Have you tried just being good at it?
None of the longer pieces I wanted to put together for this week really came together, so here’s a short thought in progress.
I have long standing objections to the idea of “talent”. I think there’s probably a certain amount of natural ability, but most talent is actually just being interested in the subject (cf. Nerding). You’re into something, so you think about it and do it a lot, so you get good at it. Back in Overthinking Overthinking I talked about how thinking about something more than seems reasonable is often key to becoming great at it. Being extremely interested in something naturally drives you in this direction, and that creates talent.
This creates a particularly significant problem for things that you dislike and have to do anyway, because due to that dislike you will rarely have any talent at it.
Now you’re forcing yourself to do something that you dislike and are bad at, so on top of the intrinsic dislike you also add a feeling of incompetence and often an associated shame.
This results in the following feedback loop:
I don’t want to do it.
But I have to do it.
I do it badly.
And now I actively want to not do it.
As a result of this dynamic we tend to accumulate a bunch of tasks that are just weirdly disproportionately stressful for what they are, and they turn what should be a relatively mild skill deficiency into a whole big deal. Examples for me are opening mail (look, it’s stupid, I know), mopping, doing taxes, a whole bunch of accounting tasks, anything that requires some sort of graphic design… I could go on for a while. All of these are things that I sometimes have to do, and I find stressful because I’m not very good at them.
The nice thing about vicious cycles like this is that you can break them at any point in the loop, so you might as well pick the easiest one. Perhaps surprisingly, the easiest point in this loop is the part where you’re bad at it. Getting pretty good at things usually just isn’t that hard - especially with things where you have this problem where you’re probably starting from a stage where there is plenty of low hanging fruit left.
This suggests we can defuse a lot of these everyday stressors as follows:
First, we go all Litany of Gendlin about this:
What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
(via Less Wrong’s quoting of it, but I think this is from the Focusing book)
We are already bad at it, owning up to it doesn’t make that worse, it is instead the first step to becoming good at it.
Second, we figure out what is actually hard about it. Often the answer is literally just that we never learned how to do it, but it can be worth sitting down and figuring out what exactly the problem is. There might be a simple change in habit or environment that makes it easy without even having to get better at it.
Third, learn to be good at it! For a lot of trivial practical things, youtube is a pretty good source of how to videos. You can also go full How to do hard things, or even take a class on it, for harder subjects.
Fourth, figure out why you didn’t go ahead an do step three and instead turned it into another source of guilt and anxiety. May I recommend my article on how to fix anxiety triggers?
Anyway, this is all very speculative I’ll admit - I haven’t yet had much success with this strategy, but that’s mostly because I thought of it this morning. It should work, and has the pleasant property that even if it doesn’t it still leaves you better off (cf. Life as an anytime algorithm).
In general I think we significantly underestimate how life improving just learning to be good at things is. Often we create more work and stress for ourselves by being bad at things than it would cost to just learn to do better.