Every once in a while, something comes along that forever changes the way you think of yourself, the world around you and your approach to life. For me, that something was more of a journey; one that began when I read an article of the Opinionator section of the NY Times last summer. The article addressed the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which defines generally that “our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.”
Although this may seem circular, take a second to think about it.
A classic example is given in the article; that of a bank robber who is stupid enough to think that rubbing lemon juice on his face will render him invisible to bank cameras. The robber doesn’t take the time to analyze his thought process –i.e. he’s so stupid, he lacks the intelligence to assess the possibility that there could be flaws in his plan. This story illustrates Dunning-Kruger’s point that, amongst other behaviors, “people tend to say things…that just couldn’t possibly be true…but they really, really believe them.”
In other words, “we literally see the world the way we want to see it.”
The implications of this can be particularly negative in the sense that “our ignorance shapes our lives in ways we do not know about.” However, for the most part, ignorance is bliss; since we are literally unable to see the ways in which our lack of knowledge negatively affects us on a daily basis. We simply do not know what we do not know. Or, as Dunning-Kruger says, “we’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know.”
For example, I know that I don’t know rocket science. I have enough wherewithal to understand that rocket science exists, and that I don’t know it. There are millions of things that I know I don’t know. But what about things that I don’t know I don’t know? A toddler for example, doesn’t know that it doesn’t know rocket science; because it simply doesn’t have the wherewithal or level of self-perception to reach that understanding.
The stark reality is that most ADULTS never reach a self-perception level to know that they don’t know what they don’t know. Most people are totally blind to those things which are our biggest weaknesses because we can’t even reach the threshold of knowing that there are things we don’t know that we don’t know. Most fail to reach, what I have termed the untenable awareness stratosphere, because we don’t even know this stratosphere exists.
It was clear my business objectives could use an outside perspective too, which is what led me to Tanya Ezekiel, a business coach and founder of CareerCoach.com. Tanya, who is known as the secret weapon on Wall Street, is a much sought-after career coach for high-achieving professionals. Her fifteen years of experience in the financial industry and her gift for objectively looking at others was exactly what I needed. Tanya took me through what she calls the ‘91 Minute Quick Fix,’ a consultation designed to identify a client’s blind spot.
Tanya helped me realize that although I’d made great personal strides towards creating a business authentic with my ideals, I wasn’t quite there. In only 91 minutes I realized that I wasn’t entirely fulfilled because my reality (in business) was incongruent with my ideals. Not knowing I needed to ‘true up’ was my blind spot; one which Tanya helped me to quickly identify.
‘Blind spots’ are akin to what Dunning-Kruger dubs as Anosognosia of Daily Life.
“Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability”
“An anosognosic patient who is paralyzed simply does not know that he is paralyzed. If you put a pencil in front of them and ask them to pick up the pencil in front of their left hand they won’t do it. And you ask them why, and they’ll say, “Well, I’m tired,” or “I don’t need a pencil.” They literally aren’t alerted to their own paralysis. There is some monitoring system on the right side of the brain that has been damaged, as well as the damage that’s related to the paralysis on the left side. There is also something similar called “hemispatial neglect.” It has to do with a kind of brain damage where people literally cannot see or they can’t pay attention to one side of their environment. If they’re men, they literally only shave one half of their face. And they’re not aware about the other half. If you put food in front of them, they’ll eat half of what’s on the plate and then complain that there’s too little food. You could think of the Dunning-Kruger Effect as a psychological version of this physiological problem. If you have, for lack of a better term, damage to your expertise or imperfection in your knowledge or skill, you’re left literally not knowing that you have that damage.”
Dunning-Kruger’s juxtaposition of anosognosia with everyday life is a surprising and suggestive analogy, or turn of phrase. Although I’m not suggesting that lacking awareness of our own personal deficits is a physical disability, its psychological impact can be as, or even more so, as damaging to the individual. The truth is, often times we are so mired in our story (the one we’ve repeated to ourselves for years) that we’ve become the story. Because we don’t know what we don’t know, we believe to know ourselves inside and out, making it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to step outside of our own shoes and give ourselves a real and honest look over.
As we approach New Year’s Eve, and a new year filled with boundless opportunity, it’s vital that each and every one of us makes the first step towards self improvement in all aspects of our lives.
Having an objective outside view from an experienced career coach, like Tanya, can make a world of difference. Seeing my blind spot was step one of drawing my map from good to great. I can’t express enough gratitude to Tanya for that.
Have a Happy New Year!
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