Are you as good as you think you are?


There appear to be no shortcuts to becoming competent at something.

All skills, rather inconveniently, seem to take time and effort to master.

Why is it then that some people believe that they are outstanding performers at an activity when it is clear to others that they are not based on their performance?

This appears to be because of a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect, shown in the chart above.

When you are starting an activity, you may not be fully aware of what it means to be good at that activity.

As a result, you may be excessively confident of your ability and performance.

As you spend more time doing the activity and undergoing training, you become better at identifying what it means to be good.

As a result, your confidence in your ability to do the activity might also fall.

This can carry on until you reach a point where you can see that you are now doing better at the activity each time, and your confidence once again grows.

Once you are competent, perhaps even an expert, your confidence in being able to carry out the activity is now justified and is apparent to others through your results.

In essence, the way to avoid being trapped by the Dunning-Kruger effect is to become more self aware.

In her book Madness, Rack and Honey, the author Mary Ruefle writes about a remark made by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh on self awareness: “Before I began to practice, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. After I began to practice, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers. Now, I have practiced for some time, and mountains are again mountains and rivers are again rivers.”

Or, as Confucius said succinctly: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

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