How to be a REAL expert
WARNING: If you confidently know everything about your area of expertise, don’t read this (the research may insult you).
If you sometimes second guess yourself, check and re-check your facts, and always update your knowledge, you may actually be MORE competent than those who are uber-confident!
Let’s say you want to get expert help with something. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of options available to you. How do you choose which expert you want to work with?
Would it be the person with
- the best logo and branding colours?
- the best social media feeds?
- the prettiest website?
- the slickest sales page?
What would you look for as the signs that they can help you?
For me, it’s “Do they know their freaking stuff?”
If I’m serious about hiring someone to help me solve my problem, I want to know that the person knows how to do it. They’re not going to send me off on a wild goose chase with their random personal theories. They’re not going to recommend something that won’t work; or worse, make my problem bigger.
So, in this growing market of wellness professionals, how do YOU stand out as an expert?
I’m not saying that logos, social media, website design, and sales pages are not important – they are! And, it’s possible (likely?) that many people see the pretty and slick marketing shiz and “buy now.” But, to truly give your customers & clients the results they want and need, your advice has to hold some water. People’s health is in your hands. You NEED to be an expert.
NOTE: I have GOOD NEWS for you if you’re not 100% confident in what you do…
So, how do you grow your expertise to know WTF you’re talking about?
Who really are the experts?
When we graduate from our schools and proudly display our new titles or letters after our names, we’re awesome! We have a new skill set we can use to help our clients with their health goals.
And, we may create or purchase client management software or a 12-week program that we can take our clients through to get their results.
We can be pretty successful with this and proud of our clients’ accomplishments.
But, the world is changing. New research is published daily. Sensational (sometimes fake) headlines abound. Our clients and followers ask us tough questions.
Plus, I think we can agree that no matter where we went to school and what program we graduated from, there’s always more to know. Always!No matter where we went to school and what program we graduated from, there's always more to know. Always! #health #knowledge #credibility Click To Tweet
Especially once we choose our area of expertise and niche – we really need to dive deeper into that information to expand our knowledge in that area.
What do we do?
If you’re like me, you want to keep up-to-date with the research, while being cautiously skeptical of it. We want to know what advances are being made in our field that are relevant to our clients and our business.
Oftentimes, there isn’t a clear line as to what information to trust. We may follow thought leaders and our online mentors and see what they say on the topics.
But why can’t WE become frontline mentors and thought leaders ourselves?
Where do they get their information from? (ALWAYS ask for references!) Are their sources trustworthy? How do they even really know?
HINT: Confidence often means INcompetence!
Want more confidence? You’re probably more competent than you think!
Studies show that people who second-guess their knowledge, and feel a bit less secure about what they know, may actually know more than those who are uber-confident!
This is called the “Dunning-Krueger Effect.”
Here’s how it works.
Let’s say there is a continuum of knowledge. On one extreme there are those who know little-to-nothing about the depth and breadth of a topic. At the other extreme are the real experts. These experts live and breathe that one single topic every day. They are constantly learning more, and are on the leading edge of research. That combined with a lot of experience makes them true experts which are rare!
The funny thing is that both of these groups of people tend to exude A LOT of confidence!
Yep, even the people new to the field, or who have done little to no research on a topic. These same people who maybe saw a few documentaries or read a bestseller or two. They confidently parrot that information. These people who know next to nothing about a topic are often just as confident as those real true (rare) experts.
But, what about the majority of people in the middle? The people who feel they might know “enough?” Those people who are interested in a topic, love to keep learning more, and second-guess themselves. The ones who are open to new information, even that which may disagree with their viewpoint?
Those people – the ones who aren’t quite as confident. They’re actually WAY more competent than the uber-confident “parrots.”
How can this even be?
People who don’t know a lot but think they do, simply can’t see their own incompetence.
And how do those “super-experts” have all that confidence? They’re SO expert in their field, that they often take that for granted and think that other people know almost as much as they do (which, of course, they don’t!).
The more people learn, the more they realize how much more there always is to know. And that dose of humility actually increases competence!The more people learn, the more they realize how much more there always is to know. And that dose of humility actually increases competence! #dunning-krueger #bias #confidence #competence Click To Tweet
Dunning (who first documented this effect with Krueger) says:
“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent … The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”
Don’t worry – I share an example below where I swallowed my pride and changed my position on a very popular health “fact” based on new, more robust research!
Yep! We now know way more about health than we ever did
Are we ever really done learning about our area of expertise?
Nope. Not a chance!
The reason is because health information evolves. More research papers are published now than ever before. The body of evidence in every area is simply growing.
Do the fundamentals of wellness change? Will we ever refute the health-promoting effects of vegetables or exercise? Nope.
Do we learn more about the nuances and complexity of the human body? Absolutely!
Here are some examples:
Waaay back, we used to think that scurvy was caused by “foul vapours” or “imbalance in bodily humours.” Then in 1797 Dr. James Lind conducted the very first randomized clinical trial and found that the sailors with signs of scurvy who had citrus fruit added to their rations improved.
Now we know about the importance of not just vitamin C, but a bunch of essential nutrients!
Here’s a more recent example. Before the mid-1800s cholera outbreaks were rampant in Europe. In 1849 Dr. James Snow in London, England officially discounted that it was caused by “noxious air.” He went on to map out cholera outbreaks to try to figure out the source. In 1854 he associated the latest outbreak to a water pump that was just three feet from an old cesspit of fecal waste.
Now we have proper plumbing, and sanitation, and water treatment for clean drinking water.
Here’s a third example from history about bacteria and handwashing. That’s also a relatively new concept, and one of the absolute best stories from medical history.
Dr. Ignasz Semmelweis is my favourite scientist of all time! He not only figured out that it was physicians who were spreading “childbed fever” to women in labour, but he was condemned for bringing up such a world-changing viewpoint. A viewpoint that has proven over and over again to be one of the most effective methods to prevent the spread of infections… handwashing!
Where would we be if we still didn’t believe in bacteria or viruses, and didn’t understand the massive value of proper handwashing?
Ya, these are examples from over a century ago – but guess what? I have a few doozeys from the last two decades! 😉
That time I swallowed my pride and realized I was wrong…
I have a personal story where seeing new research totally changed my perspective on the gut microbiome. And, if you know me, I’ve lived health science for decades. I:
- studied Biomedical Toxicology at the University of Guelph in the 1990s,
- earned my Master of Science in Toxicology and Nutrition in 2000,
- worked in the health products industry for 12-years,
- went back to school to study holistic nutrition in the 2000s.
I thought I knew a lot about health. BUT, I was open to being proved wrong (with enough evidence, of course!).I thought I knew a lot about health. BUT, I was open to being proved wrong (with enough evidence, of course!). #health #science #evidence Click To Tweet
Here’s where it started. We’ve heard, and sometimes keep hearing we’re “10x more bacteria than human,” or “we’re only 10% human,” right? And not only does that make a great novel eye-catching headline, but it was based on the best research at that time. Back in 1977 that was the first estimate of the numbers of human vs microbial cells, based on approximate numbers and calculations.
As you know, the field of research into the gut microbiome has freaking exploded in the past decade. Since technology has advanced, we can collect thousands of times more data about the complex living microbes in our gut than we ever could before.
And with new technology, a tonne of new research, and an open mind we can learn SO. MUCH. MORE. about the nuances and complexities of the human body.With new technology, a tonne of new research, and an open mind we can learn SO. MUCH. MORE. #health #science #openmind Click To Tweet
Spoiler alert: New estimates in 2016 show that we have about the same number of microbes in our gut as cells in our bodies. The same. A 1:1 ratio. We are “50% human.” 🙂
Honestly, when I first heard that I didn’t believe it myself. I knew that “everyone and their brother” had said that we have 10x the number of microbes in our gut.
I asked myself: WHY SHOULD I TRUST THIS NEW RESEARCH?
So, in my #researchnerd style, I went and read the actual studies. Wow, they seemed pretty legit! In fact, it wasn’t just that the new studies seemed legit, but they pointed out what we didn’t know just a few decades ago.The actual studies studies seemed legit and pointed out what we didn't know just a few decades ago. #health #research #studies Click To Tweet
When we know better, we do better, right?
The last example I have for you is from less than 20 years ago.
We’ve heard that eating too much meat is bad for our bones, right? This came from studies, starting in 1920, that showed that after eating a high protein meal, higher levels of calcium were measured in the urine.
This is still true to this day! When we eat more protein we DO excrete more calcium (but… it’s not from where we originally thought it was from).
The “bone effect” was kind of an add-on to this observation. It was never tested. This idea came from the fact that our bones store calcium, so we guessed that this was the logical source of the increased urinary calcium. (And even more guesses were layered upon this which included an acid-alkaline hypothesis, etc.)
As recently as 2004 researchers went and tracked that calcium. They wanted to KNOW where it comes from, because that was never known, it was always a guess. What we knew was that eating more protein equals higher urinary calcium. What happened inside our bodies to explain that was still a complete set of guesses.
In 2004 researchers went to find out. How did they do this? They labeled all of the calcium in the high protein meal and gave it to a bunch of volunteers. The volunteers were monitored for where the “labels” through their bodies. This way researchers could see where the newly ingested calcium went because it was labeled, unlike the calcium already in the person’s body (blood & bones) which was not labelled.
Guess where almost all of the calcium in the urine came from?
The evidence was pretty strong because this study was also replicated elsewhere and the same results were seen.
Now we know that the protein in the meal helps to increase the absorption of calcium from the meal. This allows the kidneys to flush some of that excess out.Protein in the meal helps to increase the absorption of calcium from that meal, which allows the kidneys to flush some of the excess out, and explains why people who eat more protein have better bone health. #bonehealth #calcium… Click To Tweet
THIS also explains the apparent paradox why people who eat higher protein diets have stronger bones.
How to find health information you can trust
If you have the time, energy, and background to find, read, understand, and critically evaluate all the new studies in your field as they’re published, then you’re one of those rare true experts. And you know where to go to get those studies – PubMed!
NOTE: If you want to know how to read, understand, and critically evaluate new studies, I wrote a 2-part post on being skeptical of new health studies.
But, what if you don’t? Where can you go to find up-to-date health information you can trust? Information that’s based on the best research-based information we have at the time?
I compiled a list of over 50 credible research-based websites that you can trust to get accurate health information. You can download it here:
Credible Health Research
Download this list of credible health resources and tips on where to research health topics.
If you sometimes feel a bit incompetent with your health recommendations, you’re quite possibly more competent than uber-confident people.
Keep learning. Keep being open-minded. Know who to trust to get credible health knowledge!
Signing off and toasting: To being an open-minded life-long learner in your field of expertise!
Over to you
Were you surprised that confidence often means INcompetence? Are you continuously open-mindedly learning more and more about your area of expertise? Is it making you a bit more (but not too) confident? 😉
I’d love to know (in the comments below)!
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I'm Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.