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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 420: I am Infallible, Invincible and Downright Amazing

This is a continuation of my previous posts starting on Day 416 - please read at least that post for context.

So, the topic I am discussing today (taken from my book on Social Psychology mentioned in Day 416, link above) is all about our positive outlook on life. Behold:

While the tendency to notice negative information is a strong one, we also have a seemingly opposite tendency known as the optimistic bias - a powerful predisposition to expect things to turn out well overall. In fact, research findings indicate that most people believe that they are more likely than others to experience positive events, and less likely to experience negative events (eg Sheppard, Ouellette, & Fernandez, 1996). Similarly, we often have greater confidence in our beliefs or judgements than is justified - an effect known as the overconfidence barrier (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985). Our strong leaning toward optimism is seen in many other contexts, too: Most people believe that they are more likely than others to get a good job, have a happy marriage, and live to a ripe old age but are less likely to experience negative outcomes, such as being fired, getting seriously ill, or getting divorced (eg Schwarzer, 1994). And when entrepreneurs start a new business, they believe that the chances of making it successful are much higher than is actually true (Baron & Shane, 2007).

The book goes on to talk about another fallacy of our over-optimism: a planning fallacy, where we tend to focus so much on the future when planning things, that we do not take relevant past experiences into account, as well as not taking possible obstacles into account, which leads us to make overly optimistic time frames for when our task will be completed. For example within governments: new roads, new airports, new bridges, etc will have overly optimistic schedules that are not actually based on practical planning by taking all possible circumstances into consideration. We do the same within our own lives, planning that something will take a certain amount of time, but it ends up taking much longer.

What does this say about who we are? Is this something we are bound to keep repeating - is it a part of our nature? Essentially, this optimistic tendency of ours shows exactly how much we live in our own little fantasy worlds. We would rather not consider the reality of the situation (ie, shit happens - there may be an accident, there may be delays, there may be death, there may be traffic) and instead think about "how wonderful life will be once this or that is finished, or has happened."

This type of thinking and living causes an interesting thing: It causes us to live as if we have already won, or accomplished what we have set out to do. This then causes us to not give the task, whatever it may be, our full attention and consideration. This can be translated and recognised within multiple aspects of our lives, for example, in relationships: We exist within relationships as if they are already the best they could be, and therefore do not actually spend any time or effort on improving our dynamics with our partner. We live within and treat our relationship/partner as if it is enough to simply be in the relationship and want to grow old together - it is not enough - relationships require, well I don't want to say work, but work to thrive. We cannot merely exist and expect everything to work itself out, we must take the initiative and work to improve our communication, understanding, sexual expression, etc with our partner. There is no magic fairy that will make everything OK.

That is the crux of the problem: we believe that everything in our lives will just magically happen to us - that issues will magically solve themselves. Although it is a nice notion, it is still just a fantasy. Our lives, our society and our planet will not magically bend to our desires - we must actually move ourselves within this world to effect the changes we want to see, to create the lives we want for ourselves and for each other.

All that this optimistic outlook creates is an apathy within us, an apathy born out of a blind and insane hope that everything "will work out" for us and that our lives will be happy and meaningful, while the world crumbles around us. Well I suppose we will still have our hope after toxic waste consumes the planet, maybe the magical fairy will decide to save us then.

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