Kidding Ourselves

Do You Want to Receive Free Books?

Believe it or not, there are people who want to give you free books. It’s true!

All you have to do is sign up at a website called “Blogging For Books” and promise to write at least a 3-paragraph review of the book, and they will send you a free book or ebook. The topics include fiction; non-fiction; cooking & food; business; entertainment; faith; crafts, home, & hobbies; and better living.

I requested the book “Fooling Ourselves—The Hidden Power of Self-Deception” by Joseph T. Hallinan. I think you will enjoy some of the great insights from the book.

The review is below.

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“Fooling Ourselves—The Hidden Power of Self-Deception” by Joseph T. Hallinan.

I had heard a lot of very positive things about this book before I read it, so I was greatly looking forward to the read. Unfortunately, I was mildly disappointed. Already having a familiarity with the subject, I expected Hallinan to make a scientific case for several points and then back these points up with stories and illustrations. Instead, the book mostly seemed to be stories with little scientific basis and few points drawn.

That said, I do think the book will be helpful to me in my consulting business and I will refer to it again for illustrations and lecture topics. The main point of the book is that every day, in many ways, we lie to ourselves. That is the reason why many people don’t wear seat belts despite the risk of a car accident and why they know that other human beings have heart attacks, get cancer, and get divorced, but they believe they never will. It is also why smokers who smoked 40 cigarettes a day believed that they were at no increased risk of lung cancer.

Superstitions Can Be Helpful

One of the unexpected and most interesting ideas in the book was the fact that this self-deception is not alway wrong. Take the example of superstitions. We tend to think superstitions are always harmful, but sometimes they are helpful. To cite one example, consider athletes. It is no secret that athletes exhibit some of  the most superstitious behavior in the Western world. Michael Jordan wore a pair of shorts from his college days every game he played in the NBA because he thought it would give him good luck. Coaches and players often have a ritual they will follow before every game to get an “edge.”

That doesn’t mean that good luck charms don’t work. Superstitions often are beneficial. They increase the feeling of control and self-efficacy—both of which increase outcomes. So, if the athlete believes that his or her ritual will help his of her performance, chances are that it actually will. Ad Hallinan says,“So why would superstition be good for us? In a word, it works. Not always and not for everything: it won’t make you tall if you are short, and it won’t stop speeding bullets or runaway trains. But when what we seek to accomplish lies within the realm of our abilities—when it is, in other words, doable—superstitious beliefs can tip the scales in our favor.”

Two laughable insights

  • In almost all elevators built after 1990, the “close door” button doesn’t actually do anything. It simply gives us a feeling of control.
  • At most busy intersections, the button we push to cross the street also is not functional. Again, we have more of a sense of control and are willing to wait for the crossing signal if we push a button.

In summary, if you are willing to wade through a long stream of stories to find a few actionable insights, you will like Fooling Ourselves.

Deceiving ourselves is often beneficial, and Hallinan helps us understand that. As he says, “My goal here has been simply to point out that self-deception, for all its obvious downsides, is an inherent human trait. It has been around a long time, and it endures for a reason: under limited but crucial circumstances, it helps us persevere. It does this, chiefly, by affording us that key piece of psychological scaffolding: a sense of control. This sense may ultimately prove to be a mirage, but the results it yields are very real. People with a high sense of control tend to live happier, healthier, longer lives. Viewed from this vantage, a little self-deception is not only helpful, it’s essential.”

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