Self- Mastery by Nika Cristiani: If we think we know it all, we fail !

Self- Mastery by Nika Cristiani: If we think we know it all, we fail !

In my career as a fitness , nutritional and health professional spanning 30 years, many times I had to discuss with friends and clients about things they read it saw on YouTube, exercises they asked me about, meal plans, all kind of things they found on the internet and they asked for my advice.

Firstly, I want to explain: What is a fitness professional?

A fitness professional is someone who helps clients achieve their fitness , nutritional and sometimes - health goals ( in cooperation with the doctor). They work together with their clients to help establish goals and train to achieve them, often by creating exercise and dietary routines. They guide their clients through various workout regimens and help them progress toward their goals, also mentally. For example, an individual may hire a personal trainer to help them lose weight or to train for an athletic competition. Personal trainers often work for themselves or for exercise facilities.

As a fitness professional, you may spend much of your time helping others to improve their physical and mental well-being. This can provide a very rewarding feeling when one of your clients achieves a fitness goal or improves their overall quality of life. Fitness professionals can take pride in the fact that they are helping their clients to stay healthy and achieve their goals.

Obviously, everyone knows a trainer or fitness “guru” who promises unrealistic results or just simply doesn’t know what he is doing. While there are a lot of trainers like me that make sure their clients get great results safely, unfortunately there are also a lot of really bad personal trainers out there. Please always look at their websites, reviews and customer recommendations and then decide wisely.

If any professional thinks “ they know it all”, that would be a red flag for me. Never stop learning! Because constantly improving, learning, and adapting is what brings us to the next level. No-one knows it all and if you think that, you will most likely fail.

Secondly, I think it can’t hurt to listen to other people, do some proper research and then you might realize , there’s a new perspective or new treatments/ solutions/ tricks that you have never heard of and they might work! So let’s be open and try new things, be open to new perspectives! And then, you can decide whether they work, or not and even incorporate them into your program. That’s how we grow! That’s how we level up! In any field!

In his book, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” This statement is often completely contrary to what we believe or assume to be true – that the more knowledgeable we are, the more confident we will be.

It turns out that Charles Darwin was completely right. In more recent years, we have come to understand and accept the Dunning-Kruger effect: a cognitive bias that states that the less we know, the more confident we are. It gives new meaning to the saying, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

A cognitive bias that causes an overestimation of capability

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe they are smarter and more capable than they are. Essentially, low-ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their capabilities.

The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognize—that fools are blind to their own foolishness. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."

This article explores how the Dunning-Kruger effects works, the history of research on this phenomenon, and why people may overestimate their skills. It also covers some of the ways you can avoid overestimating your knowledge.

Understanding the Dunning-Kruger Effect

This phenomenon is something you may have experienced in real life. An example of the Dunning-Kruger effect is a situation that many have perhaps experienced around the dinner table at a holiday family gathering.

Throughout the meal, a member of your extended family spouts off on a topic at length, boldly proclaiming that they are correct and that everyone else's opinion is stupid, uninformed, and just plain wrong. While it may be evident that this person has no idea what they are talking about, they prattle on, blithely oblivious to their ignorance.

The effect is named after researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the two social psychologistswho first described it. They performed a series of four investigations in their original study on this psychological phenomenon.

People who scored in the lowest percentiles on grammar, humor, and logic tests also tended to dramatically overestimate how well they had performed (their actual test scores placed them in the 12th percentile, but they estimated that their performance placed them in the 62nd percentile).

The Research

In one experiment, for example, Dunning and Kruger asked their 65 participants to rate how funny different jokes were. Some participants were exceptionally poor at determining what other people would find funny—yet these subjects described themselves as excellent judges of humor.

Incompetent people, the researchers suggested, were not only poor performers but were also unable to accurately assess and recognize the quality of their work. This is perhaps why students who earn failing scores on exams sometimes feel they deserve a much higher score. They overestimate their knowledge and ability and cannot accurately assess their performance.

Low performers are unable to recognize the skill and competence levels of other people, which is part of the reason why they consistently view themselves as better, more capable, and more knowledgeable than others.

"In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious," wrote David Dunning in an article for Pacific Standard. "Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge."

Effects on Behavior and Decisions

This effect can have a profound impact on what people believe, the decisions they make, and the actions they take.

In one study, Dunning and Ehrlinger found that women performed equally to men on a science quiz, and yet women underestimated their performance because they believed they had less scientific reasoning ability than men. The researchers also found that these women were more likely to refuse to enter a science competition due to this belief.

Dunning and his colleagues have also performed experiments in which they ask respondents if they are familiar with various terms related to subjects including politics, biology, physics, and geography. Along with genuine subject-relevant concepts, they interjected completely made-up terms.

In one such study, approximately 90% of respondents claimed they had at least some knowledge of the made-up terms. Consistent with other findings related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, the more familiar participants claimed that they were with a topic, the more likely they were to also claim they were familiar with the meaningless terms.

Why It Happens

So what explains this psychological effect? Are some people simply too dense to recognize it? Dunning and Kruger suggest that this phenomenon stems from what they refer to as a "dual burden." People are not only incompetent; their incompetence robs them of the mental ability to realize just how inept they are.

Incompetent people tend to:

  • Overestimate their skill levels
  • Fail to recognize the genuine skill and expertise of other people
  • Fail to recognize their own mistakes and lack of skill

The very knowledge and skills necessary to be good at a task are the same qualities that a person needs to recognize that they are not good at that task. So if a person lacks those abilities, they remain not only bad at that task but ignorant of their inability.5

This effect has been attributed to a number of different explanations, including:

An Inability to Recognize Lack of Skill and Mistakes

Dunning suggests that deficits in skill and expertise create a two-pronged problem. First, these deficits cause people to perform poorly in the domain in which they are incompetent. Secondly, their erroneous and deficient knowledge makes them unable to recognize their mistakes.

A Lack of Metacognition

The Dunning-Kruger effect is also related to difficulties with metacognition. Metacognition refers to the ability to step back and look at one's behavior and abilities from outside of oneself.

People can often only evaluate themselves from their own limited and highly subjective point of view. From this limited perspective, they seem highly skilled, knowledgeable, and superior to others. Because of this, people sometimes struggle to have a more realistic view of their abilities.

A Little Knowledge Can Lead to Overconfidence

Another contributing factor is that sometimes a tiny bit of knowledge on a subject can lead people to mistakenly believe that they know all there is to know about it. As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

A person might have the slimmest bit of awareness about a subject, yet thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, believe that they are an expert.

Other factors that can contribute to the effect include:

  • The use of heuristics, or mental shortcuts that allow people to make decisions quickly
  • A tendency to seek out patterns even where none exist

Our minds are primed to try to make sense of the disparate array of information we deal with daily. As we try to cut through the confusion and interpret our abilities and performance within our worlds, it is perhaps not surprising that we sometimes fail so completely to judge how well we do accurately.5

Are You Less Competent Than You Think?

So who is affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect? According to the researchers, everyone is prone to this effect. This is because no matter how informed or experienced we are, everyone has areas in which they are uninformed and incompetent. You might be smart and skilled in many areas, but no one is an expert at everything.

In 1999 Professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger published the paper “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” In it, they prove the phenomenon that people with very little knowledge of a particular subject are confident and outspoken on the subject. This lack of knowledge leads to two things – firstly, you have little idea of what you are actually doing or talking about, and secondly, your sense of confidence makes it impossible for you to realize just how little you know. 

Recognising the Dunning-Kruger Effect

It’s fairly easy to see how this can happen, and most of us will recognize this in ourselves and in others. As you start to learn a new skill your progress is rapid – you learn quickly and make progress fast. This makes you feel like you are really good at the skill, and pretty soon you feel like you’ve got this – you’re terrific at it! You have essentially learnt enough to be able to perform the skill but have not yet learnt enough to realize what you don’t know.

As you then gain knowledge and start to realize just how little you do know, your confidence will plummet and reach an all-time low. If you choose to continue to build your knowledge by learning and gaining experience, your level of confidence starts to rise again, finally matching your level of knowledge.

I absolutely love the graph that illustrates this phenomenon – I can recognise myself standing right there on top of Mount Stupid when it comes to certain areas of knowledge. In other areas, I am in the Valley of Despair, and in others, I am climbing the slope of enlightenment as my knowledge and confidence slowly grow.


Why is the Dunning-Kruger Effect important to you?

The real question is – are you standing on Mount Stupid and confidently and loudly declaring your knowledge and opinion as a specialist in certain areas? Because if you are, you are putting patients , clients, animals lives and outcomes at risk. It is worth learning to recognize our own shortcomings, just as we are so frequently exhorted to recognize our strengths.

Are you dwelling on Mount Stupid?

There are a few signs we can spot in ourselves when we are overconfident with a lack of knowledge:

  • We will be rather loud and opinionated.
  • We will overestimate our own skills.
  • We fail to recognize the skills and knowledge of others.
  • We fail to recognize our mistakes and shortcomings.
  • We feel like there is not much to learn from anyone else.
  • We won’t actively pursue learning opportunities, read research on a regular basis, and delve into a specific subject or condition in great depth to allow ourselves to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding.
  • We don’t take criticism well.
  • Other people might describe us as being arrogant (although we may not know it).

If you recognize these qualities in yourself, don’t berate yourself; we have all been here. The question is, are we going to stay here, or will we recognize our shortcomings and do something about them?

Are you in the Valley of Despair?

The path off of Mount Stupid can be rapid, sudden and traumatic, or it can be a gentle stroll down a hill – it all depends on how we decide to respond to the realization that we are not as great as we thought we were. It will also depend on how long we have kept ourselves up there on Mount Stupid! I think for most of you, not long. You are a Vetrehabber after all, with a never stop learning attitude.

As we stand in the Valley of Despair, having lost all confidence in ourselves, we are faced with a decision. Do we re-assess ourselves, our knowledge and our skills and start to find ways of correcting our inadequacies? Or do we give up and try something else?

Are you climbing the Slope of Enlightenment?

If you choose not to give up but to find a way forward, reflect on your decisions, experiences and mistakes, and start to fill in your knowledge gaps, you will find yourself slowly climbing the Slope of Enlightenment.

To remain on the slope requires work and discipline. A continuous process of self-evaluation and an absolute dedication to continuous growth and learning takes time, energy and effort.

Are you on the Plateau of Sustainability?

At some point, continuous growth and learning become more than a habit; it becomes a part of you, a part of your very nature, your character. And this is when sustainability is achieved. You can calmly and confidently keep on carrying on!

And somewhere along the way, something truly magical happens. We become humble and wise, and our hearts are moulded to those of a servant. We take pleasure in learning, never assuming we know it all. In this place, we can truly serve our patients, our clients and our professional community. Here we can grow and mentor others, share our knowledge and experience, and for the first time really contribute to a greater cause.

7 tips to fight the Dunning-Kruger Effect


The reality is that everyone is susceptible to this phenomenon, and most of us probably experience it with surprising regularity. People who are genuine experts in one area may mistakenly believe that their intelligence and knowledge carry over into other areas in which they are less familiar.

A brilliant scientist, for example, might be a very poor writer. For the scientist to recognize their lack of skill, they need to possess a good working knowledge of grammar, composition, and other elements of writing. Because those are lacking, the scientist in this example also lacks the ability to recognize their own poor performance.


The Dunning-Kruger effect is not synonymous with low IQ. As awareness of the term has increased, its misapplication as a synonym for "stupid" has also grown. It is, after all, easy to judge others and believe that such things simply do not apply to you.

Is the Dunning-Kruger Effect Real?

Not everyone agrees that the Dunning-Kruger effect actually exists, however. Instead, some critics have suggested that the effect is instead a data artifact. In mathematical studies, researchers were able to replicate the effect using computer-generated random data. Such studies found that experts and amateurs overestimate or underestimate their abilities at about the same rate.

The research did find, however, that experts tend to be better at assessing their own abilities and that women generally make more accurate self-assessments than men.

Dunning-Kruger Effect vs. Imposter Syndrome

So if the incompetent tend to think they are experts, what do genuine experts think of their own abilities? Dunning and Kruger found that those at the high end of the competence spectrum did hold more realistic views of their own knowledge and capabilities. However, these experts actually tended to underestimate their own abilities relative to how others did.

Top-scoring individuals know that they are better than the average, but they are not convinced of how superior their performance is to others. The problem, in this case, is not that experts don't know how well-informed they are; they tend to believe that everyone else is also knowledgeable.

This can sometimes lead to the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect—imposter syndrome. Since the Dunning-Kruger effect involves overconfidence in one's abilities, the opposing tendency would involve underconfidence in one's abilities. In imposter syndrome, competent people doubt their own abilities and fear that others will discover them to be frauds.

How to Overcome the Dunning-Kruger Effect

So is there anything that can minimize this phenomenon? Is there a point at which the incompetent actually recognize their own ineptitude?

"We are all engines of misbelief," Dunning has suggested. While we are all prone to experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect, learning more about how the mind works and the mistakes we are all susceptible to might be one step toward correcting such patterns.

As people learn more about the topic of interest, they begin to recognize their lack of knowledge and ability. Then as people gain more information and become experts on a topic, their confidence levels begin to improve again.

So what can you do to gain a more realistic assessment of your abilities in a particular area if you are not sure you can trust your self-assessment?


  • Keep learning and practicing. Instead of assuming you know all there is to know about a subject, keep digging deeper. Once you gain greater knowledge of a topic, you will likely recognize how much there is still to learn. This can combat the tendency to assume you’re an expert, even if you're not.
  • Ask other people how you're doing. Another effective strategy involves asking others for constructive criticism. While it can sometimes be difficult to hear, such feedback can provide valuable insights into how others perceive your abilities.
  • Question what you know. Even as you learn more and get feedback, it can be easy to only pay attention to things that confirm what you think you already know. This is an example of another type of psychological bias known as the confirmation bias. In order to minimize this tendency, keep challenging your beliefs and expectations. Seek out information that challenges your ideas.

A Word From Nika Cristiani

As a published author, Pro-Aging Advocate and Fitness Professional with a career spanning 30 years, I was asked to write an essay for the Strong Fitness Magazine September 2023 edition and I am super honored!

Here is a part of my article, exclusively for YOU my friends to read upfront and i hope this will help you in your business decision making and personal growth.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is one of many cognitive biases that can affect your behaviors and decisions, from the mundane to the life-changing. While it may be easier to recognize the phenomenon in others, it is important to remember that it is something that impacts everyone. By understanding the underlying causes that contribute to this psychological bias, you might be better able to spot these tendencies in yourself and find ways to overcome them.

Not knowing something in your specific field is not failure. Ignorance is! I personally have failed many times but I never gave up believing in my specific talent and skills and I was never too tired to practice, adapt and improve them , I still do this as we speak! Failure can be enlightening! 

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?

Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at achieving my goals first time, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. When someone broke into our home and business and took all our assets and stole all our belongings, devices, prototypes, everything we had, i was so desperate because I thought my world came to an end. Everything my husband and I worked for our entire life was gone. But dealing with the situation a few years , at one point, I was finally set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a husband  whom I adored.  And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life and created GYM IN A BOX . We launched it during the peak of the pandemic in November 2020, after working on the technology since 2015.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. 

Best, Nika Cristiani

#neverstoplearning #levelup #businessskills #selfmastery

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