Drinking Your Own Kool-aid: The Psychology of Hyping Yourself Up

New Yorkers tend to be a tad bit on the jaded side. Seen that. Been there. Done that.  When superstorm Sandy hit, it was a bit overwhelming because we hadn’t fully bought into the weather hype. Nature was unimpressed by this. The ocean, comprising 70% of the planet’s surface and thus fairly comfortable in its reputation, shrugged off our East Coast attitude, rose up and washed away a lot of stuff. Oops. Guess that storm was indeed “super”, above and beyond the alarmist 24-hour news cycle interminable attempt to turn every rainstorm or snowfall into the storm of the century.  Which is of course, part of the problem, since we never know when the next event is truly earth-shattering, or just an attempt to keep us tuned in.  Not too sure we fully buy into the reliability of meteorological reports just yet.  It’s still New York after all.  William Shakespeare, generally thought of as fairly perceptive when it came to human vanity and fairly good at tooting his own horn once said, “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”  Elizabethan England hadn’t invented the word yet, but he was talking about hype.  If he was alive today, we’d probably hear that he was “bringing sexy back”.  Not that I see a direct relation between Shakespeare and Justin Timberlake, but when Justin donned a designer suit, got an expensive hair stylist, and belted out his claim that he was “bringing sexy back” it seemed a bit over the top, but he did sell out concerts and make a mighty mint.  Did people buy into his hype?  Money talks, and we are awfully forgiving of theatricality, since the whole point is to be entertained. Yet, in an interview Timberlake noted that he is “completely removed from any hype that comes his way”.  Really? An entertainer immune to hype?  You make your very nice living off the hype. Somebody should put him in a zoo. You believe that hype? I’m thinking of bringing sexy back to psychology.  I’m not expecting the same level of success.


We are bombarded on a daily basis with all sorts of hype, and often we buy into them not just money-wise, but also psychologically. Look at the Apple hype. It has gotten so huge and beyond itself that people are now Apple people. People are branding themselves as a consumer. You think you are so cool because you are a Mac user? You are a consumer. You didn’t build the thing.  You plunked down the exorbitant price to be an owner.  What’s so cool about that?  Or how about when pomegranate juice, acai or coconut water were hyped up and people were seen carrying one or the other? Carrying one of the three just showed how enlightened and hip they were in that they were hyping themselves up as nutritionally aware. What about the constant hyping of media stories.  Once the buzz dies down, we move on to the next sensational hyped up story? And we like it. How many of us run to the living room when we hear the breaking news tune on CNN. We are so Pavlovian when it comes to media stories.  Hype has us all conditioned to salivate at the latest over-the-top news story.


What happened in 2008 to us as a country? Whether you voted for him or not, you must admit Obama was the supreme hyped-up personality at that time.  Oprah, Ms. Hype herself, couldn’t tout his greatness enough.  Obama was lauded as the future President of change and millions bought into that hype. He was hyped up as forward thinking and conciliatory. Didn’t John Stewart just compile a reel of all the instances in which Obama claimed to have only learned of a major event through the news?  Was the hype of him being so forward thinking true when he claims to learn about things once they have happened and have been presented in the media? As Palin noted “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?” Transparency surely didn’t happen at the IRS, now did it? Of course, the IRS is just one large bureaucracy with over-inflated title holders.  And speaking of which, how about that IRS official Lois Lerner who claimed in an interview that she wasn’t good at math? I bet her resume probably hypes up her number crunching ability. D’oh!

The thing about hype–it eventually lets you down. Have you ever worked with someone who constantly tells anyone in proximity that they are a good decision-maker or that they are very detailed-oriented and all you can do is just scream inside your head in disbelief? Nowadays, with such a focus on ourselves through social media, we pump ourselves up more and more to the point where we are gods or goddesses of something.  What resume nowadays doesn’t have in bold letters under the skills sets section: detail-oriented.  Oftentimes when you hire that self-labeled detail-oriented individual they turn out to just be the king of wishful thinking?  So-called detail-oriented individuals are at times the hardest to provide feedback or engage in corrective action with. If they missed a detail, it must have been someone else’s fault.  They are very meticulous after all and would not make a simple mistake.  When they admit to mistakes, they are grand mistakes, for that is the only way they could make one.  So even their mistakes are hyped up.

Not all self-built hype is grandiose.  There is the so-called “aggrieved” individual that believes that they are so inundated with work that they are the victim of a grand injustice.  So, their hype is all about how put upon they are. They even walk around the office slouching a bit; at times unaware that they are exhibiting that posture. Their own hype just wore them down physically.

Part of buying into one’s own hype is straight out delusion and the other part is cognitive dissonance in an attempt to protect the fragile ego.  We are all delusional in some way; it’s the only way to get through each long, tedious day. In psychological parlance, there is the bizarre delusion diagnosis when someone holds onto a very strange and completely implausible belief such as believing that a psychologist is eating part of the person’s brain washed down with a bottle of chianti. This simply doesn’t happen.  Don’t believe what you hear about me.


The workplace is filled with individuals reporting equally bizarre delusions. Besides the detail-oriented hyped-up individual, I just love (hyperbole noted) the self-professed terrific leader.  There are some individuals that believe that just because they hold a title that connotes leadership and that they are actually inspirational and a leader that leads; when nothing could be further from the truth. These are the same individuals that will sit in a meeting unable to make a decision because they fear the repercussions.  Or rather they are afraid of how they will come across. They are a leader after all and must thus come across as a leader and not as an enforcer of protocols, rules and procedures. For such a person, being a leader entails not making any key decision while just speaking in abstract, hard-to-pin down circular nonsense. What is even more amusing is when said leader types explain in earnest how they are savvy, deliberate decision-makers that you should emulate. They will even go on to chastise you for speaking too truthfully. Leadership is not about truth but just about image and hyperbole. They are deciders, forget that they actually don’t make any substantial decisions and let their underlings actually take the rap for most of what happens.  Yet they trumpet their decisiveness swallowing big old spoonfuls of oatmeal hype for breakfast. Does this sound like anybody else we know recently in the public eye?


Seems that our last and current US Presidents have mastered the art of self-hyperbole and many bought into the hype; thus setting a precedent for regular workplace employees to be as grandiose in their own self-descriptions. Seems we are in a period of trickle-down hype economics.  And how could we not be? Everything is about me, me, me and how cool I am. Every status update, every tweet, every instagram is akin to “hey, hey! look at me. How cool am I?” Seems we are all about seeming.  As Donny Osmond noted: “You’re an island no matter what you do. So you have to really know who you are inside, the core person, and follow what is true rather than follow what is hype.”  Even if the hype comes from your very self. Stop seeming and just be.


Grand philosopher, hyper-melisma singer Cristina Aguilera noted that “I don’t want to believe my own hype”. Oh such wise words from a former Mouseketeer. At the end of the day don’t believe your own hype, oh mighty one.

3 replies »

  1. “Stop seeming and just be”- what wise (and humble) words to live by. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, and difficult to stay grounded. Thanks so much for another wonderful post!


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