When I was a kid, I used to think that life would be so much better when I turned 18. I would finally be an adult and could do whatever I wanted! But then reality set in and I realized that being an adult wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It’s easy to overestimate how great or terrible something will be, especially when we’re young and don’t have much experience with it.

We often build things up in our heads until they’re almost impossible to live up to. And as a result, we end up living in disappointment because reality can never quite measure up to our expectations. If you want to avoid this trap of disappointment, here are 4 ways you can stop overestimating your life:

Why We Overestimate Ourselves 

If you overestimate something, you think it is better or more important than it really is. You can also overestimate your own ability to do something.

We have all experienced receiving a mediocre appraisal, or a student who thought they aced the test but wound up with a D.

According to Dr. David Dunning, people tend to overrate themselves, but more than that, they believe they are better and smarter than others.

I have been trying to figure out the source of my confidence.

Through the use of multiple experiments, David Dunning of Cornell University is proving that people can be tricked into believing anything.

He found that the most incompetent employees tend to overestimate their capabilities the most, and that the reason they do this is because they’re ignorant, not arrogant. He also discovered that chronically held beliefs, whether accurate or not, affect both over and under estimations of performance.

Other researchers are also looking into how self-assessments differ from the actual performance of people in different fields.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, by Dr. Heine, showed that people in Western cultures are more likely to overrate their abilities than those from other cultures. This overestimation can have major consequences on their finances.

It can be tough to objectively assess your performance, especially when your livelihood depends on it. Dr. Lawrence Grunberg, a University of Michigan psychologist, is researching how overinflated egos are affecting the field of medicine.

Understanding yourself isn’t simple.

In areas such as intelligence and personality, people are often unable to accurately assess their own abilities.

A student who is good at math might say that intelligence is being able to do complex mathematical equations in their head, while a student who is good at English might say that intelligence is being able to understand and articulate complicated concepts.

In many areas, people are reluctant to give honest, constructive feedback. As a result, we may fail to receive constructive criticism that could help improve how we perform.

It’s shocking how frequently we receive vague or unclear feedback from our clients. It’s safe to say that the feedback we get in person is more favorable than what is said about us when we’re away.

Ignorance, or a lack of information, is one reason why people underestimate themselves.

Overconfidence in one’s abilities can lead to disastrous consequences. An older man who thinks he’s a great driver but is actually a danger to others is an example. Another is a woman reading a stock market book and believing she is ready to compete with professional stock brokers.

In 1999, researchers at Cornell University found that people, in general, tend to overvalue their own abilities. They came to this conclusion after examining the notion that a lack of information causes people to inflate their own self-worth.

Cornell University asked their students to take a short test in grammar, logic and humor and rate themselves both alone and in comparison to others.

In each of the three categories, those who did the best underestimated their scores compared to those who didn’t do as well.

In a different study, researchers from Stanford University found that people are more likely to take advice from someone they view as similar to themselves.

Researchers from Cornell and Michigan universities have uncovered a psychological phenomenon that could explain why some people make poor decisions.

People’s self-views can lead them to overestimate or underestimate their own abilities. These perceptions may often be just as accurate as their actual ability.

In another study, the researchers tested the reasoning skills of Cornell University undergraduates.

After the students were finished with the logical reasoning section, they then had to estimate how many questions they had got right.

Students who had confidence in their intelligence were better at solving logic problems, even when they didn’t perform any better than students who didn’t rate themselves so highly.

In two similar studies, researchers asked participants questions that would either raise or decrease their perception of a certain skill.

When given the same test, some students were more optimistic than others about their own performance, even though they all did equally well.

In 2000, a study by psychologist David Dunning of Cornell University found that people tend to overestimate their own morality.

He and a colleague, Dr. Nick Eply, then a graduate student at Cornell, discovered that undergrads tended to overestimate how likely they were to act in a generous or altruistic way.

One study found that the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma” game, in which participants choose between cooperating and acting selfishly, can help predict whether someone will be a good salesperson.

In an experiment by psychologist David Dunning in 1979, 84% of students predicted that they’d cooperate in an economic game, but only 61% actually cooperated.

Students who were better at predicting how other people would act were also better able to predict how their own behavior would change.

Cultural differences.

While most Americans do tend to overestimate their net worth, it’s clear some do more than others.

It is interesting to see the opposite of this phenomenon in another culture.

According to Heine from University of British Columbia, East Asia tends to undervalue themselves compared to North America. He suggests that this difference in perception is intentional, and is done to improve oneself and get along well with other people. He’s currently completing a meta analysis of 70 studies examining this difference between China, Japan and South Korea, and the U.S. and Canada.

Heine’s meta-analysis of 70 studies highlights significant differences in self-enhancement or self-criticism between China, Japan, Korea and the United StatesCanada.

Seventy studies by Heine and his colleagues found that there are significant differences between American and Japanese cultures in regards to the degree to which people exhibit these traits.

In 2001, Heine and his team published another study in the Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science.

Participants were given two tests, one easy and one difficult. They were then timed as they worked on the harder test.

“The results were a mirror image of each other,” Heine said. “Americans who worked longer and harder when they first tried a task, while the Japanese who worked hard when they initially struggled.”.

As Western culture has become more individualist, success has been measured by having good self-esteem.

While inflating your ego may make you feel good, it could also cause others to dislike you.

People from East Asia who engage in self-improvement do so in order to keep their “social face” or “reputation” intact. This, however, comes at the cost of not feeling good about themselves.

Because people in different cultures have differing motives, they behave differently. If you feel as though you’re not succeeding at a task, then consider doing something else entirely.


When we overestimate our life, we end up living in disappointment. To avoid this, we should try to keep our expectations realistic and focus on the present moment. Enjoying the simple things in life is more important than chasing after an unrealistic ideal.

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Justin McGill
About Author: Justin McGill
This post was generated for LeadFuze and attributed to Justin McGill, the Founder of LeadFuze.