Calibrate Your Talent Meter: Honest Self-Awareness is a Secret of Success

Research has shown that there is part of our brain – the forward most region of the medial prefrontal cortex that helps us self-reflect. Using neuroimaging studies in 2007, research Arnaud D’Argembeu of Belgium found that this part of the brain

“helps a person reflect ton their traits and abilities versus those of others.”

But here’s the thing, when our talent meter is off, our thinking is off.

Two examples of Talent Meters Gone Wrong

We all know the person who can’t sing and doesn’t know it or the kid who thinks they are a sports star and doesn’t know it isn’t their strong suit.

Cornell researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger examined college students who scored in the bottom 25% on an exam. When asked just after the exam how they did, these students firmly believed they outperformed everyone else in the class. When faced with lower than expected scores, many of them argued with the professor to try to convince the prof they were right.*

Students aren't the only one with this problem. In five studies of effective and ineffective principals, every single principal had one thing in common: they all thought they were doing a good job. Only half of them were right.**

The other half were clueless that they were being studied because they were incompetent and doing a poor job.

The Double Whammy of Incompetence

Researchers call this the “double whammy of incompetence.”*** Kruger and Dunning say:

“If you don’t even realize you have gaps in your abilities, it may never occur to you to try to make improvements.”

Like the clueless person depicted in Beatle’s pop hit Strawberry Fields Forever,

“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

Some people choose to live with their eyes firmly closed to the reality that many of their problems are within their control.

“One challenge in any profession is the ability to self-reflect – accurately. Those who know how they are coming across to others, how their behavior is received, work more effectively,” says Todd Whitaker.****

In their book Winner’s Brain, Harvard Researchers Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske list the common characteristics of a winner’s brain and call them “Win Factors.”

What is Win Factor #1?

Self Awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to know yourself and your limitations. It is the ability to plan for the future and have purpose and direction. It is the ability that lets you improve relationships, your job, and your life. IN fact the Greek philosophers said that self-awareness is the secret to human nature.

How can you become more self-aware and recalibrate the perception of you versus reality?

First. Go ahead and admit you need improvement.

We all need it. To feign perfection is to swallow the lie that will forever break your talent meter.

Second. Actively seek feedback.

I conduct student focus groups, do anonymous surveys, and ask students to evaluate individual units throughout the year. During this time of discussion, I'm admitting to my students and myself that I need to improve.

Third. Keep your ego in check.

Self-Awareness can be a challenge in the days of self-esteem and pride. However, if we're going to be excellent, we have got to calibrate our talent meter. We've got to be able to live with our eyes wide open and with good feedback so we can improve our abilities. To ignore our own weaknesses is to misunderstand all we see.

We all have room for improvement.


* Brown, Jeff and Mark Fenske. The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use To Achieve Success. (Boston: Harvard University, 2010), p. 62.

** Whitaker, Todd. What Great Principals Do Differently: 18 Things That Make a Difference, p 5.

*** Brown, p 40.

****Whitaker, p 5.

This post is day 52 of 80 days of excellence. I've created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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