by Niall Doherty

Josh Kaufman delivers a great talk on learning new skills, and argues that you can become impressively proficient at pretty much anything with just twenty hours of deliberate practice.

What struck me most was Kaufman’s point that by committing to at least twenty hours of practice, you’re more likely to push through those periods when the practice feels daunting and you feel stupid and it’s very tempting to quit.

Stick with it for twenty hours though, and everything gets easier, you begin to see the payoff, your confidence grows.

What really separates those who push through from those who quit?

I’d argue that the winners are those who have a higher tolerance for feeling (and looking) stupid. They endure those periods of frustration and self-doubt, keep their heads down and work though them.

I’ve thought about this idea quite a bit the past few days, and it appears true for many pursuits.

Those who experience the least stress while traveling are usually those who accept that some things will inevitably go wrong, that they’ll be thrown into unfamiliar situations and will have to figure out a solution on the fly. These people plan ahead, sure, but they know they’ll probably still end up in some strange situation feeling exceptionally stupid and ill-prepared. They’re willing to endure those feelings and work through them.

This also applies to pickup. When I wrote about my experience flirting with 100+ women in two weeks in Amsterdam, I mentioned the pain period, which is effectively the same thing. You feel like a complete loser constantly approaching strange women and getting rejected by the vast majority of them, but if you’re willing to endure feeling stupid for a while, you eventually break through and start seeing some ego-boosting results.

How about business? Why don’t more people eager to learn business reach out to successful entrepreneurs and ask to learn from them? Most likely because they’re afraid of looking stupid. We hate to admit that we don’t have all the answers and need help, especially us guys. But if you’re willing to put your ego aside and let yourself feel stupid for a while, holy shit, do you ever get rewarded.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: What would I do if I wasn’t worried about feeling or looking stupid?

Really think about that for a moment.

Then ask yourself this: Is the fear of feeling or looking stupid a valid excuse for not doing what I want to do?

I’ll answer that one for you: HELL NO!

Until I started asking these questions a few days ago, one thing I rarely did was take photos of myself while traveling. I didn’t want to be one of those touristy types snapping pics of myself in front of a landmark or on a train. Why? I had excuses to justify my behavior:

  • I want to experience everything in the moment, not later through a photo!
  • I’m a seasoned traveler and I’m beyond the photo-snapping phase! That shit’s for newbies.

But when I got really honest with myself I had to admit that I was simply worried about looking stupid, worried what other people would think of me holding a camera up in front of my face and taking a bunch of selfies.

Was that a good excuse for missing out on lots of cool photo opportunities? Nope, absolutely not.

So throughout my current overland trip from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I’m on a mission to embrace the feeling of stupidity that comes with relentlessly snapping pictures of myself. (Check the DtR Facebook page if you’d like to see a bunch of such photos this week.)

What would you do if you weren’t worried about feeling or looking stupid?

When you’re in that period of frustration and it’s really tempting to quit, ask yourself if the real problem is your aversion to feeling stupid. What if you decided not to see that feeling as the enemy, but instead as an important milestone, a strong sign that you’re learning something new and on the verge of breaking through?

When most people find themselves feeling stupid, they retreat to something safe, some area that they feel comfortable in. Their ego gets in the way of them learning and experiencing new things. Don’t be one of those people! It’s okay to quit, but don’t do it because some chemical reaction in your brain produces a temporary feeling of embarrassment or stupidity.

Are you willing to feel stupid for a while? Tell me how in the comments.