In-Between Thoughts: Aggressively Mediocre

3/15/20: This might be one of my last gym sessions for a while and OMG I DID 10 PULLUPS IN A ROW. TEN!!! I am super stoked. I guess consistency in showing up and pushing myself really does pay off. I also woke up at my next goal weight, so today I am feeling very good overall about my physical work. This afternoon I am going to work on my Hegel paper, so let’s see if that self-satisfied feeling crosses over to my intellectual work. Doubtful. (HEGEL YOU BASTARD)

Onto In-Between-sets-at-the-gym thoughts… (Also, if you’re reading this Wednesday, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)

I discovered my new favorite podcast and I am obsessed. It’s called Stuff to Blow Your Mind, hosted by Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick, and is produced by the network behind Stuff You Should Know. STBYM has a more serious, academic tone than SYSK while still tackling fun topics. Irish mythology. Cognitive biases (you know I lurve those). The biology of hobbits. Fabulous, meaty, sciencey, silly. Can I call hobbits silly without bringing down upon my head the wrath of Tolkienites? COME AT ME, BRO. (Sorry, gym aggression.)

The episode I listened to this morning was on overconfidence and focused most on the Better Than Average Effect. The Better Than Average Effect is pervasive among humans, so pervasive that it may be argued it is actually a constitutive part of human psychology. It’s the tendency to believe we are better than average in our abilities, talents, station, and opinions. This need not be always in comparison with other people, but it often is.

One of the best examples of this effect is people’s estimation of their driving abilities. Most people (I believe 93% in a study) say they are above the median when it comes to driving. Obviously, it’s nonsensical to say that 93% of the people are above the median when compared to other people on the same metrics, so some of the 93% who believe themselves to be “good” (aka, better than average) drivers are just wrong. They are overconfident. (There are some interesting challenges to this study, but we’ll set those aside for the moment.)

Robert and Joe mention three kinds of overconfidence: Overestimation, Overplacement, and Overprecision. Overestimation is when we assume we are faring better than we actually are in measurable ways. Overestimating how much money we have in our bank account, falsely believing ourselves to be taller than others, even thinking we can get far more done in a specific time frame than we realistically can (this is why I no longer travel with physical books, only my nook). This kind of overconfidence is easily verifiable or disproved.

Overplacement is the overconfidence exhibited by rating ourselves more favorably to others than we actually compare. Intelligence is perhaps the biggest one — almost everyone believes they are above average in intelligence. This kind of overconfidence usually comes into play with specific but rather nebulous qualities and virtues, like beauty, goodness, funniness (is that a word?!), “piano playing,” etc.

Finally, overprecision is the assumption that our opinions are more correct than they are. This one kind of made me laugh, because it almost seems like this is just what it means to have an opinion. We have an opinion because we think it’s the right opinion. If we didn’t think it were the right opinion, we’d most likely hold a different opinion. So I remain a little fuzzy on this one, other than just thinking it says we’re all more wrong than we think we are. That tracks.

It’s worth noting that while everyone has some measure of overconfidence, we don’t necessarily have it in all three ways. Someone who overestimates their virtue compared with others, for example, may have a very realistic estimation of their measurable qualities.

ALL THAT SETUP TO SAY (it’s just so fascinating!), in the interest of trying to ward off my own Better Than Average Effect tendencies, I thought it would a fun use of my gym time to list all the things I suck at! Who doesn’t love talking about all the ways they suck?! What a fun way to spend my non-grunting time.

To that end, I give you:

Ways Jana is Very Aware of How Mediocre or Sucktastic She Is

I am worse than average at:

  • Remembering facts and details.
  • Driving.
  • Remembering to scoop the cat box.
  • Keeping a clean house.
  • Making non-dry pork chops.
  • Making pie crust.
  • Getting a joke the first time.
  • Picking up and disposing of cockroaches without screaming and crying.
  • Deadlifting and squatting without herniating a disc.
  • Not taking things personally.
  • Doing hair.
  • Doing makeup.
  • Continuing to listen to Chris when he’s been talking for more than three minutes about powerlifting. Or sportsball. OR PHYSICS. (Sorry, Chris.)
  • Being a long-distance friend.
  • Being honest about my opinions and thoughts.
  • Being a fundraiser (I’m working on it!).
  • Shopping for clothes even when I know what I want/need and where to find it.
  • Not getting overwhelmed when there are many choices.
  • Making quick decisions.
  • Performing well under pressure/observation.
  • Getting “out of my head”.
  • Not making these faces when I’m lifting something really heavy at the gym.
  • Being non-judgmental.
  • Understanding a text or argument the first time I hear or read it.
  • Not believing my kitties are the cutest kitties in the whole world.
  • Stopping at just one glass of wine.
  • Not skimming (and thus ending up misreading) emails that are kind of boring and for which I already think I know the point/end.
  • Remembering what checks are still out-standing for my bank account.
  • Understanding Hegel (HEGEL YOU BASTARD).

So there you have it. Many of the ways I am incredibly underwhelming. (Don’t worry; there are plenty more.) Now, I could use this list as a “things I should work on getting better at” but…. meh. If I want to truly overcome my perfectionist tendencies, then I need to be better at admitting where I am imperfect, areas where I am simply worse than average, and be cool with it. You all can be good at cleaning houses, dressing up, remembering stuff, dancing, getting jokes, and making quick decisions. I’ll be over here being the below-average that makes you look even better. You’re welcome!

Go get ’em, kid.


  1. Michael C Miller says:

    Two thoughts, one question:

    10 pull-ups in a row is legit and awesome. Among humans you’re prolly in the 98th percentile in that regard.

    Who compiles the international data and sets the standards for your mediocrity list? It occurs to me you may actually be WAY ABOVE AVERAGE at many of those activities if the data were available.

    That’s it. That’s all the thoughts and questions.


    1. janamlight says:

      Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud of myself for those 10 pullups! I wonder if I can repeat that set once gyms reopen weeks from now.

      Hahaha that is a goooood point! And probably very important for assessing overconfidence in general — we have to be clear on the standard (whatever it is we’re using, good/valid or no) before we can make a normative claim about someone’s level of confidence. Of course, *I* am the arbiter and setter of standards for all activities, so that doesn’t apply here. Everyone is measured on my bell curve, and I place the bell curve where I please. :-p Which then brings up the question: if I am the measure of my own mediocrity, do I then *want* to be mediocre at some things? Am I then using mediocrity for some kind of weird flex?!

      I need to go lie down…


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