Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5
Have you ever watched some Olympic swimmers doing their thing and thought ‘I’d love a body like that’?
I know I have.
It’s no surprise they’re so lean, is it? All that resistance training as they pull themselves through the water as quickly as possible, day in day out. If I want to look like that, maybe I should take up swimming.
And what about all those Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale alumni? They all graduate far smarter than I’ll ever be. Those universities must be genius factories.
Also, if you want to succeed in business management, you might want an MBA. The future earnings of MBA students show how effective they are. Turning everyday people into Warren Buffets since nineteen hundred and whenever.
Finally, that anti-aging serum you’re being shown on some advert somewhere. Look how youthful her skin is! There must be some powerful alchemy in that expensive little bottle.
These are four examples of the swimmer’s body illusion Rolf Dobelli gives in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly. I’m sure you’ve got the idea… but I’ll spell it out for the other readers who may not have.
What is the swimmer’s body illusion?
- a cognitive bias that confuses traits with results
- we think we can get the body of a professional swimmer by swimming a lot
- in truth, the swimmer is able to reach a professional level due to already having the ‘right’ body
So, swimmers aside, what about the rest of those earlier examples?
Well, the world’s top universities don’t take straight F students and turn them into cerebral champions – they’re already on that road.
MBA courses are taken by a particular type of person. They’re not cheap. If someone has the level of drive required to pay for an MBA, they’re more likely to have had that career progression anyway.
And, perhaps most obviously of all, that lady showing you how those products can help you look great was chosen to do so because she already looked great.
The swimmer’s body illusion and your (photography) blog
So how does the swimmer’s body illusion relate to you and your photography blog? Or the progress of any blog you might have, or the development of any photography or anything else you might do?
I’m talking here to people who want to be great. People who want to be noticed. People who want to achieve success in the sense of being known and admired for the quality of what they do.
People like you.
The whole theory points to playing to your strengths. About betting on them. About letting other people do what you’re average at while amplifying what you’re already above average at.
The future Olympic swimmer who can’t play basketball would waste his life becoming merely okay at shooting hoops instead of using his natural advantages to become an elite athlete.
We’re always told to work on our weaknesses but if you want greatness then what’s the point? The world isn’t going to notice you for what you’ve worked hard to still be unremarkable at.
So you’re a photography blogger. Is your strength in making photographs or writing the posts that go with them?
Maybe your images are 7/10 and your writing a 4/10. Working on your writing and being a 7/10 at both is all well and good, but there are already enough 7/10 people in the world.
Build on your biggest tower. Working to become a 10/10 photographer and letting others be known for their writing is your path to getting noticed.
Photography and writing can both be taught, of course, but recognising where you are now is your swimmer’s body. It’s your application to Oxford, your MBA mindset, and your model’s face.
Don’t be playing catch up by falling for the swimmer’s body illusion. Stack the odds in your favour instead by going all in on your photography, writing or blogging strengths. Or whatever else it is you do.
Become great at your thing, and let everyone else scratch around becoming not bad at everything.
If you want to learn more about how common cognitive biases are affecting our everyday lives, from simple decision making to our creative output, I recommend picking up The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli.
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