Self-serving bias is a cognitive process distorted by our need to maintain self-esteem or our tendency to perceive ourselves in an over-favorable manner. The bias refers to our ability to associate all positive events or outcomes to our own actions, and attribute negative outcomes to outside sources. Often, individuals with an “overactive’ self-serving bias focus on their strengths but overlook their weaknesses and reject the validity of negative feedback.
To a certain extent, self-serving bias is good for maintaining positive self-esteem, as it allows you to take credit for your successes. But what about your failures? You need to take credit for those as well. Imagine a world where all your accomplishments were associated with your positive abilities and you had zero accountability for your failures. Doesn’t that sound nice? To me, a world where you suffer no consequences or bear no responsibility for anything other than yourself and your successes sounds like utter destruction and depression waiting to happen.
An ‘overactive’ self-serving bias holds you back from change and progression. It just feeds your ego. How can improvement happen if you think you’re doing everything right and everyone else is doing it wrong? Self-serving bias can get you stuck in unfulfilling and under serving repetitive actions that fail not only to benefit others, but yourself as well. Self-serving bias does have a place in our lives, but don’t let it play a bigger role than it should.
The fact that you’re reading about it or talking about is the first step in learning how to limit self-serving bias. Here’s good example of self-serving bias:
A job applicant believes he’s been hired because of his achievements, qualifications, and excellent interview. When asked about a previous opening he didn’t receive an offer for, he says the interviewer didn’t like him.
If one was to continually blame interviewers for not being hired, it would prolong their struggle to find employment compared to someone who realizes they may not be as qualified as someone else and then strives to get those qualifications. Knowing when your self-serving bias kicks in is a good start.
As cliche as it may sound, it is the truth. How can you know where you have to improve if you don’t understand where your flaws are? Failure is your opportunity to learn and adapt. Bill Gates once said that “the best way to succeed is to double down on your failures.” We all make mistakes, so don’t be ashamed of them. There is a lot of respect to be given to the person who continually tries to better himself, even while he makes mistakes. It’s hard to admit that you’re the one to blame, but it’s critical to overcoming self-serving bias.
Usually, your success is not only yours. No matter what you do in life or what you accomplish, there is going to be a team behind you. It might not be apparent to you, but it’s a fact. Associate yourself with the people who helped you become the person you are today. You’ll feel better about yourself, and they’ll be thankful. There’s no better feeling than being able to help someone learn and grow. The ability to help others build recognition and knowledge will overweigh the perceived benefit of taking all the credit for yourself.
We all have self-serving bias, but don’t let it get out of control and hold you back from change and progression. No one likes the egoistic individual in the room who thinks their accomplishments and needs outweigh everyone else's. Get your ego in check by understanding self-serving bias, taking accountability for your failures, and giving credit to others.
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Call it intuition, instinct, or a gut feeling: if we followed it, we just might be a lot happier. Intuition is a skill we are all born with, but one we submerge in the business of modern living.