The Power of Updating Your Beliefs

Darrell Burberry

Darrell Burberry


Instinctively we like to learn NEW things. You might read this article with the goal of learning something you didn’t know.

If that outcome is achieved you will get a rush of dopamine, the reward chemical. You will feel good and you will have updated your beliefs.

Updated your beliefs? Now, that sounds like a stretch beyond learning. It might suggest that your beliefs are outdated, inaccurate or even wrong.

If I told you that what you believe about the world is wrong, it’s possible that you’d instinctively defend your position and aim to prove that it is me that is wrong.

So, here’s the paradox, we like to learn but we don’t like to change

In particular we don’t like to change our beliefs. 

Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that self-belief, or confidence in our beliefs, is corelated to low competence. Who would believe that? 

Confidence is something we all want.  “If only I was less confident”, said nobody ever!

However, by being less confident we open up to the possibility of learning and updating our beliefs.

his graph shows a rudimentary view of The Dunning-Kruger effect. High confidence equals low competence (far left). Expertise (far right) is good, but rare, and equates to mastery. For example, a Chess Grand Master. There’s room for learning, but their experience and results justify a high level of confidence.

Who thinks it’s good to be average? Well, here it is.  Having an average level of competence (the middle), or being open to learning, results in an average level of confidence.

On the path to mastery this is a belief that will hold you to your humility and keep you learning.

The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that it’s common to over-estimate our ability, knowledge and understanding of subjects or experiences. This begets confidence and a belief that we know much of what there is to know.

In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the court jester, Touchstone, lectures William, a countryman and minor character, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

The trouble with ignorance is it can feel like expertise.

Believe in Humility and Curiosity

Whilst many of us would instinctively sign up to being humble and open to learning we often miss blind spots that empower our ignorance. This is because our identity is under threat.

Our identity is a catch all for our beliefs. Politics, religion, ethics, values, democracy, diversity, inclusion and leadership along with many other topics are subjects on which we are likely to have formed beliefs over a period of time.  Are we continually updating those beliefs or are we pretty sure of our position?

The surer we are the more likely it is that we are wrong. Why? Because we have closed the door to learning and changing.

At Arcadia Consulting we train and coach hundreds of leaders every year and in the face of the pandemic we recently launched a research paper and programme solutions called Rebuilding the World’s Confidence

The pandemic has shaken the world and our belief about our health and wellbeing. This has also led to a loss of confidence in economic prosperity and human interaction.

So, we are suggesting that the role of leaders is to help rebuild that confidence. The confidence we want to engender, amongst other things, is optimism and resilience.

This is not the confidence that means we are right. This is confidence aligned to humility and openness to learning. The confidence to update our beliefs and to change the way we lead.

What we know more than ever is that we can’t predict the future and that’s a good thing.  It’s counterintuitive to view uncertainty as a good thing, but the less sure we are the more open we are to change.

Now, that’s an empowering belief to update. 

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