April 22, 2013
Why Being Bad at Something Can be a Good Thing

Let’s face it, very few of us are so naturally talented that we bypass the learning curve involved in acquiring new skills and habits. But surprisingly, I often hear very smart and capable adults describing their failures in a way that makes it clear they aren’t allowing themselves the necessary mistakes that produce growth; they are embarrassed or feel inadequate when the new thing they’re trying to learn doesn’t come easily. They don’t want to look like beginners. They don’t want to be bad at something. So they give up before they’ve acquired the new skill.

Perhaps you’re one of these folks trying to learn something new. Maybe you’re learning to exercise for the first time, or learning new habits related to eating, or maybe you’re taking the first steps at setting boundaries with family and friends. I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly OK and in fact even desirable, to allow yourself to be bad at this new thing for a while. This is part of the path of mastering anything: you do something poorly, you learn from the mistakes, and with repeated efforts, gradually you develop competence.

I clearly remember the arduous task of learning to tie my shoes. I recall my parents showing me over and over again how to loop the lace to make a knot. I understood what I was supposed to do, but it felt like an impossible act for my 4-year old fingers to perform. After what seemed like ages of trying, of getting frustrated and crying, of giving up, I finally got it. I didn’t have a choice: my parents were not going to tie my shoes for the rest of my life, so they insisted that I work through the frustration and repeat the process until I got it. They let me be bad at tying my shoes for as long as I needed to become competent at it.


Learning any new habit or skill requires us to go through a period of being bad at it, whether we are 4 years old or 40 years old. If you can reframe the discomfort of being bad at something as a necessary step and an impermanent place on the path to competence, it will make it easier to get through those beginning stages.

Written by Madeleine Lewis

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