I know the mental state you’re in right now. It sucks to think you suck at everything. You feel like you’re the opposite of King Midas. Instead of gold, everything you touch turns to crap.
Being bad at things isn’t good. It leads to feelings of inferiority, insecurity, low self-esteem, and depression. It negatively impacts your overall mental health and impairs all areas of your life.
So what’s going on?
We think we suck at everything for different reasons. There are two main possibilities:
- You think you suck at everything but don’t
- You think you suck at everything because you do
These are separate issues that need to be addressed separately. Let’s address the first possibility:
1. You falsely think you suck at everything
Why does this happen?
There are several biases at play.
When you fail at something, for instance, you tend to overgeneralize that failure. Instead of saying something like:
“I suck at coding.”
“I suck at coding. I suck at everything. I suck at life.”
This is also called all-or-nothing or either/or thinking. Either you’re a failure in everything or a success in everything. But the reality isn’t like that. You’re probably good at some things and bad at others.
Next time you fail at something, avoid overgeneralizing that failure to your entire life, as tempting as it may be. Instead of saying, “I suck at everything”, tell yourself, “I suck at this specific thing I just failed at.”
When you fail at something, your mind goes into this negative state where you feel low. The mind then tries to maintain this negative state by recalling all your past failures.
As a result, you’re blinded to the things you’re good at. It seems you’re bad at everything because you’re selectively focusing only on your past failures.
Then there’s what’s called the availability bias. We tend to be more aware of things that are recent in our memory.
You just failed at something, and this information is easily accessible to your mind. You miss the bigger picture. You miss the fact that you’re good at dozens of things and bad at only one thing you just failed at.
Another tendency that plays into this is the grass is greener syndrome. We’re wired to focus on what we lack, not on what we have. This tendency helped our ancestors to accumulate resources in their resource-scarce environments.
Today, it makes us focus on our weaknesses and failures instead of our strengths and successes.
Overcoming these faulty thinking patterns is just a matter of being aware of these human biases. You’ll find that you can avoid falling into their trap with practice.
2. You do suck at everything
If you think you suck at everything, you may be right.
Let’s explore why you’ve failed to get good at things and what you can do about it.
First things first: What does it take to get good at something?
Clearly, you’re not doing those things. To get good at the things worth getting good at requires paying a price.
What does that price look like?
Well, to get good at anything requires for key ingredients:
You need all these ingredients to get good at something. You can skip Information in the beginning, but it’ll take a long time for you to succeed if you do. With reflection, you’ll inevitably gain the right information to succeed.
To get good at things, you need to practice them. You need to put a lot of time and effort into them. You also need the right information and strategies to implement.
Without reflection, you won’t be able to course-correct. You may put in a lot of time and effort into something, but you won’t make any progress without reflection. More on this later.
Reasons why you suck at everything
If there are four key ingredients to get good at something and you’re missing any of them, it follows that you won’t get good at that thing. All the reasons we discuss next will be missing one or more of the above ingredients.
Let’s go over them one by one:
1. You’re lazy
If you’re a lazy person who hates to put effort into things, you can’t expect to get good at anything. You’ll keep looking for shortcuts that’ll only get you so far. For developing valuable skills, putting in enough time and effort is a requirement.
2. You’re afraid to fail
Sucking at something is the first step to getting good at something. Every person you admire sucked at first at what they’re now good at.
Because failure leads to frustration, pain, and disappointment, people shy away from failure to avoid experiencing these unpleasant emotions.
Failing at things and being okay with that is the first hurdle to overcome to get good at anything.
3. You give up too soon
You may have conquered your failure of failure, but having false expectations about how long it’s going to take can also stop you in your tracks. As mentioned before, getting good at something typically takes a long time.
You can get results faster with the proper guidance and knowledge, but it’s still going to take a while. Before you quit and decide it’s not working for you, you should always ask:
“Have I given this thing enough time?”
4. You’re arrogant
If you think you’re the most intelligent person in the room and don’t need to learn anything, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. In fact, if you are the most intelligent person in the room, you need to leave that room.
Having the right knowledge is a crucial ingredient to getting good at something and fast-track your success. Always be learning from people who’re more intelligent than you. This requires admitting that they’re smarter than you, which is difficult for many people.
People who are where you want to be have already done what you need to do. If you follow in their footsteps, you’re likely to end up where they are.
5. You lack patience
If you don’t have patience, you’ll only put in time and effort into your skill for so long. But this long may not be long enough. Getting good things requires being patient and sticking to a thing for a long time.
6. You’re blind to feedback
Reflection is a key ingredient to getting good at something. When you first try to get good at something, you’re likely to use the wrong approach because you lack information and experience.
Also, it’s hard to be your own best judge. You can only get objective feedback on what you’re doing from others.
Instead of being offended by every little criticism, think about how you can use the feedback in those criticisms to improve what you’re doing.
7. You’re ‘productive’
If you’re bad at everything, you’re probably trying to do everything. When you do everything, you fail to put enough time and effort into what you want to get good at.
Having a lot of things on your plate is an excellent way to fool yourself into thinking you’re being active or productive. In reality, you’re only spinning your wheels. You’re running on a treadmill and going nowhere.
Getting good at things is like mining. You have to put a lot of time and effort into one mine before you reach the gold of getting good at something.
If you mine for some time, get bored, and mine in another area, then another, you’ll end up with a lot of half-dug mines and no gold.
At the same time, thinking you only need to put in lots of effort and you’ll get there is a grave mistake. You must reflect and course-correct. You must be willing to adapt and change your approach.
The comment below on a YouTube video sums up my point. It’s a response to a video that said we’re bad at things because of inexperience.
This guy or gal is the perfect example of Jack of all trades, master of none. They’ve been trying to get good at many complicated things at once. No wonder they don’t think experience is important.
The way to get good at many things is to get good at one thing at a time. When you’ve dug a mine deep enough to find gold, you know what it takes to reach gold. Only then can you repeat that process to find more gold.
Dangers of social comparison
Being social animals, humans can’t help but compare themselves to others. They try something for years and still suck at it. Then they see a guy attempting the same thing and succeeding at it in a year.
They think, “Maybe, I suck at this thing. Maybe, I suck at everything.”
They take it personally without taking into account a whole host of factors. What if that guy had the proper knowledge and guidance from the start? What if he had prior experience in that field? What if he used a different approach?
We’re all on our unique journeys. If comparing yourself to others doesn’t inspire you, avoid doing it. There’s no point beating yourself up over the fact that someone did it faster. What are you going to do now? Give up and waste all the time and effort you’ve put into this thing?
I don’t think so.
I’m not advocating you expend endless time and effort on something that isn’t working. But you need to put in enough time, energy, and effort into something before you throw in the towel.
The ‘I’m bad at everything’ identity
When you’re bad at many things, you’re likely to develop the ‘I’m bad at everything’ identity. The danger with developing such an identity is that you try to maintain this identity. It becomes a part of who you are.
So, failing at those things helps you re-affirm your identity when you try new things. You can’t wait to prove to yourself that you’re indeed bad at everything. You reach that conclusion without even trying correctly because that conclusion feeds who you are.
You have to shed these unhelpful identities. Become a whole another person if you have to.