The Optimism Bias: Most people cannot be better than most people

One of my biggest fears in life is to think I’m better at something than I actually am.

And as it turns out, that very same false state of mind is a pretty common thing in the world.

Here is a bit more about that:

Many of us are not aware of our optimistic tendencies.… Data clearly shows that most people overestimate their prospects for professional achievement; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; miscalculate their likely life span; expect to be healthier than their peers; hugely underestimate their likelihood of divorce, cancer, and unemployment; and are confident overall that their future lives will be better than those their parents put up with. This is known as the optimism bias—the inclination to overestimate the likelihood of encountering positive events in the future and to underestimate the likelihood of experiencing negative events.

The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain (Tali Sharot)

Most people I encounter who don’t do very much with their lives preach about how great it can be one day in the future. Most people who share motivational memes all the time don’t actually DO positive stuff, they just think and dream about positive stuff.

Another quote from Sharot:

The reality is that most people perceive themselves as being superior to the average human being.… A survey conducted in the mid-1970s revealed that 85 percent ranked themselves in the top 50th percentile for the ability to get along well with others and 70 percent did so for leadership ability.… Another survey showed that 91 percent believed they were in the top 50th percentile for driving ability.… Impossible. Most people cannot be better than most people.… We can, however, all believe that we are at the high end on most positive attributes, and indeed we do. This is known as the superiority illusion.

As I stated earlier, I’m terrified of falling into this delusional category of humans.

To combat this, I can attack it from either side, depending on the area of life I am choosing to address.

In some domains, I have to talk myself down. I need to mentally accept my low skill level where it actually is, not where I wish it to be. Better to view myself as a learner with potential to grow than to view myself as a false expert.

In other areas (the ones I really care about), I have to step my skill level up high enough to ensure I am as good as I think I am. I’m still a student to some but I also need to be a leader to many. Since I am paid to be a coach, I better be a damn good one. If I want to be a pro athlete, I better commit and practice like it.

The key is to know where I objectively stand and constantly redetermine which things are important enough to push towards.

***I stumbled upon this “Optimism Bias” idea while reading “The Power of Negative Thinking” by Bob Knight, one of the most successful basketball coaches in NCAA history. It’s pretty great read. You should totes check it out.

Related Posts