A lot of otherwise talented people are too pessimistic to actually do anything. They are paralyzed by risks that don’t exist and greatly exaggerate them where they do, preventing them from being one of the best.
Consider this lightly edited excerpt from a conversation between Charlie Rose and Magnus Carlsen that argues it’s better to be overly confident than pessimistic in some areas.
Magnus Carlsen: And I think it’s always better to be overly confident than pessimistic. I realize sometimes after games that, you know, I was actually way too confident here. I was way too optimistic. But if you’re not optimistic, if you’re not looking for your chances, you’re going to miss. You’re going to miss opportunities. And you know, I think there are — there are plenty of players in history who have been immensely talented, but they’re — they’re just too pessimistic. They see too many dangers that are not there and so on so they cannot perform at a very high level.
Charlie Rose: See, that’s very interesting. They see dangers that are not there.
Magnus Carlsen: Yes
Charlie Rose: So, therefore, they don’t play at the highest level.
Magnus Carlsen: I realize from time to time you know people who are not particularly strong players, but still, they are very good players. But they could be one of the best if they just had more confidence. I’m analyzing with them when I’m looking at chess, I realize, they know everything about the game, but nevertheless, they cannot play.
Charlie Rose: There is a missing thing.
Magnus Carlsen: Yes.
Charlie Rose: Yes. And to me, it’s like a winner’s edge?
Magnus Carlsen: Yes, you need to have that. You need to have that edge, you need to have that confidence, you need to have that absolute belief that you’re — you’re the best, and you’ll win every time.
Charlie Rose: Were you born with that?
Magnus Carlsen: I don’t know.
Charlie Rose: Or are you born with something so that when you’ve learned chess those two things merge? They came together. You have confidence, and once you had the skills, the confidence served your skill, and your skill served your confidence.
Magnus Carlsen: Yes but it didn’t come immediately for me so.
Charlie Rose: What age did it come?
Magnus Carlsen: I think it only came a few years ago.
Charlie Rose: Yes how old are you now?
Magnus Carlsen: I’m 22. So I think at about age 16 or 17 I realized, you know, that I’m — I’m probably going to be the best at some point and I need to — I need to show that. I need to be more — more confident and need to take a different approach but because before that sometimes I would be — I would be too pessimistic. Like I was —
Charlie Rose: You’re describing the other them?
Magnus Carlsen: Yes. And you know at first that was — that changed in approach was a total disaster. Because I would lose several games because I would constantly overestimate my chances and so on but eventually that became a good thing because when — when my playing strength caught up to my optimism —
Charlie Rose: Yes, exactly — well said.
Magnus Carlsen: And then that was it.
The Paradox of Ignorance
The are two key lessons here for me.
First, there are two types of confidence: phony and exert.
Phony confidence, borne of ignorance, fools us into thinking we understand something when we don’t. As a result, we take risks we don’t know we’re taking.
Expert confidence, borne of deep fluency, allows us to understand the risks we are taking.
Second, not all risk is the same; over-estimating risk can be as costly as under-estimating it.
When the cost of failure is low, too much pessimism prevents you from trying. When the cost of failure is high, too much optimism encourages unwarranted risk.
Interview Source: https://charlierose.com/videos/17112