How to Spot and Overcome Your Hidden Weaknesses

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Tim Herrera for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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One of my favorite story arcs from my favorite TV show, 30 Rock, is that of Jon Hamm’s character, Dr. Drew Baird.

When we meet Drew, he’s a successful doctor, an enthusiastic home chef and a kindhearted animal lover who seems perfect for Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon.

Alas, we eventually learn that all of Drew’s success and “talents” are nonsense: He has skated through life on his incredible good looks — this is Jon Hamm, after all — and was living in “the bubble.” No one ever told him that as a doctor he should know the Heimlich maneuver, or that he couldn’t use Gatorade in recipes, so he assumed he was doing all of those things perfectly.

Sadly, we are all just as bad at assessing our skills and abilities, and like Drew, we don’t even realize it. But there’s a solution, and we’ll get to that.

Research has shown that we humans are generally pretty awful at assessing our own competence and abilities, which in turn leads us to overestimate them — a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The effect creates a vicious loop that boils down to this: The less skilled you are at something, the less likely you are to recognize how unskilled you truly are, and thus you overestimate your abilities. Worse still, because you can’t see your errors, you’ll never know you need to correct. (If this all sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of the classic study in which 80 percent of surveyed drivers ranked their driving skills as “above average.” Noodle on that one.)

Conversely, the better we get at something, the likelier we are to see how much more we can improve, which can sometimes lead us to underestimate ourselves. Similarly, those who are exceptionally skilled at something can sometimes think everyone else is at that level, making them unaware of how exceptional their abilities are. Think: Impostor syndrome.

We all do this! It’s simply in our nature, so it’s not a behavior meant to deceive others or to unreasonably prop up our own ego. In the influential study that first examined this phenomenon in 1999, researchers found that once people realize how bad they are at something, they’ll readily cop to it and want to improve.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.


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