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How often do you underestimate?


Today is May 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you underestimate?” The concept of underestimating often appears in three different ways while we are trying to leverage our body, mind, and spirit to navigate the chaos of life.


The first way underestimating appears is in competitions such as business or athletics. For example, in 1975 Charles "Chuck" Wepner, from Bayonne, New Jersey, underestimated his opponent and gained a valuable lesson when he challenged Muhammad Ali for the world's Heavyweight title. Ali was guaranteed $1.5 million, and Wepner signed for $100,000. This was considerably more than Wepner had ever earned and he therefore did not need any coaxing. In the ninth round Wepner scored a knockdown, which Ali claimed had occurred because Wepner was stepping on his foot.


There is a famous picture of this very moment in the fight that shows Wepner did indeed step on Ali’s foot, thus causing Ali to fall down. Wepner went to his corner and said to his manager, "Al, start the car. We're going to the bank. We are millionaires." To which Wepner's manager replied, "You better turn around. He's getting up and he looks pissed off." In the remaining rounds, Ali decisively out boxed Wepner and opened cuts above both Wepner's eyes and broke his nose. Wepner was far behind on the scorecards when Ali knocked him down with 19 seconds left in the 15th round. The referee counted to seven before calling a technical knockout. How ironic that Ali knocked out Wepner with just 15 seconds left in the match!


In addition to underestimating the competition, people also tend to underestimate what others are going through. In a May 25, 2021, article "Why We May Not Realize That Our Friends Are Struggling" published in Psychology Today, Juliana Breines noted that "when we under estimate other people's difficulties, we all feel more alone." Breines discusses research by Alexander H. Jordan and others who found people tend to underestimate the extent to which other people have negative emotional experiences. Now much of this happens because people who are experiencing a negative life situation tend to suppress such emotions thereby making it harder for others to perceive them. Breines suggests being authentic and in doing so one can increase closeness with others – and help them feel less alone as well.


In an earlier article entitled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions,” Jordan and fellow researchers start by proposing the following imaginary happy hour involving co-workers Juan, Lisa, and Jen. “Juan has been struggling recently with poor feedback from his boss, Lisa has been dealing with marital and financial difficulties, and Jen has been suffering restless nights due to loneliness. Yet surrounded now by pleasant company and good refreshments, they all wear smiles on their faces. When asked by the others how they’re doing, each of them, judging it inappropriate to express unhappiness at a happy hour, says that things are fine, and each is left thinking that only he or she is weathering rough times. Thus, whereas Juan, Lisa, and Jen attribute their own publicly carefree demeanors to impression-management concerns and situational influences, they assume that their colleagues’ similar behavior reflects true contentment in their personal lives.”


This example illustrates what happens so often these days on social media. In short, our perceptions fail to recognize what others are going through in their current life situation. While it is true that many people, as shown in the happy hour example, mask their unhappiness due to the environment in which they find themselves. Today’s reflection serves as an excellent reminder to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their true feelings so you do not underestimate their feelings. If you are unable to create the environment for whatever reasons, remind yourself that the person or people you are speaking to might not necessarily be as happy as they appear. Doing so might help them feel less alone.

Finally, underestimating also happens when we underestimate the impact we have on others. In a study published August 2022 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology researchers Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley discovered “people may not truly know the impact that even the smallest of kind acts can have on another person. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be.” So why aren’t people more kind or complementary to others? In a Psychology Today article "Why We Underestimate Our Effect on Others” published October 6, 2022, Lisa Firestone suggested "Our inner critic makes us second-guess our actions and underestimate the beneficial effect we can have on others.”

  • How often do you underestimate your opponent?

  • Why do you think you underestimate others?

  • What has happened when you underestimated others?

  • How often do you remind yourself that you could indeed be underestimating how someone feels?

  • How often do you second guess the impact of your actions?

  • What could you do today to demonstrate even the smallest of kind acts for you never know the impact your actions could have?

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