Jul 25, 2022 - Health

Axios Finish Line: Do things you're bad at

Illustration of a running track with one lane splitting off into a new direction.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

We value excellence and success and productivity in our pursuits, but there’s incredible merit in chasing hobbies you’re not very good at.

Why it matters: Doing hard things sharpens our minds and bodies — and keeps us grounded.

Americans' fixation with perfectionism is chipping away at our mental health, Vox reports. Many of us don't pick up hobbies because we're afraid of being bad at them.

  • We think that once we start something, we have to achieve great things in that field, author Tim Wu writes in the New York Times.
  • It's not only okay, it's also good for us to do things purely for ourselves.

Case in point: At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to run at least 10 miles a week.

  • For anyone who runs with any regularity, it’s an unimpressive goal. For me — someone who couldn’t run a mile without stopping before the pandemic — it’s a big one.
  • I'm not a naturally gifted athlete; the miles I run are slow and steady, and I'm never going to be a champion runner, but sticking to my goal has vastly improved my mental and physical health.
  • Most importantly, I'm much braver when it comes to challenging myself and trying even more new things. And I've found that runners who are a lot fitter and faster than I'll ever be respect me a great deal for even trying.

There's a scientific case for this: As we've reported, pushing ourselves to learn new skills — whether mental or physical — has been linked to reduced risk of dementia as we age.

  • Struggling, or even failing, is one of the most effective ways to overcome fear and boost creativity. And doing things that we're bad at teaches us to stay humble — and laugh at ourselves.
  • On top of that, being okay with being bad at some things is great for peace of mind. "When you refuse to do anything you're not great at, what you're telling yourself is that you're only okay if you're perfect," therapist Aimee Daramus tells Well+Good. "That's going to lead to a lot of pain in life."

The bottom line: If you love to do something, keep at it — even if it's hard and even if you're bad at it.

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