Warning: Sheer Cliffs! How to Avoid Falling off Mount Stupid

Noelle Ihli

Warning: Sheer Cliffs! How to Avoid Falling off Mount Stupid

Think Again Author Adam Grant Explains the Dunning-Kruger Effect and How You Can Find a Balance Between Confidence and Humility

What do you get when you combine low knowledge with high confidence? A phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect or “toxic confidence.”

Researchers have found that individuals who score low in logic and competence often score high in confidence about what they think they know. 

Think Again author, Adam Grant, calls this perilous position “the peak of Mount Stupid” and offers sound advice to find your way back to solid ground.

The View from Mount Stupid

In one study on the Dunning-Kruger effect, poorly performing physicians rated themselves around 40% more competent than their peers and were much less likely to accept that they’d made mistakes. Furthermore, they lacked the self-awareness necessary to grow from the experience, which only perpetuated their state of “toxic confidence.”

In short, if you’re suffering from Dunning-Kruger, chances are you don’t realize it. So, whether or not you think you need to do some self-reflection, ask yourself the following questions to avoid ending up on the peak of Mount Stupid:

  1. Do you make snap decisions quickly, without taking time to explore all options?
  2. Are you afraid to ask questions for fear of revealing inadequacies or being seen as incompetent?
  3. Do you find it difficult or painful to admit when you’ve made a mistake? 
  4. Do you find it uncomfortable to re-examine deeply held beliefs, even when new circumstances or evidence contradicts them? 
  5. Do you feel threatened by critical feedback? 

You might be susceptible to toxic confidence if you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions (don’t worry, most people do). So keep reading to find safer ground! 

Make your way to the Slope of Enlightenment

Grant calls the path down from Mount Stupid the “Slope of Enlightenment.” This safe passage asks travelers to practice “confident humility.” Humility tempers confidence with an openness to new experiences, new information, and the possibility of being wrong. 

When you find the slope of enlightenment and embrace confident humility, you feel secure in your abilities to learn and succeed. You also recognize your limits, the benefits of owning up to mistakes, and the value of asking for help. Use the following strategies to find the Slope of Enlightenment: 

  1. Slow down. Before making a decision, look at the problem from all angles. Or reflect on past poor choices, and analyze what you overlooked. 
  2. Practice asking questions. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the ability to ask for help is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
  3. Admit when you’re wrong. If you’re a perfectionist, this can be very hard, but over time, you’ll recognize that everyone makes mistakes and be more accepting of yourself when you do.
  4. Choose a belief you hold dear and explore it. Pick something that doesn’t feel too threatening to question, then do some research, and keep an open mind.
  5. Actively seek feedback. Reframe critical feedback as an opportunity to grow and accurately evaluate your performance.

Careful: Mount Stupid’s Inverse Is Just as Dangerous

The peak of Mount Stupid is high confidence paired with low knowledge. What do you get when you flip the script and pair low confidence with high knowledge? Imposter syndrome or, as Grant calls it, the “Valley of Despair.”

If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you probably hold yourself back from contributing to conversations, offering expertise, or solving problems. Unfortunately, this “toxic humility” hampers your ability to succeed as much as the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

Thankfully, the slope of enlightenment is also the answer to imposter syndrome. Take time to reflect, challenge your beliefs, and ask for and accept feedback about your abilities. Then press forward with a confident humility that acknowledges and honors your skills and contributions. 

Do you have any tips for safely descending “Mount Stupid” or ascending the “Valley of Despair”? Share them with us on Twitter using #ThinkAgain. 

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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