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Why “I’m not good enough” is a Great Place to Start

Of all the self-critical thoughts that people report, “I’m not good enough” is one I’ve noticed most. It encapsulates so much about depression and anxiety: feeling overwhelmed by problems and helpless to overcome them. For a long time, I would scratch my head when people shared this, feeling unable to relate. I never thought “I’m not good enough,” but frequently caught myself thinking “I could do better,” “I should be doing more,” and “Other people can’t find this as hard as me.” Eventually, I realised these were the same thoughts in disguise. Beneath each was the same belief that there was something wrong with me — I wasn’t good enough.


My Example

I play bass guitar but didn’t start learning until my 20s. Due to my age, I decided against having lessons and tried to teach myself. At that point, a lot of my friends had played instruments for a long time. As a result, I’d seen them perform many times before trying myself. I’d also seen countless videos of my favourite artists.

After trying to learn songs of increasing difficulty, I eventually met a wall. I knew the riff for a song, but couldn’t play it as well as the original. I got frustrated and the thought popped into my head — “Why is everyone else so much better than me?”

The irony is, if I had actually tried to answer that question, I might have come up with some helpful answers. Instead, I labelled myself “not good enough.” Afterwards, I put my bass away and didn’t pick it up for a month or so, by which time I was even less practised, only convincing me more of my inability.

The sense of not being good enough can often put you off trying to get better, creating a vicious cycle, but you can break just by asking who, what, how or why.


Who are you not good enough for? Often when we think we are not good enough, it is in someone else’s eyes. We may be mind-reading or comparing ourselves to others, both of which are unhelpful. You cannot know what someone else is thinking (unless they tell you) and when comparing ourselves to others, we rarely do a good job.

In my example, I was comparing my bass-playing abilities to my friends. If I had actually compared our histories, I might have learned they had lessons from a young age and many more hours of experience than me. Instead, I believed that their skill and my lack-thereof was innate. This is the risk of not acknowledging your thoughts: you treat them as facts rather than suppositions in need of supporting evidence.

If you think you’re not good enough according to someone else, consider what you think of their opinion. Do their values align with your own? Where did their values come from? Do you know what they think or merely think you do (are you mind-reading)? If someone is criticising your hard work, hitting that not-good-enough nerve, remember not to make it all about you. Look at the big picture. What’s going on to make them behave that way? Where’s it coming from? And, most importantly, do you agree?


What are you not good enough at? Answer this question and you’ll have some other, more helpful questions, such as: “What would help?”, “What could you do differently?” and “What have you not tried?”

In my example, I was also comparing myself to my favourite musicians, which was setting the bar very high. I wanted to be able to play their songs as well as them, ignoring the fact that I didn’t write them, nor did I play them a thousand times in a studio until I got them right. Somewhere along the way, I’d decided that if I couldn’t play a song perfectly, I wasn’t good enough.

Perfectionism is a standard we set ourselves that doesn’t exist. Like infinity, it’s an end to which everything progresses but will never reach. Not feeling good enough often comes from trying to be perfect, because no matter how hard we try, we will always come up short.


This brings us to the third type of question to ask yourself. If you don’t feel good enough, how can you get better?

Not being good enough is not a fixed state of affairs; it is a stage in each person’s development called conscious incompetence, referring to when you know you’re not good at something. It follows an earlier stage called unconscious incompetence, which occurs before you’ve understood the extent of what you can’t do. As you focus your efforts, you will progress into conscious competence, being knowingly good, and then unconscious competence, when you can perform a task without great strain. None of these stages is a constant and you move back and forth when new challenges cross your path, becoming a novice again until you know better.

If I had asked myself how to get better at bass, I might have considered what my friends and favourite musicians did to develop. I might have watched online tutorials, asked for advice or feedback, or actually paid for some lessons. In other words, I might have tried to improve instead of already being better.


How is a helpful alternative to why, as it promotes action instead of blame. However, it can sometimes be helpful to ask this too. Why does this mean so much to you? Don’t ask it in a critical way, but out of curiosity. What do you think it says about you that you aren’t better at this? Without this reflective work, we often write ourselves off before we’ve begun, getting stuck in that same vicious cycle.

When I met a wall with bass, I stopped playing. By the time I tried again months later, I was even less practised, which seemed to prove my initial hypothesis. It was as if I was giving myself an excuse: “I’m not better because I’m not good enough, so there’s no point in trying.” Underlying this was the same sense that I should be as good as my friends.

Should statements often highlight an unhelpful high standard we have set for ourselves, based on our values. If you do some digging work, you might be able to find the value driving your own sense of self-doubt. Why do you have to be as good at everything as everybody else? Are you striving for perfection? Would it be more helpful to ask what matters to you most and how you can best focus your efforts?

If you think you’re not good enough, you’re not alone. It’s a conclusion we all draw at some time or another. “I’m not good enough” is not the end of the conversation, but actually one of the best places to start. You just have to ask the right questions.

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