I love TED videos because they make me rethink my view of the world. In the video, Harvard psychologist and happiness expert Dan Gilbert explains why we make bad decisions.
I’m going to explain how I think it applies to INFPs.
Since the video is long, here are the important parts:
- Expected Value of Anything = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain)
- People make poor decisions because we make errors in estimating Odds of Gain and errors in estimating Value of Gain.
- Using memory makes us prone to errors in Odds.
- Shifting comparisons make us prone to errors in Value
In the video, Dan gives specific examples about how people commonly make mistakes estimating Odds of Gain and Value of Gain.
How an INFP Values Anything
INFPs value things ideally in order to get our ideal outcome.
The basic formula of Expected Value of Anything = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain) becomes:
Ideal Expected Value of Anything = (Maximum Odds of Gain) x (Maximum Value of Gain).
In other words:
Perfection = (Being Almost Positive We’ll Get What We Want) x (What We Get Is Everything We Wanted)
What This Means In Real Life
When INFPs approach life in terms of the ideal, we expect that any endeavor we embark upon will give us the possibility of the best probable outcome.
Ideal New Friendship = (Best chances of becoming friends) x (Becoming best friends)
Ideal Career Path = (Best chance of getting that career) x (Complete career fulfillment)
If we can’t get something perfect, INFPs feel less motivated to do it. However, that Ideal isn’t a fixed point but a range. For example:
Maximum Odds of Gain – Best chances of becoming friends
- Best Case: everything clicks and we can talk easily with this new person like we’ve known them all our lives
- Worst Case We’ll Accept: It could be a challenge, as long as this new person doesn’t do this, this and this and we’ll be okay with it.
Maximum Value of Gain – Becoming best friends
- Best Case: They value us as much as we value them and they’ll do as we would do for them
- Worse Case We’ll Accept: They don’t have to drop everything every time I call just as long as I know that I’m at least in their top 5 or 10 or whatever.
The Worst Case We’ll Accept is different among INFPs. We know everything isn’t going to be absolutely Perfect and that nothing turns out as flawlessly as we imagine in our head. That range from Best Case to Worse Case We’ll Accept is our buffer zone. The closer the Odds of Gain or Value of Gain moves toward the Worse Case We’ll Accept, the less ideal that new friendship becomes.
Maybe that new person says they’ll call back but doesn’t or maybe we find it more difficult to talk to that person. Every time an incident occurs that doesn’t fit our preconceived image of the ideal, the Odds or Value starts dropping towards the Worse Case We’ll Accept. If this happens often enough, we discover that the Expected Value of Friendship was much less than we imagined. We get bored. It’s too difficult. It’s less than our range for perfect. So we stop trying to become friends with this person.
The Dunning–Kruger effect
When it comes to estimating our Odds of Gain, INFPs overestimate our ability to achieve that goal. For me, this was especially true when it came to college and career. At 20, I wanted to be a best selling author. I had wrote in high school and won a couple of contests. Since we estimate Odds of Gain from our past, I estimated that if I worked really hard in college, got enough critique to improve my writing, I was assured a spot on the Times Bestsellers List.
Also, all the comparison to past successes in my head made me extremely susceptible to a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Basically, this effect occurs when people reach bad conclusions and make bad decisions but are unskilled to recognize they’ve made a bad decision. In other words, people who really don’t know what they’re doing assume that they’re doing it better than average and people who are really good at what they do think they’re worse at it than they actually are.
I estimated my writing ability to my subjective past successes and not to anything objective. I overestimated by Odds of Gain. The only way to become better at estimating your own ability and your Odds of Gain is to become better at what you’re doing. I joined small critique groups which made me a better writer and as I got better at writing, I realized that I wasn’t as good as I thought which dropped my estimate of Odds of Gain down to the point where it was below my Worse Case We’ll Accept.
I see that happening when INFPs changing careers in college. They attend university thinking that they’ll be really in good in one career until long hours and grades sub par to their ideal make them realize that getting to their chosen career is taking much more effort than they thought. More effort means that they might never be as good as someone who’s in the same class and whizzing by with little effort. So to the INFP, their Odds of Gain diminishes with every mediocre outcome and their Ideal Expected Value of the career diminishes to the point where they switch majors to something more ideally suited for them.
For me, I dropped out of school instead of switching majors.
Why INFPs Drop Projects
INFPs drop projects because the Expected Value falls out of our ideal range. We discovered that our estimates were off so why do something if we know it’s not going to turn out within our range of perfect?
I think this is the biggest reason why INFPs get good at things but not great at things. We start a hobby, a sport, an activity. We work at it and improve our skills over the years until we get good enough to estimate that we’ll probably never be great (Value of Gain). Sometimes knowing that more time and effort won’t make us great at something drops our Value of Gain to below our Worse Case We’ll Accept. It’s at this point, we find a new interest and go to the next thing.
It’s not as if as INFPs, we are blindly deluding ourselves when it comes to estimating Odds of Gain. However, we estimate our odds of getting something as if we were our Ideal Self and not as our current Becoming Self. If we were already our ideal, getting what we want (Odds of Gain) would be as we imagined it would be.
To become better, we need to estimate Odds of Gain based on the person we are now. This drops the Expected Value from that absolute Ideal to a more subjective “ideal for who we are”. Also, finding more about our Value of Gain by asking and researching those who have gotten what we wanted gives a us a more accurate estimate of Value of Gain instead of using our imagination to gives us our imagined Best Scenario. Doing these two things, gives an INFP a more realistic Expected Value in order to base our decision on whether to take on an endeavor.
Yes, we are lowering our expectations. However, doing this gives us something more valuable in return–the possibility of more. If we base our decisions on Ideal Expected Value then in the best possible scenario, we will only get what we expect. If we base our decisions on a more realistic Expected Value, we open the possibility of doing better than we expected.