Brian Armstrong

Why I'm Delusional (About Success) and You Should Be Too

First, let me start with a trick: Here is a great experiment you can do to someone to demonstrate the power of beliefs:

Ask them to look around the room wherever they are and notice everything that is red in the room. Take inventory of it. Then ask them to close their eyes and tell you all the red things they saw. They will name a bunch.

Then (with their eyes still closed) ask them to tell you anything they also saw in the room which was yellow. They often won’t be able to name a single yellow item. Yet, when they open their eyes they will see a bunch of yellow items all around them.

How did they not see them the first time? It’s almost as if they were “blind” to any yellow items even though their eyes passed right over them.

Well, if you set out looking for something, you will almost surely find evidence of it - even to the point of excluding other facts. Human beings are great at finding evidence for what we already believe (or are looking for)!

This is the same paranoia we have all felt when our hair is a little funky and it seems like EVERYONE in the room is staring. Or when we’ve done something wrong and it seems like everyone is making little snide remarks hinting at it. In reality it’s probably our brains LOOKING desperately for evidence which isn’t really there because that’s all we can focus on.

It’s the kind of irrationality that could make someone think even the US Airways Hudson River Landing is a conspiracy. If that’s what you believe in by default (conspiracies) then you’ll find one.

Sometimes this is also referred to as the experimenter’s bias. We all have it.

So our brains are easily fooled. How can we use this to our advantage?

In most matters of fact, we should be aware of this limitation and try to keep an open mind on important issues.

But where can it be beneficial in life to be a little bit delusional? How about changing your beliefs about success?

The thing is, success has no clear truth to it in the way that the Hudson River landing does (yes he really landed there). Whether or not you are going to be successful is totally up in the air.

If you believe that you’re just NOT smart/young/educated/rich enough to start your own business and become financially free, then your brain will constantly be finding evidence to back this up and reinforce the belief for you. You will only see the red.

If, on the other hand, you are absolutely convinced that you are going to be successful (even to the point of being somewhat delusional and ignoring evidence to the contrary) you are more likely to try in the first place, less likely to give up, and therefore more likely to succeed.

Success can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you belief you can do it, then you are half way there.

Remember the Apollo 13 mission? Their oxygen tank exploded and all electricity went off in the space shuttle thousands of miles from earth. A completely fair and unbiased assessment of their situation would have concluded that they were totally screwed. Their air was going to run out in a matter of hours, nobody had ever survived an accident of this magnitude in space, etc. But this was a good time to be delusional and keep irrational hope that things would be ok. Because if you “incorrectly” believed things would work out…then you might keep looking for the solution which ultimately saved their lives.

So yes, I am delusional about success. I don’t really believe there is a recession going on right now. I assume by default that everyone I meet really likes me and considers me a pretty swell guy. And I belief the world is generally a really happy place full of opportunities to make tons of money. I see evidence for these things because I look for it, and ignore everything else.

Sure, I’m probably a little bit delusional. But you should be too.