As you might expect, I hear a lot of questions from many different people. I also hear a lot of different comments, complaints, excuses, and justifications.
I also hear a lot of frustration and often helplessness.
It’s understandable. Computers and technology can be frustrating at times and leave you feeling quite helpless. Heck, that’s why Ask Leo! exists.
And while many of the different comments, opinions, reactions, and complaints can occasionally leave me feeling frustrated, there’s one that really, really bugs me.
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You’re not one of them
What statements get me so frustrated?
“I’m dumb,” or “I’m stupid when it comes to computers.”
YOU ARE NOT.
Yes, there are indeed stupid people out there, but you’re not one of them.
How do I know? Easy. Stupid people don’t know that they’re stupid. Stupid people don’t go looking for help. Stupid people don’t ask questions.
I know, I know. You meant “when it comes to computers.” It doesn’t matter – the same statements apply.
Defeated before you even begin
The problem is by labeling yourself as dumb or stupid (even if just when it comes to computers), you are telling yourself that you are incapable. That belief will get in the way of any answer that I give. Trust me, that belief will even prevent you from seeing the answer that might be staring you in the face.
You have defeated yourself before you’ve even begun.
You’ll not bother to learn because deep down, you don’t believe that you can.
And trust me again, you can.
Otherwise, what a waste. What a terrible waste.
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: it’s likely that it’s only your attitude that’s stopping you from making progress. It’s your fundamental assumption of failure that is leading most of what you try to fail. If those beliefs weren’t in the way, I truly believe that your experience with technology would be a significantly more positive one.
I’m not saying that changing those beliefs will fix all of the problems that you encounter, but I’m absolutely convinced an attitude of “I can” will result in your making more progress on your own and ultimately experiencing fewer problems and frustrations.
Computers can be damned complicated, and yes, they often are very frustrating, but that’s not your fault. But negative self-talk (like, “I’m dumb when it comes to computers”) is almost guaranteed to make things worse.
Sadly, it’s when problems arise that I see person after person giving up and putting the blame on themselves.
Unfortunately, our fast-paced society has set up some really high standards: if you don’t “get” this stuff instantly, you must be stupid. That couldn’t be more wrong, particularly when it comes to computers.
Stepping back and taking a little time to understand calmly and patiently what was happening, how things work, and how things interrelate are worthwhile investments. Spending some time understanding some basic concepts can save you hours of frustration later on. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why I rarely give “just the answer” without a little gentle education as to why something might be the way it is. That little bit of knowledge might help you figure out similar situations on your own, and with less frustration, in the future.
The age thing
Right up there with “I’m too dumb” is “I’m too old.”
Seriously, there’s nothing standing in your way but you own attitude.1
Some of the most rewarding comments that I get from time to time are from senior citizens who’ve resolved an issue and have gotten themselves online, perhaps enabling a new level of communication between the generations.
One of the saddest thoughts are all of those out there who think that they’re “too old” or “too dumb when it comes to computers” who could have been doing the same if not for that attitude in the way.
Please, don’t let that be you.
So if I’m not dumb – what am I?
Language matters a lot. Self-talk matters. And I desperately want you to stop using words like “dumb” or “stupid” or “too old” when referring to yourself.
But I also get that you’re trying to give me a sense of your experience or knowledge when it comes to computers. OK, so use terms that reflect that.
“I’m not very knowledgeable…,” and “I don’t know a lot about…,” are great ways to express a sense of ignorance (a very valid term that simply means “lack of knowledge”) when it comes to technology.
“I’ve never used computers much…,” “I don’t have a lot of experience with…,” and “I’m new to…,” are good ways to point out that you don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with whatever the topic might be.
“Computers frustrate me…,” “I have trouble understanding….,” and “This doesn’t make sense to me…,” are ways to narrow down exactly what it is that you might be having troubles with – not necessarily the specific information, but perhaps how it was presented might be at fault.
All of those approaches can be accurate and descriptive and they can give the additional context that you might feel helpful, without demeaning your own abilities.
Be willing and able
For any of those statements, consider adding the phrase “… but I’m willing and able to learn,” even if only in your own mind.
THAT is the attitude that will help you cope, help you grow, and ultimately, help you deal with whatever frustrating and complex issue it is that you’re facing.
That is the attitude that will help me – and others like me – help you.