How to make a modern Superhero
We all have the potential to be extraordinary – we just don’t all get to realise it and end up being pulled back to average over time due to a natural process called ‘regression to the mean’
WITH HARD work and the right opportunities, all of us have the potential to be extraordinary. But in all likelihood we won’t be. Most of us will likely form the average part of the talent bell curve.
But this has little to do with some predestined determinism. Many factors affect success in life, whatever form that may take. Trinity College Clinical psychologist Dr Ian Roberston just published The Winner Effect, a book which examines the traits and psychology of success.
In statistics there is a theory known as “regression to the mean”. Technically speaking, this refers to the phenomenon that if a variable is extraordinary on its first measurement, it will likely be nearer to the average on a second measurement. The extreme tends to lose its edge over time. This applies to humans as well as numbers.
“Because of the complexity of our brains, every human being is unique and has their own special skill sets,” says Robertson. “Everyone can achieve but in terms of hard objective criteria – such as winning a Nobel Prize or an Olympic medal – the chances of becoming a winner, particularly if your parents were winners, are quite low.
This relates to regression to the mean,” he says. “If you choose any outlier – whether it is height or intelligence or sunny days – a second measurement is much more likely to go back to a lower, smaller, medium point. Most points cluster around the mean.”
Mediocrity loves company. But there are biological and psychological forces at play as well as statistical. “Abilities are partly inherited,” says Robertson. “If your parents are tall you will more than likely be above average. But in terms of natural ability, many people suffer from the curse of genetic fatalism.”
This refers to the theory that those who are naturally gifted from an early age can end up under-performing later in life because of an inability to deal with failure and setbacks. “Any threats to the ego can be very damaging.”
If you are the child of successful parents, things can be even more difficult. Parents expect offspring to achieve as well as they do, which can be a burden that is self-defeating.
Mom and Dad can play dirty too. In his book, Robertson refers to a situation known as “Hiding the ladder”.
“With some parents, success can go to their head,” he says. “They don’t want to recognise that luck played a big part.”