What if You Don't Feel Smart Enough? - Deepstash

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Feeling insecure about what you know

Feeling insecure about what you know

We may feel that we are not smart enough to do what we do. One explanation for this is the Dunning-Kruger effect: when you are incompetent, you can't know you're incompetent and can't properly assess your own competence.

Research shows that incompetent students think they are much better than they are and top students underestimate themselves.

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Delving into knowledge

When you start on a learning path, you may feel confident in learning, but the better you get, the more self-conscious you become of what you can't do or understand. When you delve deeper, you'll find some ideas that get sharpened and others that get more complicated and nuanced. It can cause you to start doubting yourself.

This feeling of self-doubt is a feature of learning and arise from two causes:

  • The structure of knowledge and skills
  • Social comparisons with experts

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Knowledge structures and social comparisons

Knowledge structures. The more knowledge you learn, the more subtle patterns appear. Consider learning English. The word "good" may be sufficient until you know words like "fine", "excellent", "stupendous", sublime."

Social comparisons. When you start, you may compare yourself to your peers. But the more you learn, the more you compare your quality to experts. Unfortunately, this is not always helpful.

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Dealing with intellectual insecurity

There are two approaches:

  • "Leave it to the experts." While it is true that the most informed speak the clearest, it is also true that fields of expertise can develop closed intellectual cultures where certain assumptions get ingrained.  The best answers come from open and deliberate processes.
  • Try to be honest but humble. Do your best, and be open to changing your mind if some people who know more than you disagree with you.

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