Our inability to see ourselves clearly.
There a many people out there who are definitely overestimating their abilities.
Americans especially tend to rate their abilities higher than average.
There’s even a name for this psychological phenomenon. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the two researchers who first discovered this penchant for overestimating our abilities.
My favorite example of this is from a 1980 study by the Swedes, where they found that 90% of Americans think that they are above average drivers. (Ugh. So embarrassing when you think about how most of us actually drive.)
The thing is that without proper feedback, we tend to grab onto delusional self-assessment. And many of don’t go looking for that feedback either.
Often, we are most confident when we only understand the simplest elements of a topic.
(Think of how many people talk like an expert after listening to a podcast or watch a TED talk.)
(Wait, I’m probably talking about myself, aren’t I?)
The gift of uncertainty.
When people are willing to bring uncertainty into their worldview, they open themselves up to new possibilities. They get to see the world through fresh eyes.
Uncertainty is the quality of being teachable, meaning that we’re willing to begin from a place of ignorance.
I’ve tried to make it a practice to bring some uncertainty to my own thoughts. Whenever I begin to feel strongly about an idea or a problem, I try to ask myself what I really know about that topic (for example, highway engineering or traffic flow). I’m embarrassed to say that what I know for sure is shockingly little.
In these cases, uncertainty or doubt can be a gift, because it opens us up to questioning what we know or what we assume to be true.
It’s ideally a path to greater understanding.
What about self-doubt?
Doubt is like an acid that can break down calcified assumptions or biases.
It’s a powerful tool that can unblock prejudice and limiting beliefs.
It’s also a self-preservation tool that can make you second guess hitting that ski jump in the exact same way as your seventeen-year-old son.
(I attribute my lack of broken bones to this tool.)
What happens though when we apply that doubt to our own selves?
Loss of confidence.
Who you are is never wrong.
I don’t care what the most recent self-help books say.
You are exactly who you are supposed to be.
When you begin to question yourself, you go beyond just questioning your abilities.
You begin to question your own essence.
The question stops being “do I know enough?” and quickly becomes “am I enough?”
That question ought to only have one answer:
Yes, you are.
How do I know this? It’s simple.
You’re the only you that we have.
There’s no other you to compare to.
You can’t fail at being you.
It’s only when we compare to others that we feel robbed of our own sense of self.
We look at people and only see their outsides, while comparing that to our own insides.
This habit is one that will easily steal our serenity and our happiness. When we look at others, we are typically seeing what we don’t have. When we reflect back to our insides, we compare that outward image to all the weaknesses and uncertainties that we feel about our own being.
We can’t ever know what anyone is really feeling or thinking, so we make up stories about them, and those stories are invariably going to be positive for them and negative for us. (Stoics, Buddhists, and Taoists have talked about this for ages.)
When we doubt ourselves, we are using all that we know about our own weaknesses and comparing those foibles to all that we see in others (which is usually only what we choose to see).
That self-doubt will corrode our happiness, our confidence, and our ability to trust ourselves.
Begin with the idea that you belong.
If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume that you’re alive. (Congratulations!)
The gift of being alive is that we get to experience ourselves in the world.
The curse is that we can only experience the world through our own senses.
This can sometimes give us the impression that everyone else is having a good time (thank you, Instagram) or that other people think about us more than they actually do. (I’m guessing that this is because we think about ourselves so much, therefore everyone else must.)
The freedom comes when we begin to notice how this thought is unhelpful.
What is helpful is believing that, no matter what, we belong.
Just like a tree that grows up in the forest knows that it belongs there, so could we begin to believe that about ourselves.
With that belief, we can begin to unwind the unhelpful ideas that we might not be enough, or that we might be lacking in some profound, intrinsic way.
The path to better communication and more presence begins with this understanding.
The more that you trust yourself, the greater your influence will be.
The more that you know that you already belong, the more grounded you will be in the reality of yourself.
The promise of trusting ourselves more is not the promise of arrogance or delusional thinking. It’s the promise of knowing that we can be challenged, corrected, make mistakes, learn, and grow because we trust that we belong.
Recognize the patterns of self-doubt and begin to see a path of greater self-trust.
I’d like to point you to my friend John Brubaker’s work around issues like this. John talks openly about his own struggles with mental health and has started a brand that encourages people to trust themselves more. It’s call Cuco, and it’s a wonderful array of fun clothing and sportswear that encourages people to walk with their “Chin up and chest out.” Please check it out here. Maybe there’s someone in your life who could use a pick-me-up.