Are you lying to yourself? Not all self-deception is bad [Stacy’s Book Note]

Think of benevolent deception and optimistic self-deception not as vice and weakness but as adaptive responses to difficult circumstances.

Shankar Vedantam & Bill Mesler

Honesty is not always the best policy, especially since lying to yourself can be helpful.

I’m a huge fan of Shankar Vedantam and his NPR podcast Hidden Brain. (My family has now become accustomed to his voice in the kitchen.) His book, Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain, summarizes many interesting studies where we deceive ourselves.

Our minds are not designed to see the truth, but to show us selective slices of reality and to prompt us toward predetermined goals. Even worse, they are designed to do all this while giving us the illusion that we are seeing reality.

What’s fascinating is how self-deception can be very helpful. He provides examples of how placebos help health outcomes and how a $90 price tag can enhance the drinking experience of $10 wine. Another fascinating study of Kickstarter found that…

Men are so delusionally overconfident that they refuse to take failure as a useful signal. They keep launching new projects and keep asking for large sums of money…that some of them end up succeedingDelusional overconfidence is very bad for many men as individuals, but the researchers found that as a group, it helps men succed.

Vedantam argues that because we value honesty, we view lying to ourselves as something wrong or foolish. But, if we instead pay attention to the stories our minds are telling us, we can see the whole stage and not just the costume or props. In other words, we can choose to believe in what best serves us and others we love.

Crochet notes

My older daughter made me a lip balm cozy I adore. I’m trying to replicate it but can’t seem to get it right. I’ll keep trying!

Stacy's Book Note

Learn more about Stacy’s Book Notes.

Sign up to receive a monthly digest of book notes via email.

*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.