The Challenge of False Hope Syndrome2 min read

Holding on to unrealistic expectations guarantees emotional friction and disappointment. These things make you feel like giving up, which makes perseverance difficult.  

One common type of unrealistic expectation is the false hope syndrome. It is expecting that the path to your goal will be easy, that your aspiration will be fulfilled quickly, and that obstacles will be overcome painlessly. You are either impatient about the process or deluded about it. In any case, there is a false hope about the process, which then leads to frustration and loss of motivation.

Our society is addicted to the myth of overnight success. The media promotes it, because people love the rush of dopamine they get when they believe they can quickly achieve their dreams. Many companies promote it too, because promising instant results is great marketing. Think of the many “get rich quick” programs and “lose fat while you sleep” ads. 

What about “get rich slow” or “lose fat by working out hard”? That doesn’t sell as well—it requires perseverance, and most people don’t have it. Instead of developing this essential skill, they want to spend money to compensate for its lack. And sure enough, somebody is willing to monetize on that.

As the Dalai Lama once joked, “In the West, people would like enlightenment to be fast, easy, and, if possible, cheap.” (From Why Meditate, by Matthieu Ricard) 

As a remedy to the false hope syndrome, accept that the path will probably be harder than you think, and take longer than you expect. Therefore, focus on the process, expect it to take time and be challenging, and stick to your commitment no matter what—make it a Never Zero Commitment. On your chosen path you will fail many times, doubt yourself, and get disheartened. Know that that is the case and be ready to patiently get up as many times as you fall.

To better adjust your expectations to reality, consider going through a “challenges audit” exercise, where you take note of all the likely obstacles you will meet on the way. This will help you avoid underestimating the journey ahead of you, be ready for what life brings, and persevere through the ups and downs.

Changing yourself, and your life, is very hard. Changing reality around you is even harder. Without perseverance and self-discipline, it is impossible.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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