps to predict and constrain that self as if it were another person.”

Behavioral economist George Ainslie, quoted in the Willpower Instinct, p 167

To succeed, you need to get the ego on your side.

Until you do that, optimism is dangerous.

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One thought on “Why Optimism is Dangerous

  1. Optimism is a dangerous thing to have! Unfortunately we all have it and I see it at times rearing its ugly head at me when I find something that inspires me. I see all I could be when i let optimism run amoc in my mind then after a few minutes I yank the chain and put it back in its cage. Then the real thinking begins the details that have to be done before the full picture emerges. No one bothers to think about the details.

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