Self-Enhancing Bias: Why So Many People Won't Acknowledge External Factors in Their Success

Have you ever noticed how prickly some people get if someone suggests that luck has anything to do with their success?

Gwyneth Paltrow was recently quoted in an interview saying that her enviable physique was not due to luck or good genes, but the fact that she “worked her (expletive) off.”Dice 

I have no doubt that Gwinny busts her buns. She also drew a few lucky cards in the gene pool lotto.

Paltrow is not alone in her need to defend her hard work against those who might accuse her of just being lucky. My husband had an acquaintance who inherited a successful business from his father, yet he continually proclaimed to be a self-made man.

I’ll grant Gwinny her hard-earned killer abs, but that guy was just plain annoying.

Yes, he did work his buns off. He was also in a situation where working his buns off could pay off. His reluctance to acknowledge the role that luck, in this case luck of birth, was a pretty typical case of self-enhancing bias.

Self-enhancing bias is the tendency to take full credit for your success without acknowledging any external factors.

It sounds like a bad thing. Yet at times, it can actually be motivating and helpful.

If you believe that you alone control your destiny, you’re going to put in more effort than if you thought random events and accidents of birth are the only way to get ahead.

The pull yourself up by your boot straps and succeed by sheer grit and determination model is part of the American mythology. It can inspire us to go the extra mile and push through challenging circumstances.

Where it gets us into trouble is when our ego takes over. Not acknowledging your own good fortune cuts off your empathy gene and it keeps you from experiencing the joy of gratitude.

People who don’t take their own circumstances into account, don’t take other people’s circumstances into account either. They spend a lot of time judging others and they’re the first to tell you why they don’t have it easy as you might think.

When people refuse to admit that they’re lucky, it’s usually often they feel like they’re not getting enough credit for their own hard work.

But luck and hard work and luck are not mutually exclusive. Admitting that God gave you one doesn’t mean that you didn’t supply the other.

It’s a both/and duality. When you believe that your hard work is what makes you successful, you do more of it. When you acknowledge how lucky you are, you’re more grateful and happy.
SuccessWhat constitutes lucky?

If you are born in a free country to parents who were able to feed and clothe you for the first 18 years of your life, you’re lucky. Compared to a large portion of the rest of the world, you’ve had it pretty good.

If you were born to parents who helped you get an education and bought you a blazer when you graduated from college, then you’re really lucky.

I’m sure you got from point B to point C by working harder than most of your peers. But it was luck that allowed you to start your life at point B in the first place. To pretend otherwise just makes you seem petty.

So say a prayer of thanks for all your good luck, and keep working your buns off. It’s the only way to be successful and happy.

McLeod & More, Inc. is an international training and consulting firm specializing in sales, leadership, and customer/employee engagement.  McLeod & More President Lisa Earle McLeod is the author ofThe Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for Leaders, “the ultimate guide for solving problems and managing conflict.”  She is a keynote speaker, business strategist, and nationally syndicated columnist. Copyright 2011 Lisa Earle McLeod.  All rights reserved.