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The Dangerous Psychology of Believing Your Own Hype

Are you awesome? Beyond reproach? Just amazing at everything you do? Uh, we have some bad news, man.

There is, of course, a dangerous line between self-confidence and arrogance — a line to which some people are patently oblivious, often to their detriment. The Ancient Greeks considered hubris such a dangerous character flaw that it was capable of provoking the wrath of the gods. And it was the book of Proverbs that coined the oft-quoted (albeit abbreviated) phrase, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The dangers of being overconfident are manifold: They can cause you to take unnecessary risks; make you oblivious to your own mistakes and shortcomings; and stunt your learning and self-improvement. You’ll also most likely find yourself isolated at work and in social circles. The fact is, no one likes someone who’s feeling themselves too much — especially if their talent level doesn’t quite measure up to their ego.

In short: Believing your own hype can backfire, big time.

But if excessive pride is such a commonly loathed character trait, why do some people become so blind to their own arrogance? Perfect example: Kanye West. The rapper-producer is well known for his hubris-on-steroids delusions of grandeur, perhaps best demonstrated in a 2013 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, when he proclaimed, “I’m a creative genius, there’s no other way to word it.” When Kimmel pointed out that, “A lot of people think they’re geniuses, but nobody says it because it’s weird to say,” West matter-of-factly doubled down: “For me to say I wasn’t a genius, I would just be lying to you and to myself.”

Kanye Interview On Jimmy Kimmel! [Full Interview]

Most psychologists will tell you that ego run amok can normally be traced back to an inferiority complex, and again, West fits neatly into this mold. He behaves the way he does in part because he was doubted so much at the dawn of his career: Record label executives refused to sign him, and when he finally received a contract from Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records in 2000 as an in-house beatmaker, the label literally laughed at him when he suggested he had rap talent. West is clearly still smarting from these early career slights and is relentless in his quest to tell anyone who will listen that these people were wrong.

Now, granted, West’s work backs up his megalomaniacal statements more often than not, but he’s easily the modern poster boy for believing your own hype gone off a cliff, and the result is a widespread societal scorn that wouldn’t exist were he just a little more humble.

What’s far worse, though, are the people who don’t have a West-like talent, yet still have unshakeable belief in their abilities. For them, the problem is usually an inability to cognitively understand that they suck, a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Essentially, it states that some people are so limited in their knowledge that they don’t even possess the mental framework to be able to recognize their own ineptitude. In other words: They’re so bad at what they’re doing that they can’t even figure out they’re terrible at it. For example:

Did you manage to watch the whole thing? Then you just saw the Dunning-Kruger effect in terrifying action. Coined in 1999 by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the effect can be blamed on a double-shot of ignorance. “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task,” Dunning told Forbes in 2017.

Worryingly, this effect isn’t total: It’s possible to be highly skilled in one domain, but be prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect in another. Ben Carson, for example, is, on the one hand, a prominent neurosurgeon; on the other hand, as a political candidate (and now, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) he’s a walking goof-up machine.

As Dunning went on to explain in an article for Pacific Standard, “It may be sorely tempting to think [the effect] doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all.”

So how can we learn to believe our own hype less and become more constructively self-aware? We can start by reminding ourselves to take a step back and look at the whole picture. “It’s the person who has convinced themselves [they’re okay as they are], the person who doesn’t seek to be self-aware and isn’t open to any feedback, that most needs it,” says Sara Canaday, executive coach and author of the book You According to Them.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to listen to people you trust and respect when they tell you that the that poetry you’re working on stinks. Their objective criticism can become the catalyst that moves you to take action — and when all’s said and done, it’s what will actually keep them as your friends, because no one wants to keep circling the septic tank drain of an inept narcissist.