This is the thesis of Joseph T. Hallinan’s new book, Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception. Like other books that remind us that we are what we (often wrongly) think, Kidding Ourselves explores the territory of our mind’s self-deception or delusions.
“When the chips are down, when the pressure is on, when we are up against it, simply believing that we have some sort of edge can be enough to actually give us that edge, whether we realize it or not.” ~Joseph T. Hallinan
A delusion is a belief that a person continues to hold despite compelling evidence to the contrary. The word delusion can refer to beliefs in mental illness that result in psychosis, or to something simpler that happens in the normal mind, every day.
What if, instead of considering these thoughts as errors in judgment, we instead considered the advantages of self-deception?
The Value of Self-Deception
Self-deception is a potent artisan of our thoughts and so easy it is practically automatic. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman addresses those thought errors with scholarly depth. Unlike other books, including his own Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Hallinan presents the benefits of delusions, which he calls the “mirage of your own making”…”in your mind’s backyard.” (See my article here for more about why we make mistakes.) In this new smooth-reading book with its compelling structure featuring memorable stories and fun connections, you’ll learn the purpose of our delusions. It turns out, according to Hallinan, that our self-deceptions are not only valuable; they are necessary.For instance, self-deceptions reinforce a sense of control amid chaos and insulate us from life’s bumps and bruises. We use our interpretations, false or true, to shape our own reality and to make sense from nonsense. Most importantly, Hallinan posits, this helps us keep hope alive when facts might make us give up. In other words, our own apparently misguided versions of truth and misattribution of causes make it possible for us to do something with our troubled thoughts. Otherwise we might feel that that all hope was lost, leading us to do nothing. Hallinan specifically mentions Martin Seligman’s Learned Helplessness theory and the power of reframing that underlies the successes of the many variations of cognitive behavioral therapy as research-based versions of what many people do every day to kid themselves.
Kidding Ourselves is divided into three parts. Loosely, these address:
- The power of the placebo effect (If you believe it works, it does.)
- The power of misperception (If you think you experienced it, it is real.)
- The power of perceived power (If you feel powerful, you are.)
Hallinan is not looking to criticize or change or even teach management of our thinking but instead is pointing out the many ways that we (including you) kid ourselves. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!
Hallinan, J. T. (2014). Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception. Crown Books.
Fisher, S. (2010). What Do You Fail to Notice? Positive Psychology News.
Fisher, S. (2010). Tuning Your Metacognitive Skills. Positive Psychology News.
Hallinan, J. T. Kidding Ourselves. Psychology Today Blog.
Hallinan, J. T. (2009). Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average. New York: Broadway Books.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London, Allen Lane.