Self-help and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Learn Sanskrit in 30 days.

Learn Java in 24 hours.

An entire MBA in four weeks.

We are all familiar with cliched self-help titles and their empty promises. If you learnt Java for 24 hours, you merely learn 24 hours worth of a skill that requires 1000s of hours to master.

Why do these titles remain popular? And more importantly, why do we keep falling for them?

The answer may have something to do with the DunningKruger effect. Two psychologists, Dunning and Kruger, established how people often grow overconfident in the initial days of learning a new skill. Amateurs often have the impression that they know more about a skill than they actually do.

However, this feeling doesn’t last long. On learning a little more, one’s own incompetence becomes clear and their confidence drops. When we know more of a topic, we also understand how much of it we don’t know.

Yet, reading that self-help book on a new topic leads us straight up the illusory peak of confidence, although the necessary competence is lacking. Therefore, it feels like we have taken a short-cut, and the fantastic reviews pour in for the book or the seminar that got us there.

However, on sticking to the skill, our incompetence becomes clear, and we realize that we have been cheated. That is, until we fall for the next self-help hack.

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