There’s something out there that all of us have a tendency to suffer from – something that’s been labeled “illusory superiority” – and that something is something GNC has grabbed onto to promote their products as they launch their new “Beat Average” ad campaign.
Simply put illusory superiority is a psychological term for the tendency for human beings to think they are somehow superior to other human beings. An office worker might think they do a better job than most people they work with. A college student thinks they are smarter than most of the other students in class. A mother thinks she’s a better parent than most other mothers. And who doesn’t think they are a better driver than most of those idiots on the highway?
Doesn’t sound very humble but (and here’s the irony) we might just think that we’re superior because we don’t think we’re superior. Well I hate to burst our bubble but it appears that most of us DO think we are better than most. While I’m not going to cite them here just trust me that there have been plenty of studies out there that would prove us wrong (Don’t trust me? Do a Google search.)
Here’s how GNC plays off this less-than-humble tendency of ours – they provide “examples” of average such as:
- Average sets the treadmill on ‘mosey’
- Average isn’t a big fan of stairs
- Average keeps its shirt on at the beach
- Average doesn’t know that Danish is also a nationality
- Average only has ‘before’ pictures
There’s certainly nothing wrong with ramping up on the treadmill, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, feeling fit enough to take our shirt off at the beach, taking a pass on that Danish, or being able to post a killer after picture on Facebook.
But is being “average” really so bad? Not when you take into consideration that “average” might not mean exactly what you think it does. Sure we all learned what an average is in math class. If one person has one apple, a second has two apples, and a third has three apples what is the average number of apples each person has? You just add up the number of apples and divide by the number of people. This means that each person has an average of 2 apples.
However, there are some variables that we didn’t consider. For instance, are all the apples the same size? Are all the apples the same variety? Are all the apples fresh? Are all the apples unblemished? Are all the apples free of disease?
After all these are individual apples – and each one of these apples is in some way different from the other apples. Even if they are the same kind of apple, there are differences that make each apple unique in some way.
Human beings are all unique in some way as well.
One Person’s Mosey is Another’s …
Not following me? Let’s take the statement “Average sets the treadmill on ‘mosey’.” I think the point GNC is trying to make is that most people over-estimate how active they are and/or over-estimate the amount of effort they might be putting into their fitness program. Which is most likely true. For instance a young mother might convince herself that all the running around she does taking care of her toddler is equal to 45 minutes on a treadmill any day. But it really isn’t. That continuous 45 minutes on the treadmill exercises her heart in ways that the “start/stop” nature of caring for her children does not. So, in fact, 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise is still a really good idea for that mother. It’s exercise that will help provide her with the stamina she needs every day to care for her children.
On the other hand, setting the treadmill on ‘mosey’ can be a true victory and actually represent quite a bit of effort for a 50-year-old empty nester who is 50 pounds overweight and hasn’t exercised for the last 30 years. But if that person anticipates that they’re going to jump on that treadmill, ramp up the incline and immediately be able to keep up a 4 mph pace for 60 minutes in their effort not to be “average” – well, there’s a good chance they might give up before the timer hits the first five minutes. Yet many of us do exactly that – give up – because we have this sense of illusory superiority that fosters a belief that we can perform at higher than average levels – even when we haven’t done the work to get us to that ill-conceived idea of “average” in the first place.
And, when we fail, when faced with the fact that we are presently “less than average” in our own eyes it is all too easy to simply give up the ghost and go back to that unhealthy “average” otherwise known as our comfort zone.
I’m not really knocking GNC’s approach. The fact is that the average American adult IS overweight and/or has a poor level of fitness – certainly not the kind of average you’d want to shoot for. By pointing out to us that we can do more, be more by engaging in activities and behaviors that improve our health GNC sends us a positive and motivating message.
Above Average vs Unique Goals
What I am advocating for is for each of us to consider other variables in our quest to be “above average.” Just as notions of “illusory superiority” can fool us into thinking we are doing “better” or “more” than we actually are – not recognizing our own unique “average” at any given time can also stymie our efforts to attain and sustain healthy weight and fitness.
From where I sit periodically setting our own unique “above average” goals and taking into consideration our unique circumstances is more likely to set us up for life-long positive results than attempting to fit ourselves into cookie-cutter notions of what constitutes “above average.” This is the approach I’ve taken for over 30 years after losing 100 pounds – and I have sustained a healthy weight and level of fitness for all those years.
Considering that only 5% of those who have lost weight keep it off – I don’t think I’m suffering from illusory superiority, instead I am hopefully motivating others to give this approach an “above average” try 🙂