Self-Deception and Stories

When it comes to writing, economist Tyler Cowen says: “Each day I stop writing just a bit before I have said everything I want to.” He says this lets him approach the next day “hungry . . . like a person who loves writing and excels at it.”

This is an example of using self-deception for a practical benefit. He also cites a negative example of self-deception, one that we’ve all experienced: The tendency to run low-priority errands in order to feel productive while avoiding some other, more important task.

Other examples of positice self-deception:

Charitable giving. When we give, we feel good about ourselves, thus encouraging more charitable giving.

Work. When we trick ourselves into thinking our jobs are more important that they actually are, we do better work and enjoy it more.

Love. When we convince ourselves that our relationship is stong, when we look at the past through “rose-colored glasses”, we will appreciate the persent more and work harder to maintain the relationship.

“A good marriage requires knowing when to forget, and knowing when not to notice in the first place.”

Advice. Tell yourself: ‘I am the best person in the world at listening to advice’ and you will become more receptive to advice.

Life. People who are more confident are more likely to take risks and more likely to command influence from others.

These are all effective whether or not the facts match the narrative. And although the underlying theme is that positive thinking is a self-fulilling prophecy, but I like the economic description better. It strips the New-Agey-ness and the idealism away from the knowledge that positive thinking is a good thing and makes it a little more practical, a little tougher.


  • Sure it may work for some things, but how do you know when to stop? When is brutal realism preferable to self-deception? Tyler offers some insight in this video.
  • I plan on reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan” soon. How will this relate to his idea of the Narrative Fallacy?