By adulthood, most of us think we know our selves really well and understand how others see us. When it comes to self-awareness, most of us think we are more accurate about describing our personality and behavior pattern than anybody else. But research shows that we are not as self-aware as we believe we are. Studies show that we tend to be terrible judges of our own performance and abilities.

The Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman says that people “have an almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” We think we are smarter, funnier, better looking, more generous than we really are in reality. In psychology, this is a well-known phenomenon called the “Better than Average” effect–the idea that most people rate themselves more positively than they rate others.

Even scarier is that the least competent people are typically the most confident in their abilities. Yikes. This was first reported by two Stanford psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger which we now know as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

In fact, if we want a more accurate description of our performance and abilities, our coworkers might be better people to ask than ourselves. This is because we don’t see our blindspots–certain traits in ourselves that we don’t see, but others can objectively see. What are these blind spots? According to research and the book “Insight” published by psychologist Tasha Eurich, there are three blindspots which are detrimental to our self-awareness. These three blind spots keep us from seeing ourselves clearly.

The first blind spot is called “Knowledge Blindness.” In a series of studies by David Dunning, they found that the opinions we have about our abilities in specific situations are based less on performance and more so on our general beliefs about ourselves. So a surgeon might think they are a great surgeon but objectively perform no better than a group of surgeons that are tested on a surgical test. Ironically, the more expertise one may have can lead to more harmful knowledge blindness because of the overconfidence about our skills and talents as the expert. Our overconfidence can get us into a situation that we are poorly suited to handle. For a surgeon, this “knowledge blindness” plus overconfidence can lead to significant patient harm.

The second blind spot is called the “Emotion Blindness.” This is blindness when we make decisions from a place of emotion without realizing it. As Daniel Kahneman states, our brains turn questions like “How happy are you with life these days?” into “What mood am I in right now?”. So the more aware we are of the existence of our current emotion into a decision, the better chance we have of overcoming this blindspot.

The third blind spot is called “Behavior Blindness”–that is we can be blind to how we see our own behavior. For example, if you are giving a public speech and start thinking “Oh my god, I am bombing” because you fumbled a few words and you see a couple of heads dozing off to sleep. But in reality, that is not what the vast majority sees as you are giving you’re talk.

According to the book “Insight,” apart from these internal blind spots that can hurt our self-awareness, there is a societal trend that is also hurting self-awareness. The self-absorbed culture or as she calls it– “the Cult of Self.” People with some of the most delusional thinking and lack of self-awareness are focused on one thing–themselves. It is delusional thinking like I am unique, special, and superior to others. My needs matter more than anyone else’s, and the rules don’t apply to me as they do to others. Culturally, we see it in social media and the “selfie” era we live in today. At its worse, it is seen by others as profound narcissism and an extraordinary sense of entitlement because I am deserving and better than others. An intense self-focus not only obscures our vision of those around us but also distorts how we see ourselves.

So what is the remedy in our self-absorbed “selfie” world? According to Tasha Eurich, three strategies are helpful. The first is to focus less on yourself and more on engaging and connecting with others. She gives an interesting challenge that I found…well….insightful–for the next 24 hours, pay attention to how much you think and talk about yourself versus how much you focus on others both online and offline. You may be amazed how self-absorbed your daily attention can be.

The second strategy is to cultivate humility. Appreciating our weaknesses and keeping our success in perspective is the key to humility and self-awareness. As the psychologist, Brene Brown said in her famous TED talk: Understanding our imperfections and cultivating the power of vulnerability is essential for deep insight into ourselves and understanding others around us.

Finally, the third strategy is self-acceptance or self-compassion. As Eurich states, instead of trying to be perfect or believing things must be perfect, self-accepting people understand that perfection is an illusion and forgive themselves for their imperfections. As one of Eurich’s high self-aware subjects stated: “The problem is not being aware of yourself but loving the person you find out you are.”

I am a gynecologic oncologist, a husband, and a father. My blog is mostly about our healthcare system and well-being, but occasionally I get inspired to write about other "stuff" too.

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