How to Shake Your Cognitive Bias

Living a lie on the impostor spectrum

The ability to accurately identify one’s own aptitude is a difficult task.

The world is overrun with overinflated egos, and understated geniuses. It’s rare to find a quietly confident leader with a clear understanding of their talents. In the same breath, it’s as rare to find a confident employee who accurately values their contribution to the greater good.

This phenomenon is due, in part, to our existence on the spectrum that lies between Impostor Syndrome and the Dunning Kruger Effect.

I’ll start by explaining these two extreme states of existence.

Impostor Syndrome

Impostors live among us. They may be your kids, your husband, your neighbour, or even your dog. These are the folks that, regardless of praise or success, feel as though they’re not worthy. They feel like their life has been a lie. They’re convinced they’ve managed their success by some celestial fluke, to no merit of their own.

At this point, you may be nodding your head. That’s likely because you’re an intelligent human being who has nervously undervalued themselves throughout their life.

Impostor Syndrome is a very common condition, afflicting many bright, qualified people. Some to a greater degree than others.

Dunning Kruger Effect

On the other end of the spectrum, folks who fall into the Dunning Kruger bucket(we’ll call them DKs) suffer from an illusion of superiority. DKs are people with low aptitude, who have an inability to recognize their incompetence.

At this point, you may be confused. You have no idea what any of these words mean in sequence. But you’re convinced that you’re a phenomenal reader. That’s likely because you suffer from DKE.

I believe that these cognitive biases exist on a spectrum, with one at either end, and that the majority of us land somewhere in between.

How to Beat The Bias

We all occupy a point on this spectrum, but those who operate in one of the extremes are inevitably suffering because of it. Anyone suffering from DKE won’t identify as such and thus, I can’t offer them any measurable actions. Instead, here are some coping mechanisms to help alleviate the pain of Impostor Syndrome. As always, take what resonates with you and leave the rest.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Easier said than done, but like many biases born of the mind, it can die in the mind as well. Mindfulness practices arise in much of my writing as I believe it to be the cure to what ails us. Practice spending time in the moment to recognize that your internal dialogue holds no real weight.

2. Reflect on past successes

Build your mental arsenal of success. Write out a list of moments in life when you achieved personal success. Moments when your expertise, skill, or work ethic enabled you to rise above your self-perceived limits. Next time the impostor monster creeps into your consciousness, you’ll be able to call on these moments of success to ward it off.

3. Earn confidence

One of my favourite ways to gain confidence, is to earn it. Reading and writing regularly on a subject helps me curb my impostor syndrome and develop defendable expertise on a given subject. This is a practice that can be adopted slowly, focusing on areas that cause you the most anxiety, and branching into more broad domains of expertise.

4. Become a mentor

Sharing knowledge is a great way to reinforce your own sense of value. When you can offer guidance to someone less experienced, you may begin to recognize the value you create all around you.

5. Take more risks

The greater the risk, the greater the reward. I find the more I push myself outside of my comfort zone, the more I’m able to experience the moments in life that solidify my confidence. Take a leap of faith and expose yourself to the world. Take on a public speaking gig, or lead a project at work. Push away the nagging voice of the impostor once, to change your internal dialogue forever.

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