Overcoming Self-loathing and Anxiety, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness

When We Feel Like We are Not Good at Things: Ability, Stress, and Breakthroughs

“I’m not good at that.” I don’t know about you, but this is something I tell myself a lot.

For instance, I often tell myself things like

I’m not good at running.

I’m not good at cleaning house. 

I’m not good at push-ups

I tell myself these things (and others like them) quite a bit, and guess what? It’s no surprise that I don’t practice running or house cleaning or push-ups very much because I have already decided ahead of time that I can’t do them.

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But no one ever told me that I am not good at doing cartwheels, and I never tell myself I am not good at them. So I just do them, and I love it. 

I think a lot of us do this. Something happens that makes us decide we are not good at something, and so we quit trying to do it, and we tell ourselves and others “I’m not good at that.”

What are the things you tell yourself that you are not good at?

Granted, this feeling that we aren’t good at certain things seems to be true in some respects. It especially looks true, for instance, when we don’t feel like we are good at something and then we look at other people doing that thing, it seems, gracefully and effortlessly.

However, over the past few years, I have realized that this habit of telling ourselves “I’m not good at that” is not helpful, and it is actually not true.

Here is why.

We are born naturals.

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All the paintings in this post are paintings I have done the last couple week in which I just followed my feelings and intuition and painted what came naturally. I’m a natural at abstract paintings! (You are, too.)

If you look at little kids, they are naturals at just about everything.

They are natural…

Climbers

Runners

Drawers

Communicators

Friends

Writers

Singers

Dancers

Inventors

Mathematicians

Scientists

Problem-solvers

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I could go on and on with this list, but perhaps you see my point. We are born having all these natural capacities, and our natural curiosity and energy and excitement for life propels us to develop these capacities in all sorts of ways.

We don’t worry if we are good at running. We just run. We don’t worry if we are good at painting, we just paint. We don’t worry if we are good at writing, we just write. We don’t worry if we are good at solving problems, we just do it.

When little kids get caught up in curiosity and wonder, they don’t compare themselves to other kids and worry how good they are at playing. They just do stuff.

And have you ever noticed how little kids (and even older kids) who are encouraged to explore and play and try new things often do really astounding and amazing things?[1]

I have seen little kids pick up a second language rapidly. Or learn to play an instrument seemingly overnight. Or figure out how to climb up on top of a roof by themselves. Or do back flips on trampolines. Or build an elaborate fortress out of legos. Or spend hours drawing a really intricate maze.

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The point is that little kids don’t worry if they are good at things. They follow their natural curiosity and wonder. They do things. And they keep doing them. And then they suddenly do really amazing and surprising things because they just keep practicing and trying stuff.

Somehow as we grow older, we lose touch with our natural capacities, wonder, and curiosity. We start comparing ourselves to others. Other people tell us that we aren’t good at something, and we believe them.

We internalize the message “I’m not good at that”, and we stop playing, trying, wondering, growing.

What would it be like if we stopped using the phrase, “I’m not good at that”, and we replaced it with the phrase, “I’m a natural”?

The other night, I was looking at the dishes I needed to wash and didn’t want to wash, and I caught myself saying, “I’m not good at housekeeping. I’m not good at washing dishes.”

Hula hoop and side toe

No one ever told me that I’m not good at doing side toe hold while hula-hooping. And I never tell myself I’m not good at it, so I just do it, and I love it. 

Something inside me rebelled (I think it was my inner child) and I said to myself, “That’s not true. I’m a natural. I’m a natural at washing dishes. I’m a natural at housekeeping”.

And a light went on and, I kid you not, I felt peaceful and excited. I suddenly looked at washing dishes not as a chore at which I was doomed to fail, but a chance to connect with a part of myself that I had long forgotten.

For example, I was messy as a little child sometimes, but I also remember spending hours cleaning and organizing my room and straightening it to be a beautiful, inviting cozy place for myself. I took great joy in this. This is the energy I was tapping into when I said, “I’m a natural” about washing dishes.

And I decided yesterday that I was going to go running, and I told myself, “I’m a natural runner.” And I did, indeed, run. I ran really slowly and not very far. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

As a child I loved playing and moving in all sorts of ways, and when I told myself “I’m a natural runner”, that is the energy I was tapping into.

What is something about which you tell yourself, “I’m not good at that?”

What would it be like if you said, “I’m a natural”? This doesn’t mean you have to do it perfectly or be better than everyone or anyone else.

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It just acknowledges that you have all of these physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities waiting to blossom, and affirming “I’m a natural” creates the space for that to happen.

Darling, you’re a natural.

*****

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[1] I also realize that little kids have naturally destructive tendencies, and they also have natural egocentric and selfish tendencies.

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What I learned from Dennis and Snakes

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11 thoughts on “When We Feel Like We are Not Good at Things: Ability, Stress, and Breakthroughs”

  1. This is fabulous, and like other posts I had to read it aloud to the daughter who was available at the time! We were discussing your post about movement and exercise this morning at breakfast, and again at lunchtime. We were reflecting that school PE needs to be framed very differently. My daughters’ experience is that the teacher warns them not to disappoint her before any challenge, e.g. ‘I will be very disappointed if any of you have to stop and walk in this long-distance run’. It makes them feel they will be one of those people, and that if they do stop to walk they have failed, even if they may have run for most of the challenge.
    Since I read your last post, I have been moving much more consciously and joyfully! I cherish my posture and my movements, and I broke into a run today in the rain to see how far I could run. Not that far, but it was fun! Thank you for making the everyday more joyful. And for yet another thought-provoking wonderful post. Your ideas stay with me for long after I have read them.

  2. Ali, your comments always make my day! You have just helped me better clarify one of my main life goals: To make the everyday more joyful. Thank you so much. Your posts do that for me, too. And it really does my heart good that you read your posts to your daughter because often when I write, I am writing to my teenage self about the things that I needed to hear more when I was younger. I don’t blame anyone for not telling me them because I didn’t really know how to ask for what I was needing to hear. But I often hoping to help young women.

    If your daughter has any requests about things she would like me to write about (I wouldn’t mention in my post I was writing for her), I would love to hear them. (Feel free to email them at shellypruittjohnson@gmail.com OR feel free to ignore this altogether.)

    And it makes me so happy to hear you have been moving more consciously, too. I have been, too! One of the cool things about WordPress is that I think it allows like-minded people to build an encouraging, self-reinforcing community. I write about stuff I am working on. And then readers work on it and report back, and this make me want to work on it more. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

  3. What a wonderful post! A great reminder not to keep judging ourselves and holding ourselves back from life. We need to just get on with the things we want to do and not worry about being either bad or good at it – just do it! (Yes, you’ve guessed – I have something I’ve been hesitating over doing. So thank you for the encouragement!) 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your wonderful comment, Ann! I really sympathize with your phrase about judging ourselves and holding ourselves back from life. I do this so much. I wish you all the best and much love as plunge into the new adventure before you. I know you will do great.

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