You’re Not That Great

by Daniel Crosby

Psychologist Daniel Crosby tells it like it is in this book about the numerous ways human nature can work against us, not the least of which is egoistic self-absorption (solipsism).

“The biggest finding to emerge from the self-esteem movement was that praise did not predict self-esteem, accomplishment did… Many of the theories about self-esteem that had impacted policy were simply junk science.”

“What many a well-meaning parent has done when emphasizing innate gifts is create the perception that achievement is based on leveraging specialness rather than hard work… Success is typically preceded by a good deal of imperfection and those who go on to do great things are the ones who learn to fight through.”

“In order for greatness to be great, it must be effortful, ethical, and intraindividual… If the gold star self-esteem movement has taught us anything, it is that you cannot self-deceive your way to feeling good about yourself. Legitimate feelings of self-worth result from effort.”

Contingent self-esteem, in which we compare ourselves to others, is also addressed in the book. “One thing I learned early in my life as a therapist and executive coach is that outward appearances can be very deceiving. We are acutely aware of our own quirks but seem blind to the fact that the rich, privileged, and beautiful wrestle with many of the same demons we do.”

“A recent study showed that people who spent a great deal of time on Facebook were more depressed than their peers who did not… Facebook is little but a brag sheet where people boast about the good things happening in their lives, often omitting the sad or boring parts that happen every day. Being exposed to the best of what is going on with others and juxtaposing that with our intimate familiarity with every disappointing detail on our own lives is a recipe for feeling like a failure. Interindividual comparison is a deck that is stacked against us.”

Crosby writes about leadership. “The most succinct definition of leadership I know is, ‘influencing people to work in service of a common goal.’” Crosby agrees with Good to Great author Jim Collins, that humility is a necessary attribute of a leader. “When we take the mantle of greatness upon us in the ‘how-can-I-lead-these-little-people’ sort of way, we’ve already failed!”

“You’ve probably heard all your life that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ This is utter bullshit… The fact is, though, bad stuff just happens, sometimes for no reason at all… Hardship disrupts complacency… When tough stuff happens to us, we are brought to a crossroads with one road leading to learning and growth and the other leading to helplessness and cynicism… Dealing with it is going to get you feeling better a lot faster than trying to ascertain the meaning of it all.”

“People with an internal locus of control know that they can make choices and exert influence on their environment just as surely as they are acted upon by their environment. They understand that situation is not destiny. Conversely, those with an external locus of control believe that their efficacy will be largely predicated on the circumstances in which they find themselves.”

“Groupthink can lead us to make unsatisfying decisions… and illogical decisions… You surround yourself with a group of like-minded individuals who nod approvingly at everything you espouse. All the while this group with which you affiliate is helping to de-centralize your opinion and move you further from the ‘others’ … You have a recipe for conflict, polarization and even extremism.”

In contrast, the author cites Steve Johnson on “the collision of divergent opinions to form new ideas. Real genius is brought to life when people with differing ideas have vigorous discussion undergird by mutual respect. If any of the three points above are lacking, this will be impossible.”

Crosby writes about posturing. “Numerous studies have shown that many of the ‘talking heads’ we revere, notably those in financial services, are no more adept at predicting stock moves than random chance. Despite their inability to outperform a dartboard, we continue to look to them and pay them exorbitant salaries. Why? Because they are incorrect with boldness… We must first stop looking at doubt as a sign of weakness and view it as the emotional and intellectual sign of maturity it most truly is.”

The irrational primacy effect is ”the tendency to give greater weight to information that comes earlier in a list or sentence. It turns out that what’s true of communication is also true of our lives—the lessons that we learn early in life are some of the most lasting… So much of what we assume we ‘know’ has been passed down to us somewhat uncritically.”

“Belief is an emotional construct… In simple terms, we rationally evaluate things that do not intersect with our worldview and emotionally evaluate those that do… Personal beliefs are hard to extinguish, even in the face of evidence that they are untrue.”

Confirmation bias is “the human tendency to look for information that reinforces ideas we already hold… [This] becomes problematic when it leads us to maintain the status quo in the face of disconfirmatory information or overlook realistic, negative feedback about ourselves. In these instances, our need to feel competent can cause us to ignore warnings and worse yet, to hate.”

“The brain is a primitive creature—set up to maintain ego at the expense of enlightenment… Being circumspect about the parameters of our own knowledge makes us thoughtful and slow to judge people with whom we may currently disagree… Intolerance is all about stripping away context; caricatures cannot tolerate nuance… Empathy on the other hand is about increasing context.”

Crosby writes about risk versus certainty. “So, why is it then that 50% of children of alcoholics go on to marry alcoholics themselves? … It speaks directly to the very human need for certainty… People want to know what they are getting into—even if it is boring, bad or unfulfilling.”

“I’d like for you to consider the most meaningful thing you have ever done… What I would wager however, is that it took a measure of risk, and hard work to achieve. To strive for certainty is to doom oneself to mediocrity… Being excessively risk averse… We disengage from scary things, ostensibly in the pursuit of living a long, happy life… Bad things may happen, but if they do, it should be along the path to a life fully experienced… There’s a remarkable freedom in accepting the ubiquity of imperfection.”

“Americans love a story of effortless, preternatural talent.” Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers “puts this enticing, if fallacious notion to bed once and for all… Bill Gates… the Beatles… violin virtuosos… had put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work at honing their craft.” They also felt a deep sense “that the work they were doing was meaningful and bigger than them or the task itself.”

Crosby writes about ideas and innovation. “Hopefully we have begun to dispel the myth of great ideas being the non-effortful birthright of the chosen few… We master our chosen domain by replicating old ideas and in so doing, put ourselves in a position to create new permutations of those ideas… Of course, the flipside of this is that if we are not filling our heads with new and varied information, we are unlikely to arrive at any great truths, since there is a strong likelihood that the information we are missing resides elsewhere.”

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation “found that big bold ideas are a) usually formed over a series of years (a process he calls a ‘slow hunch’ and b) typically occur when two ‘partial hunches’ collide. Dispelling the notion that ideas are housed in the minds of people of singular genius, Johnson posits that a lot of the time we have part of the answer and are not able to arrive at a more complete answer until we interface with people who have another piece of the puzzle.”

Crosby includes some fascinating factoids in the book: 42% of American college graduates never read another book after college. 80% of American households “do not purchase a single book within the space of a year… 25% of our nation is on psychotropic medications at any given time.” That explains a lot.

Daniel Crosby also wrote The Laws of Wealth: Psychology and the Secret to Investing Success.

Crosby, Daniel. You’re Not That Great. Tarentum, Pennsylvania: Word Association Publishers, 2012. Buy from

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