The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism
By Mr. Money Moustache
Source: MindTrip Magazine
If you ask me, everything is pretty frickin' great
these days. Your life and my life are both going to continue to
increase in awesomeness over time.
We are likely to have exceptional fortune and health
throughout our days, we'll help to change some lives for the better,
our kids are going to turn out loving and great, and we will die with a
broad smile across our rugged and weather-worn faces somewhere around
the age of a hundred and twenty two.
Oh sure, there will be the odd problem and
catastrophe along the way, but they will just serve as recharging jolts
to keep us from getting complacent. More problems to solve, more
learning to do, and deeper happiness to attain.
On top of that, the human race is bound for an
ever-better fate, ironing out most of its current problems and most of
the problems that follow in the future, ending up at a tantalizing Star
Those are pretty controversial
statements to make these days, yet strangely enough the general theme
tends to become true, for the few people who are crazy enough to
And most of us don't believe it. In
fact, many of us end up going completely the opposite way. One of the
problems with being a clever and analytical person like yourself, is
that you've become very good at seeing what might go wrong. You can see
the risks inherent in any enterprise, and if you've got enough Cliff
Claven in you, you might even be fond of expounding about those risks
to anyone around who will listen.
There are even people make whole careers of this. Fear-mongering in
general tends to make you sound smart, and fearful people get a quirky
sort of reassurance by snuggling up to a fearful leader, and
confidently predicting the worst possible outcome. Dmitri Orlov gets
lots of attention by continuously foretelling the complete collapse of
the United States. A favorite technique of Collapse theorists is to sit
at the news screen, interpreting each development of still further
evidence of their theory. "Oh.. now the politicians are arguing. Sure
sign of collapse. National debt is growing.. collapse. Oil consumption
rising faster than supply.. just as I predicted, 'twas foretold, 'twas
Are You a Personal Collapse Theorist?
The same methods can be applied by a Personal
Collapse Theorist. "Oh man, this job is stressing me out. My department
is going down the shitter, and we'll be the first ones on the chopping
block when the next round of layoffs comes. And it will be coming SOON!
… And the thing is, in THIS ECONOMY, I need to hold onto my job because
there are no other ones out there. Not in my field, anyway. All this is
really taking a toll on my health. I've got bad knees and back, and
they really flare up when I am stressed. So they are getting worse
every day, which makes me even more stressed, which makes me even worse
at my job, which makes me even more likely to get laid off, which..."
Whew, it hurt my fingers even to type that paragraph above, even though
it was all completely made up. But it hurts because it's true – some
people actually say things like that on a regular basis. And every time
I hear it, I feel like grasping the person's head between my hands and
shaking it while I say, "Wake up, Dude! You're doing more than just
discussing your situation right now.. You're creating your own reality!"
Let's contrast the life of the Personal Collapse person to the fate of
a really lucky person. You probably know at least one person that is
just so lucky that they annoy you. The person has a better job than
you, always seems to get promotions, has cooler friends, and maybe even
a more attractive spouse and a greener lawn. Some even accuse plain old
Mr. Money Mustache of being annoying for the same reason, "Oh, enough
from you Mustache. You retired early and then things seem to keep going
well for you. You're making it all up, or if you're not, it's just luck
and it can't be applied to me".
Fair enough. Let's stop the fakeypants
Fresh-From-the-Tanning-Salon-Self-Help-Guru spiel right now. We're all
scientists here, so we can acknowledge that luck, or the partially
random distribution of life situations, does indeed play a part in how
a person's life turns out. There's the genetic lottery, where each
person gets different abilities directly from their parents, then there
is upbringing, family, location, and pure random events supplied by the
outside world. It's bound to create a very diverse set of results,
But if you've ever been to a bar and watched a less-attractive friend
have far greater success in attracting mates, or worked in an office
where you notice that many of the people in highly paid senior
positions are less competent and intelligent than yourself, you know
there is something fishy about the theory that luck and birthright
alone deliver our fate.
The Secret Weapon of Optimism
And that's where we get to secret weapon of Optimism that I've brought to you today.
I'm hefting a stainless steel case onto the table and undoing the
latches for you for you now. It's lined with black velvet and as I open
it up, both of our faces light up with golden light, just like when
they opened Marsalis Wallace's Briefcase in Pulp fiction. Inside is a
very smooth, very polished tool that looks like it was crafted by an
advanced alien race. It is made of gold and silver materials, with a
sculpted handle and cobalt blue trigger. It's your new Optimism Gun.
But what good is fictional asset like an Optimism Gun when we're trying
to accomplish things here in the real world? The answer is a Hell of a
lot of good, because in this world full of humans, almost all of our
"reality" is created in our own heads.
Is money real? No, it's just a shared understanding among all of us
that we agree to store value in nontangible forms. What about Gold,
that's more real than money, right? Nope – offer a pile of gold coins
and a nice chunk of meat to a dog, and see which one he chooses.
Fame, fortune, the respect of others, or a job as
President of the United States? Just chemical patterns stored in the
minds of a bunch of other humans. Even physical problems, like
immediately cutting human carbon emissions by 75% to reduce climate
change or eliminating poverty in all poor countries, are things that
could be solved within months, just by altering patterns in a bunch of
human minds. And as it turns out, the human mind is exactly the target
of the Optimism Gun.
But does it really work? I found my own
Gun about 21 years ago and I have certainly found it effective whenever
I had the courage to apply it. It has helped me get an offer for every
job I have ever applied to, earn and save more money than the
pessimists assumed possible, have a very nice family life, and be
generally happy every day, as I'm sure you've heard more than enough.
I also secretly use the OG in this blog (in fact,
I'm writing this post with the bluetooth keyboard that was supplied
with the device). And I'd argue that it is working here too, evidenced
by the ridiculous spread of Mustachianism to date (now they're even
thinking of making a big TV show out of it!).
Because which is more likely: a software engineer
who didn't even take an English class in university just happens to be
the most amazing writer in the world with the most useful financial
ideas as well? Or that the blog just makes people feel good about their
lives because it is much more optimistic than other writing on the
topic, and this motivates them to try some new things?
Here's Why Optimism Works
There are several psychological principles at work that make all this work on a practical level:
Humans are automatically drawn to Leaders:
Most people just want to hang back with the crowd and shy away from
pressure of standing out. As soon as somebody stands on the box and
picks up the conch, people start listening. If you dare to express
optimism about anything, you're stepping onto a little soapbox, and it
People want it to be true:
If you've become a small-time leader and you deliver the Good Word,
people will naturally want to keep listening, because you help them
feel good about things too.
Optimism tricks you into trying more things:
If you believe success is almost guaranteed, you're going to try some
pretty fun ventures. In reality, sure, you fail at some things, but
what do they always tell us is the best teacher? That's right, it's
failure. So you end up racking up much more hard-earned experience and
knowledge than the non-optimist. Then what do you do with all that
extra knowledge? You succeed. Meanwhile, everyone else is still
hesitating to try the first thing.
You are forced not to focus on things you can't control: One of the most useful lessons of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
is that you never worry about stuff you cannot control. You just work
on the things you can. As an example, I never watch the political
debates or follow the polls for next month's presidential election.
That doesn't help me at all! Instead, I just read the descriptions of
the policies each candidate plans to put into place, evaluate those
against my best guess at their long-term effects on the success of the
world in general (not just based on my own situation), then send in my
mail-in ballot long before the election day. Then I can be optimistic
because I've had my full say by voting, and I have hundreds of hours
freed up to accomplish other things while the pessimists are still
watching TV and worrying about the election!
Acknowledge and Bow Down to the Placebo Effect:
When it comes to health and well-being, the mind controls the body way
more than rational people like to admit. This isn't just new-age
medicine – the very thought of taking medicine that makes people
better, has a statistically significant effect on the outcome of
medical tests. It is so real, that scientists have to adjust for it by
giving people fake pills, which make them better, in order to see if
the real pills do even more than the fake ones.
hacking this fact this to control my own health. I have a permanent
belief that I am unusually healthy, and that this condition will
persist forever. Even when I get sick, I look at it as a very temporary
anomaly, always assuming I'll be back to full health by the next day.
It usually proves to be true. Not only am I overdosing on the placebo
effect, but these assumptions lead me to do the deliberate things one
would do if one were preparing for a healthy 122-year lifespan as well.
And on top of all this, the optimism is limiting the release of the
human stress hormone Cortisol, which tends to destroy health. The less
you worry about health, the healthier you become.
Optimism is rare, and deadly when combined with competence:
If you're a smart guy or gal at your workplace, the other smart people
are expecting you to be pessimistic, just like them. You can sit at the
lunch table, discussing the chronic failures of management or the
critically flawed design of the product you're all working on. But once
you've proven your pessimism/realism chops and are respected by the
gang, then you gradually start playing some tricks. You can slip in
ideas like "Well, this project might actually turn out OK... all we
have to do is rewrite the Flange module from scratch and then get
Schmidt to let us use it in Release 2.0. I'm pretty sure I can do
that." Your coworkers will be fooled into thinking that they really can
do those things, which they wouldn't have otherwise tried. As noted in
point #3, these things occasionally work, and as you hone your skills
at tricking people into succeeding, you find yourself increasingly
being sought after for CEO positions.
So there you have it,
from the perspective of both the motivational speaker, and the
engineer. This stuff really works on other people and on ourselves, and
it's the source of most of the "luck" we experience in our lifetimes.
So the only remaining barrier is: are you daring enough to begin this journey by turning the Optimism Gun on Yourself?
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