Your Inability to Recognize Your Lack of Ability is Messing With Your Life and Progress

In essence, we suck. We suck at maintaining good habits. We suck at keeping our finances in good shape. We suck at keeping our shape in a good shape, i.e. we eat crap and don’t exercise. We also suck at doing our job properly because we’re always leaning towards distractions. And even though we know exactly what we should do in terms of tasks, we’re somehow able to dodge them and do something else instead, like watching Netflix, playing video games, reading “important” news online, refreshing social media hoping that will summon more likes. It’s a hard pill to swallow and I really hate to be the bearer of bad news but someone needs to say this: We suck! And to top it all, we suck at realizing that we suck. Or in other words, we’re unable to recognize our lack of ability, therefore we fail to improve and get better over time.

Building a successful online business or crushing your goals requires something more than access to your Instagram profile where you can share your progress and your notoriously amazing life. Besides sharing how marvelous and uberly good you’re with the gram (read: Instagram) filters, you also need to constantly refine what you’re doing and get better at your craft.

However, for some unknown, still not discovered by scientists reason. We tend to be blissfully unaware of our incompetence. And by failing to recognize our shortcomings we don’t only fail to progress in our niche, life, relationships, but we also fail to understand why we’re not making any progress. Or in other words, we’re double fucked.

Why is that?

Why we fail to understand our incompetence and we overestimate our performance? Is it because of our huge ego, overconfidence, because our parents repeatedly told us that we’re special and at some point we start believing we’re, or simply because we’re kind of forced to look glamorous online and we no longer see our defects because they are to cover up by likes?

My bets are on the latter but before I start adding facts and references from famous studies no one really understands unless there is a TDLR section, I want to say that it’s really important to have accurate views of your skills and expertise to move forward in the world. Otherwise, you’ll continue living in this imaginary world where you wholeheartedly believe that you’re awesome and legendary but in reality, you’re still asking your parents for money to buy new clothes for your next Instagram photoshoot.

Hopefully, after reading the below you’ll come up with a good game plan on how to start sucking less.

The Complicated Dunning–Kruger Effect Explained Simply

The Dunning–Kruger effect, in psychology, is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly evaluate their ability as greater than it is. It’s an illusory state of mind where we think, actually more than that, we’re 100% certain that we did a good job even if in reality what we did is useless. This illusory superiority is one of the many positive illusions that help us to maintain good self-esteem and repel discomfort. Although it is an illusion, our mind and our belief make it real.1

A famous study was done by David Dunning, ‎Justin Kruger, and company in a class with 141 students. They asked students to evaluate their performance just before they walked out of the classroom. They wanted to know the following two things:

  1. How they estimate their performance and their overall understanding of the material;
  2. Also asked them to estimate their raw score on the test they just did;

The graph below presents the data after evaluating the test:

David Dunning and Kerri Johnson famous test experiment
The majority of people have a wrong understanding of their skills and abilities.

The results? Well, pretty much all of them failed to accurately evaluate their understanding of the material. The average overestimation of their performance was roughly 30%.2

If you really think about it, the result is not that surprising. Since a person can’t understand that he is not familiar with the subject, he obviously will think that he did better. Dunning and Kruger call this a “‘double curse.” Basically, this means that those who perform poorly in a particular niche are not only unskilled, they are unaware of their lack of skills. Or in other words, the skills needed to produce correct responses are virtually the same to those needed to evaluate the accuracy of one’s responses.

It sounds confusing. But let’s take the following example:

Babies love to put things in their mouths when they are little. They think that everything is for eating. Give them a toy and they’ll immediately put it in their mouth thinking it’s a tasty meal (incorrect response). They don’t understand that toys are not food (the correct response). Therefore, they think that toys are food (incorrect response). They first need to understand what is categorized as food and then understand that toys are not food (the correct response). Eventually, over the years and after some trial and error, some parenting jiu-jitsu, they’ll understand what can be eaten and what is only for playing.

It sounds even more confusing? Ok, let’s observe the following:

I don’t know from kind of meat hot dogs are made of. My best guess will be pork meat. If someone asks me I’ll tell him, “Hot dogs are made out of pork meat, 100% real meat.” Which is an incorrect response when I finally googled it. But since I didn’t know that my first statement was inaccurate, I was living in ignorance for all those years but more importantly, I didn’t know that I was living in ignorance, which is actually the worst part.

How Your Inability to Recognize Your Lack of Ability is Messing With Your Life?

Consider an alcoholic. Or someone addicted to narcotics. If a guy who regularly drinks don’t admit to himself that he has a problem, thinks that he’s fine, he’ll never seek help and “cure” himself. According to him, he doesn’t have anything to cure. He says stuff like, “My family stresses me out – I just need to let loose and relax”; “I can quit if I want, it’s not like I’m addicted or something.”

This person is not familiar with his problem, therefore he thinks that there is no problem. The “double curse” mentioned above.

Only when he realizes that there is a problem he’ll unlock the secret door to the “correct” response. Or in our case, to the appropriate extra step – seeking help so he can stop this nasty behavior.

The same applies to you and me. If we wish to improve and get better at our craft, reach our goals faster, lose weight, or improve in general, we first need to pinpoint the main things holding us down. To make a long detailed analysis of our behaviors and habits so we can see what’s wrong with us. Preferably we’ll take notes while our best friend explains in details why we suck without arguing with him or smacking him in the face.

But before you tell yourself that you’re perfect and that there is nothing wrong with you because your mother told you so consider the following: You don’t have to crack beers for breakfast or sniff illegal substances from the bathroom floor to have a problem. You can be a vegan Catholic living in a modest minimal home and still suck, don’t worry. See some examples:

  • You’re maybe not spending enough time with your family;
  • Or maybe you’re suffocating them with your constant remarks;
  • You’re maybe spending an awful amount of time online posting useless updates about your life;
  • Or maybe you’re part of a few local gatherings because you prefer other people than your spouse and kids;
  • You’re maybe abusing chocolate;
  • Or maybe obsessively counting the calories of all of your meals;
  • You’re maybe in a constant lookout for new things to buy because you don’t feel fulfilled with what you have;
  • Or maybe you’re addicted to minimalism and you trimmed down everything from your life along with your friends…

Point is, we can suck in a lot of ways. We surely do. I’m not saying this to depress you or to make you feel bad about yourself. I simply want to help you understand that the sooner you find what’s wrong with you the sooner you can fix it.

Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence?

We already mentioned this. It’s called illusory superiority. Basically, we build this fantasy world where we’re something like superheroes inside. We have our own rules and views of the world. The criminal case of McArthur Wheeler in 1995 is a good example of our tendency to have inflated self-image and total lack of rational thinking. He robbed two banks while his face was covered with lemon juice, which he believed would make it invisible to the surveillance cameras. He thought that lemon juice acts like invisible ink. What a dumb ass, right?

Well, for us it sounds completely idiotic but he believed, wholeheartedly, that lemon juice enables ninja stealth mode which protects his face. Actually, after being arrested he was claiming he was innocent and said, “But I wore the juice!” In response to this statement he was checked by the police department for drug or alcohol intoxication. He was negative. They also concluded that Wheeler was not crazy, but just incredibly wrong.

So, from what we discussed so far we can conclude that there are three main reasons why we fail to recognize our own incompetence:

  1. Lack of experience: The baby is still young and doesn’t know what is good for eating and what is not;
  2. Lack of knowledge: My lack of knowledge and ignorance led me to believe that hot dogs are made out of real meat. My whole life was a lie!
  3. Lack of objective understanding of the real world: This here is much harder to be explained and it can vary. You’re maybe deceiving yourself because you have a huge ego, your parents installed in your brain that you’re special, you’re an online superstar and you see yourself as something more than others because you have a huge following and you’re getting a ton of likes.

The above 3 are the main reasons we fail to realize our shortcomings. They’re not plenty but one person can actually possess all 3. Especially if he’s still young.

Now, let’s observe them briefly one by one to understand them even better:

Lack of Experience:

Naturally, when we’re young we don’t know a lot about the world and our judgments are often not quite accurate if not even downright dumb. But age is not the main thing here. You can be a middle-aged guy and still be quite incompetent if you’re not educating yourself.

Solution: With each passing year, we learn more about the world and we gain the skills needed to tackle more complex problems. The more people we interact with, the more jobs we have, and the more places we visit, the more skills we’ll gain. Also, exposing yourself to more books and more problems will help you gain more experience.

Lack of Knowledge:

Absence of knowledge is also related to our age. Nobody expects from you to know a thing about history or how to calculate the volume of a prism when you’re 4. That’s why we go to school and our parents prompt us to explore the world.

However, aging is not a guarantee that you’ll gain a lot of know-how about how things work and become a mastermind. You can be 50 years old and still quite an ignorant person if you’re not curious about different topics and if you’re not regularly updating your knowledge by reading, talking with people, thinking about ways to improve things around you.

Solution: Similar to the above. Read more books and to things that scare the shit out of you.

Lack Of Objective Understanding Of The Real World:

We all form these positive illusions in our heads. These unrealistically favorable views about ourselves and/or about the people close to us. We tend to boost our strengths and often think that we don’t have any weaknesses.

Our early environment plays an important role here. If we were raized in a stable and nurturing environment this will boost these positive beliefs inflating our ego even more. The opposite is also true. If we were raized in a harsh environment, we may believe that we’re not worthy to be happy and therefore find answers in alcohol or other self-sabotaging behaviors.

In a way, these positive trends in our heads are good to have. I mean, it’s far better to believe that you’re good at something because you’ll tackle life with more confidence and enthusiasm. Of course, there is a fine line between feeling good about yourself and thinking you’re the King/Queen of England. In the former, you’ll have enough energy to get up and try again even if things don’t go as planned while in the latter you’ll be hospitalized.

Solution: Read below…

What We Can Do To Fix This Madness?

While there is an “easy” fix for the first two by reading more books, communicating with more people, trying different things, exploring different ideas, going outside of your comfort zone as a lot of people love to say. The third lackingness is a bit harder to be satisfied since it’s more personal. We’re all different people and different things drive us and motivate us.

But generally, to find the areas in your life in which you’re inadequate before it’s too late, you need to understand the following two things:

  1. You’re not so special;
  2. There’s always room for improvement;

Once you accept the above, keep a voice in the back of your mind always prompting you to check what you’re doing. To be vigilant of the world around and about your work so you can finds ways to improve.

To don’t be ignorant about your ignorance. Rather, to be harsh with your work and to seek ways to improve. To understand that there is never a final destination to mastery. Proficiency is achieved only by being OK with having flaws and always striving to add little improvements over time.

You’ll have to continue climbing to the top but know that there is no real top. In short, to adopt the word kaizen.3 An approach to creating continuous improvement in your life over the course of your whole life spawn.

Some Closing Thoughts

There is a reason the expression ignorance is bliss exists. Often the lack of knowledge in a particularly messy situation makes us feel happier than if we know the truth. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to learn more things. Quite the opposite.

The main reason you’re not making progress in your life, business, relationships with others is probably because you’re not seeing what you’re doing wrong. You might think you’re awesome, good-looking, famous online, but this inflated self-love will never help you spot the things holding you down.

Accept the fact that you might suck in some areas. This will not only take off the pressure but will also help you pinpoint these areas, thus find ways to get better over time.

“Only when we start accepting that we suck we can improve in life.”

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  1. My resource for this is my favorite Wikipedia.
  2. You can see the whole study in this paper, here.
  3. The Japanese word “kai” means “change” and “zen” which means “good.” The popular meaning from Toyota is “continuous improvement” or “small incremental improvements” of all areas of a company, not just manufacturing.
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