Considering how our brains gather and interpret data, it’s no wonder we make mistakes. Do mistakes harm our self image? Apparently not. We view our reality through our unique version of who we are. In this version we are kind, compassionate, rational, thoughtful, and sometimes misjudged. Most people, even criminals, have good self image.

We view ourselves as “above average.” For example, in one study doctors rated their diagnosis of pneumonia as 88% correct. However statistics showed they were correct only 20% of the time. Characteristically, we see this defect in others but not in ourselves. We start with the conclusion that we are above average and then look for supporting evidence. We all do it. It’s automatic! We use this reasoning about our beliefs as well. It’s why we are advised not to discuss religion or politics in social gatherings.

Why have our brains evolved this way? If you guessed the answer is survival, you are correct and above average. Think back to the dangers faced by our ancestors; wild animals, natural catastrophes, starvation, and hordes of warlike invaders, to say nothing of the difficulties of day-to-day survival. How did they do it? Chance played a part, but the truth is our ancestors refused to give up. Believing they were above average gave them hope. They grabbed the chances and ran with them, and survived. The following quote is from Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow, page 217:

“Motivated reasoning and motivated remembering and all the other quirks of how we think about ourselves and our world may have their downsides, but when we’re facing great challenges – whether it’s losing a job, embarking on a course of chemotherapy, writing a book, enduring a decade of medical school, internship and residency, spending the thousands of practice hours necessary to become an accomplished violinist or ballet dancer, putting in years of eighty-hour weeks to establish a new business, or starting over in a new country with no money and no skills – the natural optimism of the human mind is one of our greatest gifts.”

Next blog: Our Beliefs.