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The Blame Game: How Self-Serving Bias Holds You Back

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Self-serving bias is a common tendency among humans to attribute their successes to internal factors while blaming external factors for their failures. In other words, when we do something well, we tend to take credit for it and attribute it to our abilities, while when we fail at something, we tend to blame it on factors outside of our control.

Self-serving bias can have a significant impact on our lives, affecting our decisions, our relationships, and even our mental health. In this blog post, we will explore what self-serving bias is, how it works, and how it can be overcome.

What is self-serving bias?

Self-serving bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the tendency of individuals to take credit for their successes and attribute their failures to external factors. For example, if someone does well on an exam, they may attribute their success to their intelligence or hard work, while if they perform poorly, they may blame the test, the teacher, or other external factors.

Self-serving bias is thought to be a result of our innate desire to maintain a positive self-image. We want to see ourselves as competent, capable individuals who are in control of our lives, and attributing our successes to our own abilities reinforces this positive self-image. On the other hand, blaming external factors for our failures helps to protect our self-esteem by avoiding the admission of personal shortcomings.

How self-serving bias works

Self-serving bias operates at a subconscious level, meaning that we are often not aware that we are engaging in this behaviour. This bias can manifest in various ways, such as:

  1. Taking credit for success: People tend to attribute their successes to internal factors such as their intelligence, hard work, or talent.

  2. Blaming external factors for failure: People tend to attribute their failures to external factors such as bad luck, a difficult task, or the actions of others.

  3. Discounting feedback: People tend to discount feedback that contradicts their self-image, such as criticism or negative feedback.

  4. Overestimating our abilities: People tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the role of external factors in their successes.

  5. Downplaying our failures: People tend to downplay their failures and focus on the positive aspects of their performance.

Overcoming self-serving bias

Overcoming self-serving bias requires a conscious effort to challenge our own beliefs and assumptions. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Recognize the bias: The first step in overcoming self-serving bias is to recognize when we are engaging in this behavior. By becoming more aware of our own biases, we can begin to challenge them.

  2. Consider alternative explanations: When something goes wrong, try to consider alternative explanations beyond external factors. Ask yourself what role your own actions may have played in the outcome.

  3. Seek feedback: Seek out feedback from others, even if it may be critical. Listen to what others have to say and consider their perspective.

  4. Take responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions and their outcomes. Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.

  5. Practice humility: Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that success is often the result of teamwork and collaboration.


Self-serving bias is a common cognitive bias that can have significant consequences for our lives. By becoming more aware of our own biases and actively challenging them, we can overcome self-serving bias and develop a more realistic and accurate view of ourselves and our abilities. By taking responsibility for our actions and outcomes, seeking feedback, and practicing humility, we can overcome the negative effects of self-serving bias and achieve greater success and fulfilment in our lives.

If you're interested in learning more about cognitive biases like self-serving bias and how to overcome them, consider enrolling in our course, "Seeing Clearly: Overcoming Your Brain's Betrayal." In this course, you'll learn strategies to identify common cognitive biases that can hold you back in life. Enroll now for free and start seeing the world more clearly.


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