Sorry, pessimists. It’s sad to say, but it turns out that even if you are the most talented, you’re still unlikely to rise to the top. That’s because it’s the pessimism itself that will bring you down.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that confidence is actually more important than talent when it comes to achieving higher professional and social status. This is true even when this confidence is unfounded. When people aren’t particularly gifted, but they believe that they are better than others, they still have an advantage over people who have more actual talent but less confidence.

The study followed more than 500 workers, professors and students. It found that while people with high opinions of themselves actually make more mistakes on the job, people tend to overlook them. The force of confident people’s belief in themselves means that they are more frequently listened to, admired and promoted.

“Our studies found overconfidence helped people attain social status,” said Cameron Anderson head researcher for this report. “Those who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder, and the motivation to attain higher social status therefore triggered overconfidence.”

Self-confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimists succeed because they believe that they can and they should succeed.

Unfortunately for pessimists, the opposite is also true. Lacking in self-confidence causes people to participate less in group projects, speak up less at meetings and attempt less of their own initiatives. This is the case even when they are actually the smartest and most competent people in the room.

The lesson is to remember that confidence is a state of mind and is not based on actual competence. (94% of professors in the study claimed that they were ‘above average.’ which is of course statistically impossible.) So act confident. Shut down self-defeating negative thoughts and focus on the positive. Even if you’re not really there yet, faking confidence enough to convince others that you believe in yourself can be a step towards achieving success.

And of course, success boosts actual confidence. In other words, fake it till you make it.

Oh, and keep in mind that the overbearing guy in the meeting who talks the loudest (you know who you are) doesn’t necessarily actually know what he’s talking about.

Source: Overconfidence Helps People Climb Social Ladder


Peter Harris

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