If I aim too high, or have too ambitious a thought, a voice inside me often scoffs: “Ha! Who the hell are you to do that?”
The result is that I’m often guilty of not aiming high enough. I can rule myself out of things. Even though the facts tell me I’m more than able.
There is doubt instead of confidence.
I speak to others, including real high achievers, and they tell me the same. They carry self doubt too.
The more successful they are, the more exposed they feel. Their supposed fraud has now become bigger. Surely soon they’ll be found out.
I spoke with a successful businesswoman recently.
She had been at a conference, selling her services to others in the business world and doing pretty well.
Suddenly, an astonished voice in her head said: “Blimey, they think I’m proper!!”
Even John Lennon said that he felt “like a complete fraud”. Yes, John Lennon. The Beatle!
So I’d come to accept that it was pretty commonplace. Part of the human condition. It got in the way sometimes, but it gets in everybody’s way.
The thing is, it’s not commonplace at all. It doesn’t get in everybody’s way.
Let me introduce you to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
It’s named after the academics David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University.
They discovered two things from their research.
The first is that incompetent people over estimate how good they are.
They think they’re fabulous, but in fact they’re nowhere near as skilled as they think.
They overlook how extreme their incompetence is.
Think of that guy on X Factor every year. He tells the cameras he’s the next big thing. He’s cocky, self assured, and confident of how awesome he is.
And then he sings. Aaaaghhh!
Their second finding is that competent people under estimate how good they are.
Even though they’re highly skilled, they think they’re average.
How about that?
Dunning and Kruger won the Nobel Prize for Psychology. They gave people a test to do, and then asked them how well they think they did.
Their studies show that those who do poorly think they’ve done well. Those who do well think they’ve done average.
Why? Because when you find the test easy, you assume that everyone else did too.
It is easy for us, so we think it is easy for everyone else.
As a therapist, this doesn’t surprise me. I see it lots. People have special skills and they don’t even know it.
They think everyone has those abilities and shrug them off. But of course they don’t.
Part of my role is to shine a light on the brilliance that my clients have, yet don’t see.
We miss our own talents because we think others have them to the same extent.
This leads to an amazing conclusion. Your doubts are a sign of your brilliance.
Every time you deny yourself because of doubt, remember the Dunning Kruger effect.
If you were incompetent, you wouldn’t be having doubts at all.
Doubt is a psychologically proven indicator that you are highly skilled.
Being at the height of your powers is the very thing causing you to doubt yourself in the first place.
Next time the doubt bug bites, see it for what it is. A sign that you are brilliant. A Nobel Prize for Psychology says so.