The Illusions that Underlie "I Can't"

Posted on April 16, 2024

Let’s begin with a brain-stopping quote from one of history’s legendary psychologists:

“The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.”

—Alfred Adler

Adler hits us with a piercing indictment of how we mismanage risks. He’s alleging that we stifle our potential by succumbing to worries and unjustified doubts or fears. He says excessive carefulness is the #1 threat to our most amazing possibilities.

It’s true.

That’s why we sell out our dreams. We decide they’re too chancy, that the risks are too high, so we yield to our troubling emotions and cave on our big ambitions.

Of course, we like to think we’re being sensibly cautious and highly rational in our decision process. How easily we deceive ourselves! Nassim Nicholas Taleb—Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University—writes in Fooled by Randomness:

“It is a fact that our brain tends to go for superficial clues when it comes to risk and probability, these clues being largely determined by what emotions they elicit or the ease with which they come to mind.”

Too often our decision-making is based on strong feelings rather than strong analysis. Emotions warp our judgement and we back away from our ambitions, telling ourselves, “I can’t. It’s too risky.”

Dr. Taleb goes on to explain:

“. . .it is also a scientific fact, and a shocking one, that both risk detection and risk avoidance are not mediated in the “thinking” part of the brain but largely in the emotional one. . . The consequences are not trivial: It means that rational thinking has little, very little, to do with risk avoidance. Much of what rational thinking seems to do is rationalize one’s actions by fitting some logic to them.”

You probably give yourself sensible-sounding excuses when you decide to delay or abandon the pursuit of a challenging goal. Your “I can’t” has reasons behind it. But are those reasons illusions or reality? Are they unjustified precautions? Have you decided “I can’t” when actually you could?

You have a choice: You can live your life either “playing to win” or “playing not to lose.” If you wrap yourself so tightly in carefulness that you’re safe from losing, you’ll smother your big ambitions.

Don’t do that to your dreams. Instead of placing such trust in your emotions, trust in your possibilities and take more risks.

That’s how wishes come true.

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is available on Amazon or by clicking HERE.


Price Pritchett is one of the foremost experts on fast-growth strategies and breakthrough performance. His firm—PRITCHETT, LP—is recognized worldwide for its thought leadership on mergers, corporate culture, change management, and accelerated achievement. These writings define the behaviors and individual mindset underlying fast growth and innovation.


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