SFH #39: Our Brains Hide Our Blind Spots

Why we think we know more than we do and how to address it 🧠

We had a running joke in my household captured in a statement I came up with: "Let me see if I'm right? Yep, I'm right." I would use that statement to poke fun at the idea that we think we have all the correct answers available to us. I modeled the overconfident statement after my dad, and surely enough, I embodied the same incredulous pattern. There's a scientific theory behind this called the 'Dunning-Kruger effect.

The unfortunate result of believing you know something you do not stops the discovery process in its tracks. It's as if we put a lid on a particular aspect of the world and ourselves. It's easy to make jokes about fundamentalists who once pretended to know the world was flat. People lost their lives to challenge the validity of that illusion. These days the ramifications of this cognitive bias still play out in life or death results in high-stakes politics where we now have a hard time separating fact from opinion. I'm not here to judge the state of our nation or culture, yet I do have some thoughts on how we can help ourselves below.

The truth is that most of us feel more confident about a skill or topic than we really should, and at the same time, we're usually unaware of our overconfidence. So how do we help ourselves armed with this knowledge?

  1. Feedback. If we are so blind to our own bias, then we need reflections to understand where our understanding lands on the scale of helpful to hurtful. Make feedback a part of your life. Journaling, reflecting with a friend or loved one, seeking another set of eyes on your work, and taking tests can all be helpful forms of measuring your proper understanding of a topic. 🔁

  2. Learn. As someone who writes daily on healthy topics, I can tell you that a never-ending spout to drink from is housed on the world wide web. It doesn't matter your area of interest; we can find and devour research, expert analysis, unique creative thought, and everything in between. I love to absorb auditorily through podcasts and audiobooks. I even listen at 1.5x - 2x speed to hack my brain for better absorption and retention. 🤪

  3. Use a 'possibility' lens versus certainty. When we stay open to possibilities, then we allow more probabilities to play out. Locking into certainty is mathematically inconvenient for proper forecasting and understanding of outcomes. With openness comes deeper wells of knowledge and pathways to our desired results. 🤲🏼

  4. Embrace help. You've probably heard throughout your life in school and work that we should ask for help and that it is a good thing to say, "I don't know". We, unfortunately, fight feelings of fear and shame in succumbing to help as a regular practice in our culture. Most of us can ask for help in a particular area, but in the ones where our cognitive bias sits: We know just enough to do damage; we bolt forward in our conviction. I suggest we constantly ask for help and practice saying to ourselves helpful statements like, "I think I know but let me check" or "I don't know for sure, I'm going to seek some help." Try saying either or both statements to yourself out loud. How do they sit in your body? I got butterflies with them both. I love it. I'm opening to new possibilities in facing my fear and finding more answers. 🙋🏽‍♂️