If you’re like me, you aren’t comfortable doing things badly–especially if others can see you do them! While there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel comfortable, holding ourselves back all the time can be life-limiting.
Doing things badly can be very productive
The fear of trying something new can limit our lives and self-growth
Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Have you heard that saying? I have, and it’s something I internalized from a young age. In fact, as a recovering perfectionist, I think I internalized it as “Anything worth doing is only worth doing perfectly.” As a result, I’ve missed out on a lot of things because I didn’t want to do things badly–and I especially didn’t want to be seen doing something badly.
I almost didn’t launch the podcast because of fear of not doing it right (whatever that means!) and what that would say about me as a person. I’ve realized recently that despite the lessons I’ve learned over the years, I’m still holding myself back. I want to launch a YouTube channel but hesitation about looking silly keeps me from moving forward.
The truth is, though, we can never do anything well without doing it badly first. We need to learn to give ourselves grace and permission to do things badly.
We also need to redefine failure. Doing something badly isn’t failure; not even trying is. We haven’t failed until we’ve given up.
But we don’t have to master everything either. Sometimes we try, do it badly, and decide it’s not for us. Some things we do once or twice just for the experience, not for mastery, and not to prove anything to ourselves or anyone else.
What holds us back?
When we’re not sure we have the ability, smarts, skill, . . . whatever. This leads to procrastination as we wait to be “ready” or for the conditions to be “just right”. This often arises because we have unrealistic (and unachievable) expectations of ourselves. As one writer has said in Forbes, “The problem with focusing on the need to do it well is that you end up focusing on why it’s not good enough, and this begins a vicious spiral that can lead to stress, frustration and depression.”
Fear of failure
Why are we afraid of failure? What story do we tell ourselves (maybe without realizing it) about what failure means–specifically, what it means about us? Failure can feel like a death to us. But I keep reminding myself of something I heard Brooke Castillo say once: by not trying, you’re failing ahead of time. If the worst that can happen is that you won’t accomplish it . . . well, that’s what you’re doing now!
Fear of other people’s judgment
Why does it matter to us if others judge us negatively when we do something poorly? Part of it may be related to our primitive brain–our survival depends on being part of the tribe; isolation is deadly.
The important question: Whose opinion of you really matters? Who is the “they” whose judgment you’re worried about?
This topic really is all about thought work. It’s about managing our own thinking and getting out of our own way. This often starts with awareness.
- Recognize when you’re doing it–when there’s something you need or want to do but you’re not taking action on it .
- Do the work. Ask yourself the question: what is it that’s holding me back? Dig deep and at each level, ask yourself why. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you try and do it badly? When I think of this question I think of my podcasting friend Dave who, when asked by someone else if they can do something new with their podcast or try something else, he says “Why not try? Nobody’s going to punch you in the face.”
- Remind yourself that something is better than nothing. Even the smallest step, done badly, puts you closer to your goal than you’d be if you did nothing at all.
- Start small and go for a quick win. There is a great article on the Tiny Buddha website site that encourages us how to keep going when we’re not good at new things. Here are some tips the article offers:
- Adopt a growth mindset
- Start small
- Hold reasonable expectations
- Avoid comparisons
- Give myself credit
That same article explains the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, referring to the teachings in Carol Dweck’s excellent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:
“People with a “fixed mindset” believe that success is based on innate ability—meaning you either have it or you don’t, and if you fail, it’s confirmation of the latter. It means you’re not talented enough, smart enough, or good enough, so there’s no point in trying any further because you’ll just make yourself look bad.
People with a “growth mindset” believe that failures are part of learning, and if they keep trying, they can get better over time. Because they believe this, they keep showing up and eventually confirm their own belief. They may feel embarrassed when starting out, but they understand this is just part of the process.”
This idea of a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset really goes to the heart of the story we tell ourselves about what it means about us if we do something badly. Does it mean we’re a loser who doesn’t have what it takes, or does it simply mean we still have more to learn about whatever this thing is? If you keep trying and keep learning about this thing, you will get better. You won’t always do it badly
Retrain your thinking about doing new or difficult things
In order to give ourselves permission to try new things and do things badly, we need to retrain our thinking about trying new and difficult things. There is great food for thought in the Forbes article I mentioned earlier:
“Clarity comes from action, not thinking.”
We often put off trying something new under the guise of thinking and planning. Thinking and planning are important, to a point, but at some point we may end up spinning our wheels–thinking, pondering, planning, trying to figure out which direction to go. Instead of constantly thinking and planning it, do something, and if it doesn’t work the first time, the feedback you get helps you improve your process or approach and gets you headed in the right direction. That’s a growth mindset!
“Growth comes from progress, not perfection.”
The Forbes article explains: “We want to know the whole road in advance of the first step, but the only way to know the whole road in advance is to keep doing the exact same thing you’ve done in the past. If you want to reap the greatest harvest, you have to be willing to get messy and embrace a little uncertainty.”
We don’t grow from doing things we can always do perfectly. We grow from making progress on things that start out a little messy but then we improve over time. If we can retrain our thinking on these things, it will help us.
Four productive mantras
These are worth writing down and reciting to ourselves regularly:
- Something is better than nothing.
- Progress, not perfection.
- Nobody’s going to punch me in the face.
- Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Is there something you have been wanting to do but are hesitating because you don’t know how or you’re sure you won’t do it well? What is a small step you can take to make progress and allow yourself to do it badly? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- How to Keep Going When You’re Not Good at Something New – Tiny Buddha
- Things That Are Worth Doing Are Worth Doing Poorly
- If You Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress, Make Sure You’re Doing This 1 Thing Every Day | by Sah Kilic | Medium
- 6 Ways to Make Progress Every Day (And Realize Your Goals)
- How to overcome your fear of failure
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review in Apple Podcasts.
Thank you to our sponsor, Ana Luisa
Treat yourself to beautiful jewelry crafted with care and produced in a sustainable, carbon-neutral process–they offset 100% of the carbon emissions for each piece’s life cycle. Visit analuisa.com/theproductivewoman to check out their collections and enter the code theproductivewoman at checkout to get 10% off your order.
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas