“You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”
An overconfident motivational guru captivates his crowd.
“Nothing will get in the way of your dreams!”
He’s got them gripped in a mesmerizing spell of charismatic conviction.
“Anything is possible! Just make your wish!”
He is animated, energized, and self-assured.
But he is lying.
Not because he’s a con-artist or a swindler.
He’s lying because we yearn for his lies.
We pay top dollar for his ability to make dreams sound true.
And he is more than happy to create this illusion.
It is a very appealing illusion – as most are.
We want to believe that anything is possible.
That we can do anything, be anything, achieve anything – if we just tap into “The Secret.”
A “Secret” motivational speakers claim to possess.
A “Secret” they secretly know to be bogus.
The “rags-to-riches” American Dream is a statistical fluke.
For every Steve Jobs, there are ten thousand duds.
For every self-made Warren Buffets, there are ten thousand self-made flops.
We don’t hear about them; we don’t read about them.
Because they are buzzkills.
They are deflating reminders of a deflating reality.
So, we simply render them invisible.
See no buzzkill.
Hear no buzzkill.
Speak no buzzkill.
Does this mean we shouldn’t ‘shoot for the stars?’
It just means we should manage our expectations.
It means we should be realistic.
As painfully dull as that sounds.
Motivational speaking is a multibillion dollar industry.
It is a booming business, because the demand is surging.
People are desperate for quick-fix hits of inspiration.
An emotional uplift sprinkled with an assortment of affirmations gets these juices flowing.
The right vocal chords, and a knack for showmanship creates an illusion of expertise.
My question is not how they do it, but why we buy it.
Why do very intelligent people buy very unintelligent spiels?
Daniel Kahneman provides some insight into this peculiar phenomenon.
In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman illustrates our need for illusions, to indulge in misleading promises, despite overwhelming evidence of their emptiness.
As he notes:
“Firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers…
Experts who acknowledge the full extent of their ignorance may expect to be replaced by more confident competitors…
An unbiased appreciation of uncertainty is a cornerstone of rationality—but it is not what people and organizations want.”
But why are we so desperate for such “dangerously misleading information?”
What’s so scary about the “truth tellers?”
Why does the naked truth seem so threatening and unbearable?
Because it is.
As Kahneman, later, writes:
“Someone who lacks a delusional sense of significance will wilt in the face of repeated experiences of multiple small failures and rare successes.”
In essence, we need motivational liars.
We need their illusions, to feed our own delusions.
Because reality is too painfully discouraging for us to bear.
So, it seems, motivation depends on misinformation.
Motivational speakers convince us to believe what we desperately want to believe.
We are not paying for an accurate glimpse of reality, but – on the contrary – for their ability to distort it.
This may sound like a total buzzkill, but I know you can handle it.
Because you can do anything.