Your Brain’s a Liar

In a 2004 psychological study, a couple thousand engineers were asked to rate their performance and almost 40% rated themselves in the top 5%. Think about that. People whose careers are all about deeply understanding properties are completely deluded about their own properties. The facts are that out of 100 people only 5 can be in the top 5% while 40 think they are there.

Don’t laugh, you do it too.

Psychologists call this tendency toward an inflated self-assessment the “above average affect” and we are all guilty of it because that is how our brains are built. In fact, it is kept us alive the last million years or so. Instead of viewing evidence and then forming conclusions, we tend to form conclusions then look for evidence to support them. This has had the effect of us striving to modify our environment versus modifying ourselves—making weapons for instance where our hands are not adequate to help us feed our families—and has allowed us to become the apex predator.

Now think about how this affects what we do every day, day in and day out, and you can see that it’s not an insignificant thing.

When your brain tells you that you are better at doing something than reality will eventually show that you are, you cannot help but be disappointed in yourself after the fact. The problem is that your disappointment is disconnected from the fact that your brain lied to you. “Dammit! How could my brain lie to me like that!”

…said no one ever.

What happens next is that you’re not exactly sure why you’ve failed and why you’re so disappointed and angry—and apparently no one jumps to the conclusion that it is their own fault—so logically you turn that anger away from yourself and blame external sources; the sun was in your eyes….the crowd was too noisy…they didn’t teach what was on the test…other people’s fault basically. Think of this the next time you invariably fail at something where you were absolutely convinced you were going to succeed…

…and don’t believe everything your brain tells you.

Believe. Go. Do.


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