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Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Is self-deception key to success?

You can accomplish anything you put your mind to—right? Believe it! But it just might not be true.

Politicians, celebrities, athletes and Joel Osteen nearly unanimously articulate that if you want something—really want it—overwhelming commitment and drive will get you there. And few things are as inspiring as listening to the underdog’s achievement tales, from Abraham Lincoln shaking off Senate failures to a blindfolded Vince Vaughn bringing home the ‘ship for the Average Joes.

But what about those who don’t achieve? If everyone who graduated college says they spent time studying at some point, that doesn’t mean everyone who spends time studying will graduate from college. It’s flawed logic to equate the two—but it’s what we do if we tell ourselves that commitment always leads to achievement.

Sure, if we keep our goals vague enough, commitment will most likely get us there. If I’m committed to being a politician someday, commitment would probably, in some fashion, get me there. But what if I’m committed to being the President? At a granular level, this train of thought simply isn’t true. Eleven committed, dedicated candidates took the same stage Wednesday night, and, at best, two might sit in the Oval Office in their life. At worst, none (or maybe that is best?). Yet, the eventual President will probably say his team’s tireless work and commitment got him there—but in a field of 20+ candidates, tireless work and commitment will fail 95% of them.

Yet, to even have a chance at being President, each candidate has to believe they can, regardless of its statistical probably or how delusional it might be (looking at you, Huckabee).

So why is this relevant? Well, some of us have some lofty aspirations, whether that be internships, jobs, positions or a date with that girl who’s way out of your league. And although they’re (probably) less competitive than a Presidential race, a 3% acceptance rate doesn’t scream “shoe-in.” If 97% of candidates are rejected, even qualified ones are more likely to be fail at garnering a specific position than succeed. So it would be accurate to say it’s more likely that one wouldn’t get that position.

But let’s face it, few who beat the odds think that. The most successful people think of themselves as the 3%, the exception to the rule. And in doing so, there’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy—it certainly increases their chances, as confidence certainly begets achievement. But their assumption of future success is not necessarily statistically correct, either.

Thus, is self-deception essential to success? Do we need to convince ourselves that, despite low probability, we’re the exceptions, the winners, the chosen ones? Well, practically, it would probably help.

You might be right to push back against interchanging self-confidence and self-deception here, but certainly success is less likely if you’re thinking about how unlikely it truly is. In the same way self-fulfilling prophecies aids the confident, it also hurts the unsure—QB1 Timmy probably won’t win state if he’s thinking about how he’ll probably lose in the playoffs.

So next time you put on your Beats headphones before your team of high school has-beens’ big semi-pro intramural flag football game, feel free to belt out the last line of the outro of “Lose Yourself”—we know it’s already playing.

“You can do anything you set your mind to”—so go make that one-handed, game-winning catch in front of a roaring crowd of two refs waiting for their game on field 3 to start—your chances might increase from never-gonna-happen to so-you’re-saying-there’s-a-chance. Or, more importantly, ignore the accuracy of less-than-favorable statistics when you shoot for your future goals, because refusing to acknowledge probability might help you get there.

Matthew Gillham is a a senior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly on Fridays.

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