My middle child exerts a lot of confidence. He’s a solid reader. He’s good with numbers. He can kick a ball onto the roof of the school – all areas in which a six-year-old wants to excel.
Unfortunately, his confidence in the tasks he does well often causes him to be falsely confident in other areas of his life. And this is where a six-year-old becomes a ticking time bomb. He’s not as cautious as he should be when skiing or tobogganing down the ice hill at Green’s Creek. This is why a helmet is recommended.
It turns out most of us are like my six-year-old. While confidence in our areas of expertise is generally regarded as a good thing, we have a tendency to allow our confidence to overflow into areas where it is unfounded – not so good. This is particularly true when we experience success.
If I win a writing award, for example, and I happen to have an appointment with my financial advisor the same day, it’s likely I’ll select more risky investments than normal. This is based on the false belief that my success in an area where I’ve trained and practiced must naturally spill over into areas where I have no expertise.
It’s like that scene in the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary, where, following a great first day as a television producer, Bridget has a “sneaking suspicion” she’s also a master chef. That she ends up making blue soup, orange pudding and green gunge for her birthday dinner demonstrates the folly of her thinking.
But while overconfidence can be problematic, we can also take advantage of this tendency to experience new things and to keep our resolutions going beyond Jan. 31.
January is a month when people are inherently optimistic. There’s something about the new year that has each of us pushing the reset button, ready for a fresh start.
It’s the reason we use January as an excuse to resolve to go to the gym, quit smoking or save more money. We all become a little nutty in January. Unfortunately, February is another type of month altogether. The confidence we felt as the calendar turned over to 2013 starts to dwindle, as we realize we’ve gained, rather than lost, weight, or that we’ve started drinking red wine in lieu of smoking.
But perhaps we could use our tendency for overconfidence to carry us through. Try riding this high – on a good day, rather than reaching for a glass of wine to celebrate, head for the gym. If you experience some sort of success at work in February, try mastering a new recipe that evening in the kitchen. If you win a hockey game, try a new sport that very week. You may fail, but at least you had the confidence – or false confidence -- to try. As I say to my six-year-old, however, it’s best wear a helmet, just in case.