How Steve Jobs Created the Reality Distortion Field (and You Can, Too)

Courtesy Esther Dyson via Flickr

In February 1981, Bud Tribble, one of the key software developers on the original Macintosh computer, welcomed one of Apple’s new employees, Andy Hertzfeld, by telling him they were scheduled to ship the Macintosh software in just ten months.

“Ten months?” Hertzfeld remarked. “That’s impossible.”

Tribble agreed. “The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek,” he explained. “Steve Jobs has a reality distortion field.”

It would make sense that a guy named “Tribble” would use a Star Trek reference. He was referring to a two-part episode entitled “The Menagerie,” in which the crew finds a planet called Talos, whose inhabitants are able to create virtual realities in the minds of other people — or as Tribble later put it, creating “their own new world through sheer mental force.”

Tribble went on to explain this “reality distortion field” to his new employee: “In [Jobs’s] presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules.”

Note this was a veteran developer making this claim, not some woo-woo weirdo. Hertzfeld thought that Tribble was exaggerating, until he saw it for himself. Hertzfeld later wrote:

The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it, although the effects would fade after Steve departed. We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it … but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature.

As I’ve been promoting my book Mind Hacking, the reality distortion field is one of the topics that I get asked about most. Everyone wants to know: how do I create one?

What if I told you that you have the ability to create your own reality distortion field, right now? To understand how close you really are, let me explain that you’re actually in a reality distortion field at this moment.

Your Reality Distortion Field

Your reality distortion field is operating right now. It defines who you are, your abilities, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, and on and on. This is the reality you project to the world about yourself. And that perceived reality becomes actual reality. You believe it. Others believe it. And when you get down to it, that’s all that’s required for reality: that we all believe it.

Some examples may help.

  • If you are nervous when speaking in public, rest assured everyone picks up on it, and your unpolished speaking skills will be the reality.
  • If you feel intimidated when talking to that powerful client, your body language will show it, and the power gap will become a reality.
  • If you think you’re no good with people, you’ll always sit in the corner at the party, you’ll never get the chance to practice, and therefore your poor people skills will be the reality.
  • If you’re convinced you’ll never get in shape, you’ll never take the opportunity to get in shape, and therefore your flabbiness will become a reality.
  • If you see yourself as a leader, you’ll jump at the opportunity to lead, and therefore your leadership will become a reality.

The important takeaway is that our beliefs about ourselves are self-fulfilling prophecies. This is what’s so exciting about your reality distortion field: it can be changed. You can choose what to think about yourself, in the same way that you pick out what to wear.

If you want to be a leader, think of yourself as a leader. If you want to get in shape, see yourself as physically fit. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, start pretending you’re Elon Musk.

Easier said than done! When we’re changing longstanding belief systems, the first thing our minds tell us is: That’s a lie! I’m NOT that way!

We WEREN’T that way, you tell your mind. Now we are.

You do this again and again, day after day, thought by thought. This is what we call hacking, or reprogramming, the mind. Eventually, you wake up one day and — lo and behold! — the reality distortion field has come true.

May The Field Be With You

You have within yourself your own reality distortion field. What you consider “possible” and “impossible” for yourself are just ideas. They’re loops that can be reprogrammed. You can find the boundaries of what you consider possible, and consciously widen them. You can achieve the “impossible” by training your mind to believe otherwise.

Thinking “anything is possible” does not mean it’s possible next week, or even next year. We need to make a plan for what we can achieve, and do the work to make it a reality. But an attitude of “anything is possible” is the foundation from which we should begin. As the great author and naturalist John Muir proclaimed, “The power of imagination makes us infinite.”

Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field” was a personal refusal to accept limitations that stood in the way of his ideas, to convince himself that any difficulty was surmountable. This “field” was so strong that he was able to convince others that they, too, could achieve the impossible. It was an internal reality so powerful it also became an external reality. Whatever you may say about Jobs, he was a master mind hacker.

You can be, too. Deploy your distortion field, and watch reality change. Think different.

Sir John Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days, now available worldwide.