Why You Think You're Better at Things Than You Actually Are

The Better-Than-Average Effect

If I put you in a room with 100 people who drive, where would you rank yourself? Obviously, as you read this, I can’t talk to you, but without being a psychic, I would put money on the fact that you say you’re better than at least 50 percent of the drivers in the room. How do I know this? Well, statistically, most people think they’re better than the average person at driving. It’s not just driving either. This happens with just about anything we have some basic confidence in.

Are you a half-decent artist? Chances are you think you’re in the top 50th percentile. Can you play basketball? You probably think you’re better than half the people around you at any given time. This is one of the most interesting psychological phenomena because it’s a statistical impossibility that over 50 percent of people are better than most people at anything. So, why does this happen?

This is due to what’s known as the better-than-average effect, and it’s a really fascinating cognitive bias that they’ve been studying for years. This bias is one of our self-protective functions, and it serves a very important purpose. We need the better-than-average effect or we’d be filled with self-doubt, and it’d be difficult for us to go out there and do what we need to do if we didn’t have confidence. As irrational as we can be, sometimes it’s advantageous to our well-being.

Something that I often think about when pondering about the better-than-average effect is how many of us are filled with self-doubt. I’ve come across studies where they even surveyed depressed people, and those who are depressed still see themself as better-than-average at most tasks. So, if someone is depressed and still sees themselves in some sort of positive light, that’s a great way to start working your way out of depression.

What are you good at? Do that. Do that thing each day. Even if you’re lying to yourself, dance your ass off because your brain is telling you that you’re better than most dancers, and it’ll get that dopamine and serotonin flowing.

The problem we run into with this effect is that we can become cocky jerks, and nobody wants to be around that type of person. As good as you think you are at that thing, just remember that there’s a sea of people out there who assume that they’re better than average as well. And don’t get me wrong, I love me some good competition, but sometimes, we have to sit back and realize that we’re just inflating our ego.


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