The “being realistic” fallacy

On my way to the airport this week, I’ve had an amazing conversation with Joel. It was about a topic I thought I had nailed for a long time and realized that actually rather the opposite was the case.

Joel told me something very inspiring along the lines of that whenever someone mentions the phrase “that’s not very realistic” or “if we are realistic about this, then” a magic sensor goes off in his brain. He aims to fight off every conclusion that was drawn from “being realistic” and get back to thinking what we could do, if we only were less realistic about things.

When I thought more about this on the plane, which is where I’m writing this, I realized that there are two very important things that are connected to this idea of “being realistic”.

Why it is so hard to work against the “being realistic” argument

Let’s take the sentence “Let’s be more realistic about this.”

If I were to substitute the word “realistic” for other words that would trigger the same meaning in my head, a few options come to mind. One is “logical”. So the sentence would be

“Let’s be more logical about this.”.

Another one would be “rational” or “think this through”. So we get

“Let’s be more rational about this.” Or “Let’s think this through”.

All of these substitutes are things that we would intuitively agree with. We want to be more logical, more rational and most importantly we want to think this through.

So without knowing, we are being drawn in to agreeing with a topic or point of view, purely because we want to be more logical, rational and thinking smart.

What I’ve realized though is that being realistic merely means this:

Being realistic = fear of failure

When I think back to every moment someone mentioned “being realistic”, I’ve actually realized, that it is merely an expression of fear of failure.

Being realistic purely shows that you believe something can’t be done. It means something isn’t in your reach or you are not capable of doing it. To put differently, the universe of your thinking, of the things you know and have done before, this or that idea can’t work within these “realistic” boundaries you’ve created.

Whenever this fear of failure overcomes us, when we can’t see this “thing” to be possible in our heads within the realms of things we know, there is one thing we have to remind ourselves of:

“We cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it.”

Albert Einstein

Of course it is not realistic and of course you will fail with the knowledge and tools you’ve been using so far. That’s not the point. The point is that you’ll do things differently to go about this. You will choose the tools of risk and excitement that will get you to do things you’ve never done before.

So the next time someone or even you yourself mentions “realistic” in a sentence, listen carefully. Why? Because “It all always seems impossible until it is all done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

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