In defense of delusion — It’s a life skill

Finding the benefits from acting as you aren’t

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Olivia Tilson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Delusion is one of those words with an inherently negative meaning and connotation. Being delusional is akin to being crazy or naive. However, I don’t think delusion is inherently bad. In some cases delusion can be helpful. 

Personally, I’m at my best and happiest when I’m slightly delusional. For as long as I can remember, I’ve overthought everything — multiple choice exams are a complete nightmare for me. This overthinking can lead to a nervousness about most events in my life and a tendency to fixate on barriers and obstacles. This tendency increased during high school and especially in college. I found myself overthinking everything and no amount of rationalization helped. 

I also come from a family of self-proclaimed realists. We pride ourselves on being practical and on approaching most challenges, opportunities and risks without blind optimism. Being realistic is generally considered a good quality; it means that you view the world as it really is rather than how you may want it to be. I understand the benefits of being realistic, but I also believe that I’ve personally been the most successful when I’m optimistic or even delusional. Although much of my life is not a win/lose situation, success is still applicable — and relative. 

So I decided to embrace delusion. I leaned in to my hopes and focused on the possibility of success in every aspect of my life. I essentially subscribed to the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy.

By focusing on the possibility of success in a situation, however small it may be, I’ve surpassed my typical patterns of overthinking and self-doubt. For example, when I was a senior in high school I obviously went through the college application process, which is generally horrible. I applied to this University despite many misgivings about the quality of my application and the likelihood of my acceptance. 

I remember agonizing over the submission and considering withdrawing my application to avoid the “inevitable” rejection. I kept focusing on the statistics I did not fit and the competitive acceptance rate. To keep my misgivings and nerves from dictating my life, I convinced myself to focus on getting into the University. I imagined getting the acceptance email and then later attending in the fall. I fixated on the positives rather than the negatives, which helped me get into the school of my dreams. 

Delusion can be used in all situations. One popular pop culture example of success based partly on delusion is “The Karate Kid.” Daniel pledges to beat Johnny, a black belt in karate, in a karate tournament without any experience with martial arts. The chances of Daniel winning were low, and if he had succumbed to negativity and fear he likely would not have even taken the opportunity to try and beat Johnny, but he focused on the possibility of winning the fight — however unlikely that outcome was. Without a somewhat delusional mentor, Mr. Miyagi, whose confidence in Daniel existed despite knowing Daniel was completely unskilled in martial arts, Daniel would never have fought Johnny, and therefore never would have won the karate tournament. Without delusion, Daniel never would have taken the risk and would never have reaped the rewards.

Delusion is useful in all aspects of life. I believe that a bit of delusion — seriously, not too much — can help in social situations. Some misplaced confidence can help in making new friends, speaking up in class and whatever else may be causing you anxiety.

Being delusional is a life skill. This is cheesy and not backed by any evidence other than my personal experience, but I believe that positivity increases the odds of success. Self-sabotage is an overused phrase, but it is valid. Most people I know, myself included, have a fear of failure. Delusion is my response to this fear, it does not make my failures any better, but I know it increases my odds of success and ensures that I still take risks. Delusion, in this instance, is not a coping mechanism for failure but more of an antidote to anxiety and self-doubt. I can mask my misgivings and negative thoughts through embracing the possibility of success and pushing through the stress of uncertainty.

Olivia Tilson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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