Find Life Purpose

Avoid self-delusion

470-399 BCE

Hi! It’s Socrates again. Glad to see you back, aspiring to become wiser! Commitment is what distinguishes excellence from mediocrity.

As you already know, being wise is somewhat different from being intelligent or educated. Wisdom goes to the depths of character, transforming thinking, feelings, actions, and habits all along.

Today we’ll take a closer look at the first and most crucial stage of self-transformation. We’ll understand the core feature of wisdom — to neutralize the design flaws of the human mind.

As the proverb says: sow a thought, reap a feeling; sow a feeling, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.

The path of wisdom and character transformation always begins with the change in mind and thinking. Why is it so?

Mind and consciousness are the tools to interact with reality for every human being. Nothing in our experience comes in separation from the mind and its judgments, interpretations, and meaning-making.

Imagine your mind as tinted glasses through which experiences and events acquire meaning and value. Mind colors everything that happens around us.

In turn, it generates our feelings about those events and how we subsequently respond with our behavior.

One could look at the same situation of uncertainty through light-tinted glasses, judge it positively, feel excited about the potential success, and take action.

Someone, though, would look through dark-tinted glasses, think of it negatively, feel anxious about the possible failure, and evade it.

Remember the last time you were uncertain about some future event, be it an important exam, a date, or an interview. How did you feel about it? What was your predicted outcome? What color did the event take through your thinking and judgment?

Everyone sees any situation differently. This knowledge should make us more aware that “negativity” or “positivity” of the event derives from our own thinking, perspective, and way of responding rather than from the event itself.

Usually, the glasses we look through at the world seem entirely transparent. We are often unaware of the presence of these lenses.

The perception of events through these glasses somewhat fools us. We start assuming that colors are the traits of situations rather than the lenses.

Thus, the first issue appears. The unawareness makes us think that causes and solutions to our problems come from the outside — the world, other people, or even our personality. It neglects the fact that they come from our minds.

I hope you are ready to unlock the second issue. It lies in the limitations and imperfections of the mind. Despite having remarkable abilities, it may still represent reality distortedly.

Thoughts and judgments are our mental map of reality. Due to different biases, unsound beliefs, and flawed assumptions, it often doesn’t represent the truth and reality correctly.

Nevertheless, its corrupted genuineness makes us take them for a fact. Thus, the transparency of how the mind works and its distortions make us susceptible to self-delusions, tricking us into acting against our best interests.

Self-delusions are multifaceted and lurk in every corner of our minds. Let’s look at anxiety as an example of self-delusion to gain a better understanding.

George Stubbs - Horse Frightened by a Lion, 1768

Anxiety itself is neither good nor bad. It’s just a powerful tool that alarms us that the things we care about most in life are in danger. But only in the human mind can anxiety feel like a private prison that we carry around with us.

When the appearance of danger alarms animals, they take flight. Yet, their anxiety soon wanes after they have escaped, and they return to grazing in peace once again.

By contrast, the human mind may exaggerate and perpetuate our worries beyond these natural bounds.

Imagined pictures of feared events often rapidly escalate to the most anxiety-provoking scenarios. They keep recurring endlessly as if the upsetting experiences are somehow never-ending.

The ongoing negative self-talk reinforces and fuels these vivid images. We think that what might happen will be awful and unbearable to the point we won’t be able to overcome them.

Recall when you were excessively worried about a past event that you no longer think over. What was it? How did you think it was to turn out? Did you make exaggerated pessimistic predictions or were they more realistic?

At those moments of anxiety, the threat might appear too emotionally significant and arousing. Because of it, we believe that our predictions and perspective on the situation are accurate and reflect the way things are.

However, the fact is that our perspective is distorted, and we exaggerate how threatening the situation is. It is self-delusion.

While our mind is running around delusional thoughts about the future, we’re inflicting real sufferings to our present selves. The mind, our greatest ally, has become our greatest enemy. And that’s where wisdom can be our remedy.

Wisdom allows us to see through and dissolve delusions of the mind which obscure the truth from us. Wisdom frees our mind from acting as its greatest enemy and turns it into the greatest ally.

I know it might sound abstract. Yet, in your direct experience, you must already be familiar with what felt like moments of wisdom. Maybe occasionally, late at night, when the pressures of the day have receded.

Perhaps there was a moment in your life when you had crucial ideas or insights about the way your mind works, free of the usual egocentrism, myopia, or self-justification. It was a moment when you could stand back from experience and see it more clearly.

Petty daily concerns were put in a broader perspective, and you realized how your mind was deluding you. Things you considered to be of great importance turned out to be insignificant at all. At that moment, you became wiser about yourself.

Recall the time when something in the past that seemed to be very important turned up to be pretty trivial or vain. What was this event?

How did you feel about it before and after wisdom came to enlighten you? How did you start to see that event differently? How did its meaning change?

When such moments of wisdom visit us, we experience them as a shift in perspective, as if our eyes were suddenly opened, the “Aha!” moment. (You don’t get new information, you start seeing the situation differently. That’s one of the reasons why wisdom is much deeper than knowledge).

The truth reveals itself to us and our internal state changes accordingly. Whatever bothered us takes its rightful place in our perspective, and we feel more at peace with ourselves.

This connection between the truth and inner peace will be crucial for our further understanding of self-delusion and overcoming it with the Socratic method in the next lesson.

In the end, I want you to keep in mind: thoughts are just thoughts; feelings are just feelings. They are nothing more than passing events that stream through your mind. Treat them accordingly.

When thoughts and feelings arise, take a step back, and observe them with a grain of salt, from a distance. Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they represent the truth. Can’t wait to see you next time!

470-399 BCE

Ancient Greek philosopher whose way of life, character, and thought exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy.

Source: Britannica

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