June 04, 2014 / Stop Diagnosing Your Limitations
You are making excuses for yourself, and you are giving up.
Last weekend I went out to dinner with two other friends. The waiter handed the bill to one of them, who squinted at the receipt, furrowed his brow, and then finally shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess it’s like $30 a person. I’ve always sucked at math. Actually, let my get my phone out.”
While he was fumbling around with his smartphone, I grabbed the bill and looked at the total. It was $120. Was he really not capable of dividing 120 by 3?
I mention this story not to demonstrate my superior long division skills, but because something my friend said resonated with me.
I’ve always sucked at math.
Not everyone is good at math, but the tone in which my friend said it, it was like he was almost proud of it. And I realized I heard that tone in other statements from other guys. Statements like:
“I have no game, I’m an introvert.”
“I can’t deal with clubs, I have claustrophobia or something.”
“I’m just too OCD to deal with most women.”
“I get nervous at parties, I really think I have social anxiety.”
You’re Sucking At Life, Not Math
Here’s the thing. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody can be good at everything. There’s some value in accepting your limitations. Just like when Josh told you to avoid pointless worrying, acknowledging your limitations essentially means you’ve concluded you can’t do anything about them and have decided not to worry about them.
Accepting your limitations is good when those limitations are “I’m too short” or “I have webbed feet.” But it’s bad when they are limitations like being unable to divide 120 by 3, or being unable to socialize at a small party. My friend literally concluded a long time ago that he simply lacked some sort of “math gene,” and there was no point in ever being competent at doing elementary school long division. So now he wears his inability to do basic math as a badge of honor.
In my opinion, this is a terrible attitude. And it’s exponentially worse when you think you have some sort of inherent limitation for something like approaching women or interacting with social situations.
Stop Self-Diagnosing Yourself
Let me point out the obvious problem with labeling yourself an “introvert” or “claustrophobic” or “OCD” is counter-productive: it’s probably not true. I mean, do you really have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Were you actually diagnosed by a licensed professional with years of school and training? No, I’m almost positive you weren’t. Because if you were, that would mean you were doing things to improve your condition, whether it’s learning behavioral techniques or taking prescribed medication. Those people had actual medical conditions that were limiting their ability to function in life, and they did something about them. They saw a professional and got help and exceeded their limitations.
But if you’re just saying things like “I have social anxiety,” with a sheepish and stupid smile, just like my friend said “I’ve always been bad at math,” then you’re not accepting your limitations. You learned about various psychological disorders in school, or on TV, or on Wikipedia, and thought to yourself, “yeah, I just have that, I guess there’s no point in doing anything about it.”
You’ve focused all your energy on diagnosing your limitation and putting a nice and neat label on it, instead of spending that energy trying to overcome the limitation.
Or to put it more bluntly: you are making excuses for yourself, and you are giving up.
Are You Trying to Solve The Problem?
If you’re offended by anything I’m saying and you think you legitimately have a mental illness or condition, then why aren’t you seeking professional help?
Chances are, it’s because you don’t really believe you have something like clinical social anxiety order. I know this, because I used to do the same thing. I described myself as “extremely introverted” for years. I concluded I just wasn’t the kind of guy that would approach a girl at a bar he didn’t know, just like I wasn’t the kind of guy that could dunk a basketball because I’m 5’8”. There was no point in my trying to overcome either condition, because I was just physiologically limited and it was out of my control.
Except I can’t do anything about my height, and dunking a basketball isn’t really a fundamental part of succeeding in life and attracting women, so that’s a reasonable limitation to accept. But while it’s not really possible for an introvert to “become” and extrovert, it’s very possible for an introvert to learn various coping mechanisms and develop tolerances to the kinds of social interactions that make him anxious or exhausted. I know this because I did exactly this, and it started exactly when I concluded playing armchair psychiatrist with myself was stupid and I was needlessly limiting myself.
Attempt to Improve Your Limitations Before You Accept Them
If there’s a good example of a limitation that a lot of people have but many overcome, it’s public speaking. Ask anyone good at public speaking if they were always good it. Almost all of them will say, “of course not, I used to hate speaking in public.” So how did they improve? Some will say they imagine the audience in their underwear, some of them will say they rehearse over and over again, some will say they just keep going on public speaking engagements and it’s become second-nature to them. But none of that would have happened if they just repeatedly told themselves, “I’m just really bad at public speaking” with a self-defeating shrug and chagrin.
In your attempt to improve your limitations, you may fail, and this is okay. It’s even okay to accept you’ve reached a limit of improvement, and you should accept the limitation. But saying, “I can’t deal with clubs, I have claustrophobia or something” is completely different than saying, “I don’t like going to clubs, I never seem to do well with girls there.” At least the latter statement is based on actual experiences!
Seek solutions, not diagnosis. Don’t invest your effort in diagnosing why you feel awkward approaching strangers and if it can be explained by social anxiety, claustrophobia, Asperger syndrome, or any of the countless conditions that would give you an excuse for your limitations. Stop pretending you are Sigmund Freud, and start seeking solutions for your struggles, instead of getting a medical clearance to give up from WebMD.