• Kimberly

You know how you're better than other people? Actually, you're not.

Updated: Sep 25, 2019



It's amazing the things psychological research can teach us. For example, I happen to know that you, dear reader, are an above-average driver. This is because driving ability is highly correlated with excellent taste in blogs.


No, wait, sorry, that's not it.


It's just because pretty much everyone thinks they're an above-average driver.


Truly, if you ask people how good they are at driving, pretty much all of us put ourselves in the top half of all drivers--which is impossible. Some people have to be in the bottom half. But those of us who are, don't seem to realize it.


This goes beyond just driving, though. Psychological research, which really can tell us fascinating things, tells us that humans in general tend to rate themselves as superior to others. Many people call it the Lake Wobegone Effect, after the fictional town where "all the children are above average". It just means that more than half of us think we're in the top half of, well, anything good. (More studies here and here.)


But there's an even more disturbing finding. Called the Dunning-Kruger Effect after the researchers who discovered it, this one should make you nervous. They found that the people who perform the very worst on a variety of tasks are also the most confident that they have done well.


What?!




Yes, that means that if you think you're really good at something, you might just be particularly bad at it and fooling yourself.


And you can't just say "Well look how successful I am in my career; I really am great." I'm sure you know people who were rewarded or promoted for personal or political reasons and not because they deserved it, and people who were passed over for personal or political reasons even though they really were great.


So if you're successful, maybe you're great and maybe you're lucky/well-connected/someone else's patsy. And if you're not successful, maybe you're not great, but maybe you're the victim of prejudice/vendetta/bad taste/bad luck.


Sometimes terrible fakes get praised and genuine talent gets ignored. The world is not very good at rewarding greatness efficiently.


So, look, the science is clear: we tend to think we're better than we are. But some of us really are great drivers, fabulous friends, and wonderful teachers. How can we know whether we're the great ones or the deluded terrible ones?


The way to tell is to cultivate personal humility.



No, really.


Look, here's the thing: If you're the terrible deluded one, there's only one way to find out that you're deluded:


Listen, non-defensively, to the people around you. Don't dismiss or ignore criticism or complaints. Don't notice your successes and disregard your failures. In fact, pay special attention to your failures. Then try to improve.


This way, you can get a realistic sense of what you're really good at and what you're bad at. Then, good news! You can actually improve your weaknesses instead of just staying the deluded fool.


But it goes the other way too. What if you're the actually great one? Well there's only one way to find out for sure that you're really great and not just deluded:


Listen, non-defensively, to the people around you. Don't dismiss or ignore criticism or complaints. Don't notice your successes and disregard your failures. In fact, pay special attention to your failures. Then try to improve.


Sound familiar?


Yeah, basically the rule is you should be humble about your successes and open to finding out about your faults. Because even if you're great at something, you're not great at everything.


I promise.


There's something in your life you're deluded about, or at least avoiding, and you really ought to be open to finding out where you aren't good at things. Otherwise, you stay blind to your faults and never improve them. You also stay complacent about your strengths, and never both to improve them either.



As human beings, we tend to see ourselves as better than we are.


That means, if we want to be honest and authentic in our work and relationships, we need to be humble and open to discovering our faults.


Give it a try. Everyone in your life will thank you.









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