Decentering Effect

“You are at least 10% better than you think.” – Sarah (Miano) Corfman

At 20 years old I was standing in an overcrowded bus when a irrefutable realization began to set in: I was not exceptional. At the time I was in China for a semester of undergraduate study and feeling sick of public transportation—fighting my way to the doors, standing sandwiched between strangers, seeing crowded streets on all sides for miles—just too many people, I thought. This is when the realization began, slowly and with increasing conviction.

To my surprise, after taking some time to cope, I felt relieved. I came face to face with hundreds of people every day and finally understood the truth that everyone—everyone—is overwhelmingly the same. There was no need to prove to myself or anyone else that I was the best snowflake. Now, years later, I still think there are too many people, but I recognize my place just a little more realistically—less as an individual and more within the human collective.

It’s a lot of work to be self-centered. Shedding the need to maintain a false sense of importance frees my emotional energy to focus on what I actually value. My aim is to define myself in the simplest, most generic terms possible. I am a friend, a colleague, etc.

“I always consider myself personally one of seven billion human beings. Nothing special. So, on that level, I have tried to make people aware that the ultimate source of happiness is simply a healthy body and a warm heart.” – Dalai Lama XIV

With that being said, trying is hard. It’s easy to imagine what I could do now that I know I don’t have to be anything—but at the moment my quasi nihilistic attempts to grapple with life may be what’s holding me back.

As I work through this, I think of something my grandmother used to tell my mom: “Give yourself 110%. You’re at least 10% better than you think.” The simple belief forces us to recognize we’re always wrong about how we perceive ourselves and offers an optimistic alternative. To be explicitly clear, this isn’t focusing on identity (in risk of narcissism), but capability.

“There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, we are always responsible for our experiences. It’s impossible not to be. Choosing to not consciously interpret events in our lives is still an interpretation of the events of our lives.”
― Mark MansonThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

I now believe two things: (1) the human population is overwhelmingly the same and (2) everyone underestimates themselves by at least 10%. When I say everyone, I mean everyone—all seven billion of us.

What would you do differently if you knew you could never overestimate yourself? Belief is an incredibly powerful tool. Belief gives us the confidence to try and fail and continue trying until it’s right.

“We’re all capable of huge leaps of insight and empathy if we’re willing to go to work to learn how.” – Seth Godin

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