Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fool yourself

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself --and you are the easiest person to fool."     ---Richard Feynman
I agree with the second part. I am the easiest person to be fooled by myself, because I like to believe what is convenient, comfortable, less scary to me. For example, I am fooled to procrastinate, because I am scared of facing the task and not having a perfect complete product. Sometimes I am fooled to be overly optimistic, because I am scared of the alternative: failure and hassle. And sometimes I am fooled to be overly pessimistic, because I am scared of the long arduous fight to achieve something, so I say "No way, I won't be able to achieve it anyways".

However, I like to propose a change to the first part of Feynman's quote. If it is so easy to fool yourself, you should exploit it: you should fool yourself in a beneficial manner to avoid fooling yourself in the usual/default harmful manner.

For example, when you catch yourself procrastinating, you should fool yourself to get started. When you are frozen by the prospect of writing an article or blog post, you can say: "This is the zeroth draft, I can throw this anyways. This is just a brain dump, let's see what it will look like."

Insisting on a one-shot completion, waiting inspiration to hit you for getting it perfect and finished in one sitting, raises the bar up high. Instead, you should think of any project as iterations of attempts. You should forget about shipping, and just cajole yourself for making progress. And when you get something good enough, then you can convince yourself to overcome your fear and ship it.

Similarly, when you catch yourself to be overly optimistic, you can fool yourself to consider alternatives: "Just for fun, let me take 15 minutes, to write about what alternatives I can pursue if things go wrong with this. Let's brainstorm hypothetical failure scenarios."

Or, when you catch yourself to be overly pessimistic, you can fool yourself to be hopeful: "Why not just give this a try? Let's pretend as if this will workout, and don't bother if it doesn't."


And how do you catch and intercept when you are fooling yourself in a harmful manner?

By always being on the watch. (Step 1, raise your gaze from your smartphone screen. Step 2, observe yourself and reflect.) You should always suspect that you are fooling yourself: which you are, either one way or another. Your only choice is to decide on what type of stories you tell yourself. You can fool yourself to engage in unproductive harmful behavior, or fool yourself to engage in productive behavior. You get to decide what stories you tell yourself.

I will finish with this other quote I like a lot:
"Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die." -- Shoma Morita, MD

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