In the world of psychology, there are two extremes in how people can perceive themselves and their abilities – Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect. Needless to say, with all extremes, neither one of these are healthy.
On one side, we have people of extremely high capability, sometimes referred to as “gifted”, who truly don’t see the gift they possess. They trivialize all their achievements because they somehow are not able to see the extent of their talent and potential. Even if they receive validation from the outside such as close friends and family, their perspective remains unchanged.
People on this end of the spectrum tend to deny themselves opportunities they are more than capable of handling simply because they feel it is beyond their reach. This may sound like a self-confidence or self-esteem issue, but from my experience and observations, it is slightly different. It is more so the inability to acknowledge and recognize one’s academic prowess, talent, skills or brilliance despite all the accomplishments to-date.
If we find ourselves here, how can we get out of that slump?
The first step would be to reset your self-awareness. It truly has to come down to the point of YOU believing in yourself. A few things that can get you there are:
- Being self aware – stop that negative thought before it gets deeply embedded. Negative thoughts simply reinforce your misconceptions. Compounding those thoughts only make the matter worse.
- Reflecting on your successes – Looking at the big picture and asking “How many people have done this?”. That provides more accurate weightage to the uniqueness and demands of your wins.
- Treating “failure” as stepping stone to success i.e. when things go wrong or off-course, use that example as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than tie it back to your competence or abilities.
It could take years to eliminate the Imposter syndrome, but once you own and recognize the problem, you will progress out of that state at an exponential rate.
On the other extreme, we have people of low competence (in a specific subject or discipline for example) that truly believe that they are experts! If you are anything like me, you’re first reaction to that would be, “Seriously??!!”. These people unfortunately get less than favorable labels in a corporate situation. Up until a month ago, I did not know there was an identified “Cognitive Bias” that would cause people to behave in such a manner. I chanced upon this concept when watching a documentary on a particular conspiracy theory. Enough said. 🙂
People on this extreme basically overestimate their expertise in relation to others, resulting in the conclusion that THEY are experts.
So how can this issue be addressed? Here too, it starts with self awareness and additionally self-calibration (or recalibration).
- Being self aware – Honestly looking into oneself to assess one’s level of humility and integrity. This will automatically kick-off the recalibration process.
- Reflecting on the relativity your successes – Looking at others’ skills or successes to get a relative assessment of your level of expertise. It could affirm that you are in the 99th percentile or, more likely it could give you a realistic view of you stand.
- Treating “failure” as stepping stone to success – If we view the concept of “failure” as something that allows us to grow, that will lead to less defensiveness and/or blaming others and a better likelihood for collaboration for better results.
The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge it. That would probably be the hardest part for people on this end of the spectrum.
Although I have simplified the definitions and potential solutions for these cases, both extremes are issues that in some cases may even warrant professional help. As observers of this behavior, we can help by empathizing with these people, for starters, and seeing how we can help them break out of that way of thinking.
Finally, I leave you with this question: “Where do YOU fall within this cognitive spectrum?”.