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Beating the Odds

Are You As Smart As You Think You Are?

This will no doubt cause snickering among my family, friends, colleagues and yes, rivals, but I just realized something about myself.

I’m not very smart.

All these years I’ve been believing some things I heard a half-century ago. My parents told me I was smart. So did my teachers, my test scores, and the colleges that accepted me.

If only they could see the dumb things I do every day: repeated mistakes, missed opportunities, bad strategies, etc.

Now comes an article that explains how people can be so wrong about their brain power. Titled “10 Reasons Why You Are Not So Smart,” it comes from journalist David McRaney and boils down to life as a story rather than a series of real events.

“Science is telling you that not only are you the unreliable narrator in the story of your life, but you are absolutely terrible at noticing this truth about the human condition,” McRaney says. “In fact, you feel just the opposite. You feel confident, reasonable, logical, and in your search for meaning, you’ve developed a story about who you are, why you do what you do, and why you think what you think. It’s a good story, and you believe it day-to-day, but that story is mostly fiction.”

McRaney uses the example of drivers at a red light. If you’re first in line and the person behind you honks, you assume that they are rude and impatient. But if you’re the second person and you honk, you’re doing it just to get the first driver’s attention and think nothing of it.

As comedian George Carlin said, “Anybody who drives faster than you is a maniac and anyone who drives slower is an idiot.”

Thus, our achievement or lack thereof is based not on facts but on how we feel about those facts and assemble them in an internal movie.

It brings to mind a New York magazine article called “How Not to Talk to Your Children: The Inverse Power of Praise,” by Po Bronson. Research suggests that praising people for their hard work beats praising them for their talent.

Children praised for their talent grow up believing the narrative, and wind up taking fewer risks because they don’t want to destroy the story. Children praised for hard work tend to show more perseverance in solving problems.

Thus, the qualities that bring success, qualities like grit and vision, could very well come down to the story that people tell themselves about themselves.

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Would you like to improve at what you do? “The Improvement Factor: How Winners Turn Practice into Success” can show you how! Are you a coach? “Ten Things Great Coaches Know” can make you a better one. Looking for motivation? Read “Thank God You’re Lazy!: The Instant Cure for What’s Holding You Back.”


One comment for “Are You As Smart As You Think You Are?”

  1. It is becoming more difficult to gage in light of the new meanings that the word “intelligent” is taking on.


    Posted by Dredd | November 16, 2012, 7:20 pm

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