Why is Growth So Often = Stepping Beyond Comfort?

Your job is based on your expertise and skill.  But there’s a flip side to this coin. Maintaining and deepening expertise requires a special kind of vulnerability: the willingness to doubt your expertise and get feedback on your weaknesses.

You know what’s worrying? Check this out, from Wikipedia:

“The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.”

That kept me up at night for a while. This is what I hear in one of my less tactful inner voices:

‘Not only do you stink at some things.  But you are least likely to be aware of how you stink in those areas where you stink most!’

Let that sink in.

If you take this seriously, it is a call (after maybe a few sleepless nights) not to wallow in inadequacy, but to rise to the challenge of seeing yourself and your imperfections clearly. Again, notice that tiny bit of threat response kicking in around the edges? (Or perhaps it’s a forest fire racing right up your gut…)  There is the germ for avoidance. Where do you turn from there?

Wikipedia continues its discussion of the Dunning-Kruger effect and offers this little gem:  “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

Here is what I see in that:  if you are aware of your imperfections – not only do you stand a better chance of actually improving them – but you are also in the good company of other souls striving for competence and doubting their own infallibility. Further, given your contact with your limits, you are probably not optimally in contact with the ways in which you are effective. A little anxiety about competence may very well be a component of the process that drives your competence, it might only meant that you care…or it might mean nothing at all.

There is a fascinating study, albeit a single study, of what can happen when you train students in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – an approach that asks therapists to let go of being all knowing (Lapallainen et al. 2007).  (see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17548542) They found that students learning ACT were less confident and more anxious AND had better outcomes than students learning standard cognitive-behavioral therapy. In other words, confidence and comfort is NOT always associated with competence.

So do not buy into your own schtick. And do not buy into the shame that leads you to hide behind looking good either. That doesn’t serve. But the kind of humility and openness it takes to look squarely at your mistakes and shortcomings? That is where the master therapists hang out. This is a fundamental piece of the spirit we bring to PracticeGround. Our community is grounded in this kind of vulnerability.