Investigating 'illusions'

We humans are consummate actors... We learn now to fit into the group by wearing the same clothes and speaking the same language. Robert Greene

It's an illusion that everyone else knows the secret!

Have you met Investigator Lewis? Playlist here.

Why investigate 'illusions'?

Even with all our knowledge of how the world works, we tend to think of the sun as coming up at dawn and going down at dusk. This is an illusion!

What happens when illusions quietly embed themselves within you and you accept them as undisputed truths? What if those illusions lead you to think and even behave in unhelpful ways? What if the illusions are feeding your inner squasher?


“The capacity to self-reflect distorts our perceptions of the world, leads us to draw inaccurate conclusions about ourselves and other people, and thus prompts us to make bad decisions based on faulty information.” Mark R Leary


We are very skilled at constructing conclusions, with the help of assumptions and irrationality. Without a second thought we have ticked these conclusions off as being factual.

How does this process feed your inner squasher?

What happens when you blindly buy into another’s perfect public image or the myth of having a fixed identity and you believe that your feelings denote something factual?  You invite frequent feelings of disconnection. What is worse – you don’t understand what these feelings mean, you just know you don’t like them!

What kind of illusions should you get forensic with?  Start with these:

  • I am a fixed identity.
  • Everyone else in my ‘space’ is better.
  • I know what they are thinking/feeling.
  • Things are what ‘people’ say they are.

These illusions are driven by our culture, history and the online world - all of which combine with our human brain to feed those unsettling, self-sabotaging squasher feelings.

Brain on Fear
Your brain is predictive, not reactive. For many years, scientists believed that your neurons spend most of their time dormant and wake up only when stimulated by some sight or sound in the world. Now we know that all your neurons are firing constantly, stimulating one another at various rates. This intrinsic brain activity is one of the great recent discoveries in neuroscience. Even more compelling is what this brain activity represents: millions of predictions of what you will encounter next in the world, based on your lifetime of past experience. Dr Lisa Feldman Barrett

Just consider this extract from an article I came accross some time back:-

“..unlike any other story, our internal narration about what kind of person we are, can become our reason for acting in a particular way. Then we act in that particular way and create more supporting evidence for the story about being that particular way. The story forms a self-justifying loop turning ever around on itself like an evidentiary Möbius strip.” Eleanor Gordon-Smith – The Observer 6/7/19
Impostor syndrome thinking

This is a mobius strip!

But - who are you?

Illusion of Identity

Well - personality tests are not the answer to that question.

If you have ever taken or administered a personality profile test, I hope you haven’t taken it too literally.

There is a very well-known one that has been around since the second world war which was used to help women entering the work force find the job that best suited them.

These tests come under the heading ‘pseudoscience’. Not saying they are useless – just saying that you would be mistaken to label yourself for life based on those letters or colours that have been magically revealed to you!

You are in danger of being sucked into the illusion of ‘fixed personality’ and then labelling yourself. Labelling yourself provides an excellent meal for your squashed self to stay squashed.

Throughout history there have been attempts to measure personality – but none of these measures are fool proof and able to withstand changing situations and influences. Could it be that we encourage the belief that personalities are fixed in order to feel more secure in this crazy world?

Whilst this labelling is understandable and not always a bad thing, it needs questioning.  You will find blessed relief in taking the labels off everyone – especially you!

Illusion of Perfect happiness.

I have already referred to the dangers making comparisons based on the illusion that those other people are showing us what they are like through and through and always and forever.

I just want you to read these words Arno Ilgner, author of ‘The Rock Warrior’s Way: -

The Higher Self derives self-worth not from comparison with others, but from an internal focus that is based on valuing growth and learning. 

Just wanted to underline the whole comparison trap!

Now I want to expand on the comparing trap by taking you into a world full of illusions - ‘social media’.

Here is a sample of the kind of messages that come up daily on social media: -

  • Sponsored Ad: How I built a multi 7-figure business in 7 months!
  • Influencer posts on Instagram: ‘When I travel, I love to have a pool with a view’ (Image: Fancy sunset from luxury infinity pool, cocktail in front of shot.)
  • LinkedIn post: ‘Meet the millionaire CEO of (company name) who bikes to work and is breaking the glass ceiling...’

So much evidence of perfect people being happy.

You are an intelligent individual and might well be thinking ‘not fooled by all that hype’.

However – your brain is taking it all in like it or not. Then, just when your mood and energy are low, that sneaky brain chucks everyone’s ‘perfect happiness’ status at you in one big lump. You feel like a person who just doesn’t measure up, and this feeling is triggered by a myriad of mirages.

Not just social media either – what about all the clever people you see fronting documentaries on TV? Not only do they have a plum job, they are also amazingly intelligent and so attractive in that edgy way you can only dream of.

Oh – and they have a best-selling book and a ‘most watched’ TED talk.

And you?

You are just putting the rubbish out and sorting a packed lunch for tomorrow. Your hair needs a good cut and the front door needs a coat of paint.

What chance to you have of amounting to anything? Nobody will be doing documentaries about you after you’ve gone! Nobody will be quoting your every pearl of wisdom for decades after your departure.

What is going on here?

An illusion.

You are seeing more and more of people’s ‘highlight reel’ – and forgetting the reality of their ‘blooper reel’. You launch off into full comparison mode and leave rational thinking waving you goodbye. You fail to spot that this is an illusion.

What happens when they are out of sight! They are not in a constant state of perfect happiness – nobody is! Actually – why would you want to be? It sounds cloying and exhausting.

Plus…

you are not them.

You don't need to be Einstein to be worthy of praise. Einstein didn’t always think he was worthy of praise!

Einstein had Impostor Syndrome feelings. He was human.

He confided in a friend:

The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.

If you set up your business or started your new role a year ago and then compare yourself to someone who started their business or career 20 years ago, you will be struggling to keep afloat on a stormy sea of negative self-talk.

People grow – they are not in a fixed state of instant success!

It is extraordinary how easily we lose track of reality.

Plus…

Why do we even want to be in the ‘super-awesome-mega-successful’ category?

What kind of world would this be if we were all in that category? It wouldn’t work at all. If being amazing was measured by fame and money, we would have a vast amount of people in the corner weeping about their wretchedness.

In reality – the person who makes your coffee, repairs your car, drives the bus, makes the chips in your computer, runs the community choir, cares for the elderly…. they are all amazing n their way. We would fall apart in a world populated solely by Richard Bransons and Oprah Winfreys. I bet Richard and Oprah have off days – off camera.

It used to be that doing the hunting and gathering for the day would be enough to make you feel of value. I know we can’t turn the clocks back, but it’s vital that you understand the value of what you do every day. Don’t measure your happiness by the illusions we are bombarded by.

Illusion: They are more credible

Admit it - you are guilty of comparing yourself to others and deciding they are somehow in a different league!

I am not talking about the rich and famous now – just the kind of people you meet at a networking event or conference. The speaker at an event or the person behind a website you are checking out – someone in a related feel of expertise.

You are in conversation and various names and businesses are coming up - and a voice in your head is going - 'ah those are the proper grown up clever successful people - I would like to be ...'

We are talking about the kind of comparison where you completely forget to credit yourself for anything and then make up stories in your head about the others. This is not healthy.  

We go to networking events and get a sense that everyone's business is being awesomely successful....  We see someone in the local paper or on breakfast TV or we hear them on the radio (yes they have just hired a PR agency) ... and we think - gosh - they are doing such AWESOME things.  They are getting WOW awards and all sorts!!

Stop! This pattern of thinking can be dangerous when Inner squasher feelings are on a feeding frenzy. You will end up feeling deflated – a worthless fraud

Look what our cheeky ‘chimp brain’ is up to!

We're still programmed to compete for everything - food, mates, place to live. We might think we have evolved because we have the internet and stuff - but we still have our primitive brain parts and we will still be competing when we don't need to! We get an instant 'envy' feeling when we hear about or see people we think are 'doing better'. Prof Steve Peters


Do you ever find yourself feeling a strange 'jealous' sort of sensation when people talk about others in a similar or related area of work - people who just had a book published or an article in a prestigious publication... or they have been interviewed for a classy podcast...

Is your thought process:

  • They are the real deal – unlike me
  • I will never reach these levels – might as well give up now
  • They must have something I don’t have

Or maybe (a different approach)

  • If I had loads of money to throw at this – I could be like them
  • If I knew people in ‘high places’ I would be up there with them

Whatever way you react – the common link is the illusion that you have no control over your situation couple with the illusion that they got there easily!

You have missed out the part where they have been in their profession for 20 years - and you for... 3 years?

You have also missed out the part that you know nothing about – their real lived experience and their feelings!

To add to the toxic mix that feeds your Impostor Syndrome feelings, you have defined ‘success’ in a lazy way – and then set yourself up as someone not fitting that definition.

I like watching TED talks.

It is usually a pleasant experience free of anxiety.

However, every now and then I watch a talk given by someone who I see as being a bit like me – and talking on a topic that is within my ‘area of expertise’ – and my inner critic pipes up.

Illusion: I have to look a certain way to be ‘right’

We humans are consummate actors... We learn now to fit into the group by wearing the same clothes and speaking the same language. Robert Greene

You are more than your clothes!

Although it would be naive to say that what you look like is inconsequential.

Suffice to say - a dress does not have to equal 'cute, useless and fluffy' and trousers do not have to equal 'strong, dominant and serious'! But we do some odd things in our head when it comes to linking certain superficial things with deep emotional meaning.... be aware of this.  It could be playing into negative your inner squasher.

It is a fixed mindset that assigns labels and sticks them on with superglue. A growth mindset allows them to change. Cultivating a growth mindset is a great antidote to staying squashed.


Ditch the illusion that labels are accurate and stuck on for life!

If you need any more persuading that the labels you place on yourself our unhelpful…. read this: -

‘We sometimes do certain things because we see ourselves as the kind of person who does that sort of thing, and we resist doing other things because we’re ‘not that kind of person’.’ Mark Leary

What a waste!

Some actions to take:

Compile a list! 3 columns.

  • Go back to your schooldays…
  • Column 1: list of all the labels you have been given.
  • Column 2: Having examined your heart and soul– which labels have stuck? Which labels are you fine about sticking – and which do you want to ditch? Place a simple tick or cross.
  • Have a clear out! This might range from your wardrobe to your job!

All of this is not just about you. When you see through the illusions of the ‘they are better’ labels you have handed out to people – you become more inquisitive and less despondent.

Take a calm walk and do a little self-reflection. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I ever sit amongst a group of people and think - 'I'm not the right kind of person - I am not like them'?
  • Do I ever think - 'to be taken more seriously I need to look/sound/be like x/y/z...'
  • Do I ever consciously try to put on a different kind of 'me' because I have somehow decided that this different style will fit in better and make me more credible?

Sounds daft when you read it a list like this. Some calm reflection means being honest with yourself.

Step 2:

Take each of these thought/feeling habits and ask yourself: Who oversees these feelings? Who is making the definitions and who can instigate action?

When you answer ‘me’ – you might also have a kindly laugh about these self-inflicted negative thought spirals.

PS – For every time you catch yourself assuming someone else is so much more credible than you – be aware that someone will have thought that very same thing about you!

Above all - remember that you are not a mind reader! It is so easy to fall into the trap of 'assumptions' - sterotypes are there for a reason and we are very good at delusions!

I have created a mini eBook that delves deeper into this.  'Beware the trap of Assumption'

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