“I’ve come a long way since then.” You’ve likely heard someone say something like this. Perhaps you’ve said it. Often we don’t question a statement like this. Indeed, some marketers even use the formula of telling a story that shows how their product or service has changed them (self included). However, occasionally we meet someone who strongly believes in their own improvement. But when you look at them, you realize they haven’t changed one bit.
You hear the claim. It’s dumbfounding. How can they think that? They are exactly as they’ve always been. There’s no change and no growth. Why would this even be in their head?
This is the Chump to Champ Phenomenon.
The Chump to Champ Phenomenon
Psychologists have done a number of different studies examining the Chump to Champ Phenomenon. In essence it means that we believe the current version of us is better than past versions of ourselves. Said differently, we’ve learned a lot, come a long way, and we’re better than we used to be. We used to be a chump. Now we’re champs. Notably, people tend to believe this regardless of whether or not they’ve actually changed. Also, people think they have improved more than anyone around them.
Humans have very fragile egos and therefore have a lot of ways to try and protect those egos. We see it in such things as The Flip, or Cognitive Dissonance (described more fully in Emotional Embuffination, the book). The Chump to Champ behavior is just one more way we try to preserve our sense of self.
In a series of 6 studies out of the University of Waterloo, researchers looked at some of the aspects of the Chump to Champ Phenomenon. You can read the full article here.
Chump to Champ Study 1
In the first study, subjects described themselves when they were 16 years old and themselves currently. Then they rated each statement they made in the past and present as being positive, negative, or neutral. Not surprisingly, subjects tended to rate statements about themselves in the present as being more positive than themselves at 16.
Chump to Champ Study 2
The second study was the same except subjects reported on specific attributes, such as broad-mindedness, common sense, self-confidence, coping skills, etc. This study eliminated the possibility participants in the original study were just picking things they already felt good about. Once again, however, subjects viewed their 16 year-old selves as inferior to their present selves.
Chump to Champ Study 3
In the third study, researchers were concerned there might simply be some kind of bias about how people viewed a distant version of themselves when they were younger. As a result, they took university students and asked them to rate themselves on seven different categories (similar to the ones in the second study). Two months later, students rated themselves again. Then they reported on whether they’d improved in any of these areas since the original questionnaire. Fascinatingly, even though the average self-ratings went down, students tended to rate themselves as having improved.
Chump to Champ Study 4
The fourth study had subjects rate themselves and someone they knew on attributes similar to those listed in the previous studies. Then they were asked to rate themselves and their acquaintances on how each was about 3 and a half months earlier. Interestingly, participants rated themselves as having improved. But they rated the acquaintances as though nothing had changed.
Chump to Champ Study 5
In the fifth study, researchers wondered if this effect would occur in siblings. After compiling similar questionnaires to the above studies, they learned siblings tend to rate both themselves and their siblings as having improved. However, individuals still tended to rate themselves as having improved more than their siblings.
Chump to Champ Study 6
The sixth study aimed to test whether subjects could be manipulated by their perception of time. Subjects were all university students. One group rated themselves using a similar questionnaire to that used in the previous studies. Then subjects rated themselves, “in the recent past, the beginning of this term.” The other group was asked to, “think all the way back to the beginning of the this term.” The words used to ask the question mattered. Students were more likely to see improvement in themselves if they were thinking way back to the beginning of the term than if they were told to look at the recent past. This was true even though the beginning of the term was the same amount of time away for all the subjects.
How Do You Overcome It?
It’s at least a little concerning that we so easily deceive ourselves. This raises obvious questions about whether you can believe in your own progress. If you look back and think you’ve come a long way, how do you know if it’s true? Are you just fooling yourself? Are you legitimately growing and making progress?
One way is to ask for help from someone else. Get a friend or third party (such as a coach) to give you feedback. Often others can see your progress or lack thereof more clearly than you can.
Another is to journal. Write about what’s going on in your life. Make it habit to periodically review how you handled situations in your past. By doing so, you can assess whether anything really is different now.
Whatever you do, make sure you aren’t just spinning in a hamster wheel and that you actually are growing. Then you truly will be able to go from chump to champ.