As I take another pull of my cigarette while watching the steam billow from my morning cup of coffee I can’t help but ponder this idea, illusory superiority, and how often I run into individuals who display it to the highest degree. For those who don’t know what illusory superiority is, it is a cognitive bias sometimes referred to as the “above-average effect” where an individual has an unrealistic view on their own abilities, believing they are better than others. By definition of average this is impossible, the majority of us are very average, and that’s perfectly fine. You might say well what’s the big deal, it’s good to be confident in your own abilities. There is a big difference between being confident and believing you are superior. I’m confident in my skill as a volleyball player and often go into every set with the belief that I can best whoever I am matched up with regardless of who it is. The difference would be believing I’m one of, if not the best player in the gym every night regardless of who is present. An individual’s ability to learn and improve is extremely hindered when they already believe they are at the top of their game. Let me give you a few more examples.
Since it’s release this summer I’ve put around 100 hours into Overwatch. Overwatch is a competitive multiplayer, hero based, shooter on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. There are rankings that go bronze, silver, gold, platinum, diamond, master, grand master, top 500. At the beginning of each season (currently season 3) each player plays 10 placement matches and is placed into a rank that they then compete in and can improve rank with good play or reduce rank with poor play. Each season the way Blizzard (game’s creator) handles the seeding of players has changed slightly to balance the game properly and this season everyone is up in arms. “Last season I was diamond and now I’m gold clearly the game is fucked because I’m a diamond level player.” Well actually no you’re not, Blizzard found that the majority of players were around the platinum to diamond level in season 2 and that diminishes the skill of those players because that is not where the largest group of players should be. Plus, if you are actually a diamond level player you should be able to dominate in gold and will quickly see your rank rise. But too many gamers see their capabilities much higher than others. I experienced this first hand when playing with Cody for his placement games. I had already placed in silver (I was gold in season 2) and this player who was rocking Soldier 76 (damage dealer) was tearing us all apart for how fucking terrible we were and how we should just quit playing Overwatch because we’re ‘ruining the game.’ Well, I was playing Lucio (healer) and had the most eliminations on the team which is bad. You’re not going to be successful if your support is out killing your attack hero. Time and time again Soldier 76 would run into the middle of the opposing team, die, and rage about how WE were shit. He could have communicated with us and strategized on how best to defeat the other team, but no his skill was so far above ours it wasn’t even worth his time. By the way I have now worked my way up to gold rank and have my eyes on platinum. The only way that happened is by learning from those I play with and improving my own skills, something that isn’t possible when you display illusory superiority.
Another example of this happened to be on the volleyball court. My team often requires subs as life tends to get busy this time of year. So a friend of mine approached a player from the opposing team and asked if he could get his number in case we needed a sub in the future. His response? ‘Sorry but I actually play at a higher level than you so I’m not interested.’ Now I have made great strides on controlling my temper but I lost it a little when Mike relayed me his response. ‘Are you fucking kidding?’ ‘He’s the worst player on the fucking court and we just played his team to a tight third set!? Is he fucking delusional!?’ Yes, yes he is. But there’s nothing I can do about that but smile and crush the ball his way every chance I get. Did I mention I can be ever so slightly petty at times?
I have many different interests: snowboarding, lifting, writing, volleyball, and gaming. I’ll admit I’m below average at all of them. That’s okay though, I’m willing to learn from those better and more knowledgeable than me and improve. Maybe one day I will be above average. I want to be a life long learner and some of the biggest lessons I’ve learn are from interacting with others. I’m not saying no one is exceptional because many, many people are. My old roommate Conner may be the best skier I’ve ever seen in person, my old coworker Sue is an incredible artist, and Ayumu is a wonderful cook. Everyone has talents and I’m not trying to stifle anyone’s confidence. Just know you’ll grow and improve so much more if you go in with intent to learn instead of looking to see how much better than everyone else you are. Cause you probably aren’t.