Overconfidence is a Silent Killer

You’ll often hear it said that confidence is needed for success. But is that really true? As with many things in the mental game, the truth emerges once you better understand the nature of confidence.

Confidence is a funny thing because people can be confident while having very little skill. Of course, the poker players who think like this are the ones you line up to sit with, but understanding how this can happen, is important to avoiding overconfidence.

This phenomenon has actually been studied and it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to an inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

In other words, being blind to your own weaknesses, or worse, blind to the reality that you have weaknesses makes you overconfident. Ignorance of your own ignorance creates overconfidence. This kind of overconfidence has consumed some of great poker players over the years because they were blind to what created their success. Blindness to your own weaknesses is why overconfidence is a silent killer.

Another major thing that Dunning & Kruger found, is that people with actual skill often have low confidence.

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

Actual competence weakens confidence! Incredible when you think about it.

I also think confidence can decrease when you learn more, you found out how much more there is to know, and it can feel like you actually don’t know that much. While it seems like there is a lot they don’t know, in reality, they know a lot more than their competition. Understanding the concept of Inchworm goes a long way to stabilizing the loss of confidence for that reason.

Another reason confidence is a tricky subject, is that having too much confidence can destroy prior success. Part of the problem with the idea that confidence is needed for success is that people don’t often look beyond the finish line, to what happens after they achieve success.

If you believe the success already achieved is something owned no matter what you do, you’re on a fast track to losing it. Poker is littered with stories of players going bust after winning big tournaments, or who got complacent after the internet boom. I recently interviewed Gavin Griffin on my radio show and talk with him about how this exact problem caused him to end up back playing low stakes.

What’s the lesson? The goal of achieving success isn’t strong enough. You have to hit through your target. If your goal is to move up to 3/6, change your goal to consistently beating the regulars at 3/6. It’s not enough just to get there, you have to stay there. A few ways to stay there is to: constantly improve, celebrate your small successes along the way, and realize you always have weaknesses to work on. Complacency is caused by overconfidence and it can kill your game.

Cliffs: A simple way of avoiding overconfidence is to recognize that you’ll always have weaknesses and thus always things to work on to stay on top of you game and continue to be successful.

Written by Jared Tendler

March 20, 2012

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