The underdog effect: 3 ways to prove bad guys wrong

The underdog effect in psychology says believing yourself to be an underdog can inspire lasting motivation to improve, fight, or otherwise topple.

In this article, I’ll define 3 common addiction bad guys, and how to use the underdog effect to dismantle the false beliefs associated with them.

What is the underdog effect?

In my previous article, I said shame is an ineffective motivator. That’s partly true. It can work if you have the will to do better and the confidence you can improve, as well as discipline when the going gets tough.

Samir Nurmohamed’s research quantifies this. In his words, “Underdog expectations spark a desire to prove others wrong, but whether this motivation raises or reduces performance depends on how credible we believe observers to be.”

According to his experiments, however, “underdog expectations only boosted performance when the perceived credibility of observers was low.” “It appears that trying to prove highly credible people wrong may have fostered a sense of anxiety.”

The underdog, a small and weak-looking boy, looks up at a menacing, taller boy in a martial arts tournament.
© Underdog Kids, a Phillip Rhee film

It also had nothing to do with self-confidence. “As opposed to having greater self-confidence or being more assertive, the desire to prove others wrong was what explained why those experiencing underdog expectations performed better.”

So that’s opposite to the Pygmalion Effect, which is that belief in yourself tends to generate a positive outcome because you try harder.

Thus, if you believe you’re an underdog and you have the capacity to win despite the odds, the underdog effect kicks in.

Luckily, belief in yourself is quantifiable and buildable. Psychologists call it self-efficacy.

There’s a lot of ways to boost your self-efficacy (enough science to fill several pages), but the underdog effect has to do with size, so I’ll focus there.

Let’s start with the Big Monster.

1. How to squish the big monster

I said in my second article ever to stop calling it addiction. “Addiction” is a demon, while “bad habit” is a moldable clay figure. Addiction is towering, threatening, and powerful.

Well, no wonder you can’t stop checking Reddit 20 times a day!

In The EasyPeasy Way to Quit Porn, Hackauthor² calls this the big monster: the amalgamation of beliefs and thoughts that derail you.

And it’s not just limited to porn: the bigger and scarier your bad guy, the harder it seems to resist.

I go over the clinical evidence in my ebook Monstercrafting (not yet complete), but assigning your vice some ridiculous costume, then shrinking it down to a few inches tall, weakens its power over you. So much you can figuratively squish it with your fingers when craving thoughts pop up.

For example:

  • Reddit’s lovable Snoo with a goatee, dark suit, and pitchfork to poke you with.
  • Rocket League is a two-inch radio-control car with a tiny clown horn
  • Online trolls become Trolls dolls with high-pitched voices

Your bad guy wants you to think you’re weak. Make them tiny, and you’ll bolster the underdog effect.

2. Or Monsterify them (in short bursts)

All for-profit businesses exist to make more money. This is true for social media, porn (including individual models, OF, etc.), gacha games, television/anime, junk food, special interest lobbyists, and so on.

Are they all the same? No, and I don’t encourage you to become a conspiracy theorist.

But one powerful way of using the underdog effect is to believe you’re being squished down by nefarious actors. Because sometimes you are.

a white man and a black man strangle each other while huge, suited reporters hold them up on a pedestal
© Lubomir Arsov (IN-SHADOW – A Modern Odyssey)

This underdog effect is more the “how dare you” type.

How dare you attempt to keep me down through added salt and sugar, a crumbling education system, fake news, porn, TikTok, or whatever. Prove them wrong, these fictional actors, by not indulging.

Anger can be a powerful deterrent.

You can also imagine cam girls laughing derisively at you, beefy scam artists flinging wads of cash on a beach, or snobbish Silicon Valley-types looking down at you, peasant.

NOT hate, NOT envy, but subjugator.

3. The little monster (cravings)

Your self-efficacy, or belief in yourself, improves the more successes you have. They don’t have to be big successes, either.

Anything from my ultimate list of urge surfing techniques is an easy win. Bam, you’re better than you were yesterday. Just beating the cravings monster once with willpower is cause for celebration.

But it’s not sustainable. You need an Elastic, Mini strategy. Better yet, a Quest Log.

Success is squiggly, not linear

From something as simple as a daily quest to something as tough but memorable as an epic win, Quests eliminate the need for willpower and even blockers. (Blockers alone won’t save you.)

And when they’re aligned with your Signature Strengths, built using the SMARTY method, and part of an Elastic matrix, Quests help you build a life that rules out addiction.

(It’s the exact method I used to kick porn, video games, and YouTube addiction for over a year now.)

If you want more self-efficacy, self-worth, self-control– in short, the armor and sword to slay the bad guys– I urge you to check out Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors today.

The underdog effect versus the golem effect

In contrast, the golem effect asserts that if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t try as hard, and thus you generate worse results. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So don’t make your addiction monster a giant, scary golem!

And while you don’t have to believe in yourself to win, Nurmohamed’s research made clear the most important thing is a desire to prove the ignorant wrong. Actions, not words.

If you remember your why, the underdog effect is reliable motivation and strength when you need it.

The underdog effect happens because some monster– a stereotype, inherent difficulty, or societal expectations– pushes you down.

How will you push back their hand?

Related articles:

The underdog effect: 3 ways to prove bad guys wrong

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