Epictetus explains how to get better

To learn something new in life - be it playing an instrument, a new sport, or anything else - you have to be willing to be a fool. In hardly any case, you are good at something you have never done before. If you are not willing to be bad at something to begin with, you will not have the stamina to become good at what you want to learn.

There is a quote from Epictetus in which he teaches exactly that:

"If you want to be good, first assume that you are bad!"


From my experience I know that learning something new can be very frustrating. Let's take playing guitar as an example, I've been playing guitar for just under six months. And I would say that I am still far from playing well. However, there is already a noticeable difference from when I started. Of course, all beginnings are hard, because you know next to nothing about the subject at hand. But as a result, you can also learn a lot very quickly in the beginning.

But if you don't struggle through the difficulties of starting out, you will never get better at anything. It is the necessary evil of being a fool, an evil that many people do not want to enter into.

Especially if you are a perfectionist, it is difficult to admit that you are not good at something. You only want to achieve the best possible performance, which in this case is below average. In order to achieve a good or perfect performance, it is necessary to fight through the initial difficulties. That you don't throw in the towel at the first little inconvenience and leave it alone.

But even if we are not perfectionist, it is difficult to be imperfect in front of others. When others watch our failure, we feel even more embarrassed. Of course, many activities can be learned for oneself in silence, such as playing the guitar, writing, painting and so on. However, there are also some hobbies that you can't, or hardly, practice on your own, such as team sports like volleyball.

So to get better at a skill, we not only have to admit to ourselves that we are still a beginner at it, but we also have to be able to admit our initial performance to others. Personally, the latter is much more difficult for me.

Epictetus had also taught that it is impossible for a man to learn what he already thinks he knows, and in my opinion it is the same if one has the claim to be able to master things already from the beginning.

Another problem is often that we do not really realize the progress. We take what we've learned for granted or don't pay attention to it. What makes learning a new skill much more fulfilling, however, is keeping track of progress. You can keep a diary or journal in which you write down what you learned on which day. That way, as you flip through the pages you've written, you'll notice how much progress you've actually made.

So the next time you venture into something new, don't be afraid to be a fool. Because in the beginning everyone is a beginner and only those who have the guts to bite through can become really good at something.

It will be worth it in any case. As the saying goes:

"Learning is a treasure that follows its owner everywhere".

Chinese proverb

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