Have you ever felt incompetent or thought to yourself, “I can’t do anything right?“
Well, you aren’t the only one. We’ve all had those moments when we doubted our abilities or felt overwhelmed by life.
We think we’re not good enough for our job. Or we feel as though we don’t deserve our partner. Perhaps we even believe that our successes are accidents.
Generally, we fear we’re going to be exposed, lose everything, be embarrassed, or something equally tragic.
As you might imagine, that sort of mindset does not make for a happy life.
And while it’s not an easy process, you can shake these feelings.
If you’ve been feeling this way and wondering why, check below for 16 of the most common reasons.
Then discover what you can do to stop feeling incompetent so you can rebuild your lost confidence.
Why do I feel so incompetent?
Sometimes the feeling of incompetence swoops in unexpectedly. One minute you’re feeling fine and the next you feel like you’re not good at anything.
One day, you think you’ve got a hold of things and then you feel as though you can’t remember which shoe goes on which foot.
You may also find that there’s a particular area of your life where you constantly feel inadequate. Maybe it’s at your job. Or you feel incompetent as a partner or a parent. There’s just something about the situation or a particular person that makes you feel like a bumbling idiot.
Feeling incompetent can be a tough pill to swallow. There are many reasons you may be battling with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Knowing and understanding the cause of your feelings can help you take the first step toward addressing and overcoming negative emotions.
Below are 16 different reasons you’re feeling incompetent:
1. You have low self-esteem.
You don’t feel incompetent in just one area of your life. You feel that way in every area of your life. And that’s because you have low self-esteem.
Before you even try something new out, you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to suck at it. You’re certain the person you’re meeting for the first time won’t like you before you’ve even uttered a word.
The problem isn’t that you feel incompetent. The problem is you don’t like yourself and can’t imagine anyone else liking you either. You don’t believe in yourself and you sincerely think you suck at essentially everything.
2. You compare yourself to everyone else.
When you objectively judge yourself or your performance, you’re pretty satisfied. Actually, you feel pretty good about what you do most days. You only feel incompetent when you start to compare yourself to others.
You compare your life to the lives of people you follow on social media. Maybe you look at other people’s accomplishments and feel yours are mediocre, if not poor.
Or perhaps you’ve noticed that your neighbor has bought yet another new car, while you’re stuck patching together your clunker.
When you compare your life with others, you feel defeated or like a failure.
3. You focus on your past mistakes.
You don’t know how to move past your mistakes. Instead of learning from them, you fixate on them. You’re caught up in a cycle of self-criticism and rumination. You replay your mistakes over and over in your head.
You ask yourself, “How could I have been so stupid?” as you obsess about your past missteps.
When a new situation shows any similarity to what has happened, you become paralyzed by fear. You’re terrified you’ll make the same mistake as before.
Focusing on those moments when you’ve fallen short or made the wrong decision has become a heavy burden, weighing you down and eroding your self-confidence.
You’ve blown your mistakes out of proportion and you’re using them to define your self-worth and competence.
You’re unable to move forward or beyond your mistakes because you’ve not forgiven yourself nor released your grip on the guilt and shame of your error.
4. You have a fixed mindset.
You have a fixed mindset. That is, you believe your abilities and traits are set in stone and they can’t be changed. You believe you’re as smart as you’re ever going to be. There’s no room for growth or improvement. So you feel stuck with your lot in life.
You expect to fail when you step out of what you already know. This has led to a fear of taking on new challenges or trying new things. So you avoid them entirely and give up easily.
You see any failure as proof of your inherent flaws. Which ends up being a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy where you never reach your full potential because you’ve limited yourself in your mind.
5. You have a different way of learning.
You may feel incompetent because you don’t learn in the same way as everyone else. Perhaps you’ve been told, and you’ve come to believe, that you’re a slow learner.
In a society that prioritizes certain learning styles or academic achievements over others, learning differently often comes with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
Maybe you struggle to understand information presented in a particular format.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by traditional teaching/learning methods.
Or do you feel left behind in a classroom or work setting that doesn’t consider diverse learning styles?
If any of these apply to you, it can be very easy to conclude you’re slow or just stupid.
You probably feel as though you don’t measure up to societal or educational standards. And because your method of learning isn’t popular, teachers and bosses don’t know how to cater to your special needs. They often resort to labeling you as dumb or lazy, which further confirms your feelings of self-doubt.
6. Your thoughts are largely negative.
Your thoughts play a significant role in how you perceive yourself and your abilities. If your thoughts are largely negative, it’s not surprising you’re struggling with feeling incompetent.
When your inner dialogue is constantly critical, self-deprecating, or filled with self-doubt, it can create a toxic cycle that reinforces your feelings of inadequacy.
These negative thoughts can manifest as an internal dialogue that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, or capable enough to succeed.
This can show up in your life as a lack of confidence in your abilities, low motivation, or a habit of procrastinating. You may be reluctant to take on new challenges or live in fear of failure.
To prove your negative thoughts wrong and to boost your self-esteem, you may also find yourself seeking validation and approval from others.
7. You’re suffering from a mental health issue.
Another reason you may be feeling incompetent is if you have a mental health issue.
Certain mental health conditions (like anxiety, depression, or ADHD) can impact your ability to focus, regulate emotions, and manage stress. This could lead to feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.
If you’re struggling with a mental health issue, it can be hard to separate your symptoms from your abilities and accomplishments. You may suddenly have difficulty with once manageable tasks. Or maybe you’ve started avoiding situations that make you anxious.
You don’t know if your feelings are legitimate or symptoms of your mental illness. Trying to navigate all of this could make you feel as though you’re failing or falling behind, especially if you live or work in an environment where mental illness is stigmatized.
Other signs that a mental health challenge is behind your feelings of inadequacy include an inability to focus, make decisions, or believe in yourself.
Out of the blue, you’re struggling to meet deadlines. You’re unmotivated or feel overwhelmed by simple tasks. And these are all areas where you didn’t have issues before.
8. You don’t feel motivated.
You could be feeling incompetent because you have no motivation. The goals you set or activities you engaged in before no longer interest you.
So, you feel stagnant in life. As though you’re not doing enough, not achieving what you should be, or falling behind.
A lack of motivation can push you to procrastinate, avoid tasks or responsibilities, or make you feel stuck in a cycle of inaction. This can impact the way you perceive yourself and contribute to your feelings of inadequacy.
When you’re feeling unmotivated, it can be hard to find the energy and drive to complete tasks or previously set goals. Because without motivation, everything feels like a chore.
This then creates a cycle where you’re beating yourself up for not meeting your goals, which then reinforces your belief that you’re inadequate.
Lack of motivation can manifest in your life as a lack of productivity, difficulty concentrating, or a sense of apathy toward your work or personal life.
9. Your expectations of yourself are too high.
Having unrealistic expectations of yourself could be the reason you feel incompetent.
When you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, it can be hard or often impossible to meet those expectations. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.
You frequently feel overwhelmed by your expectations or as though you’re falling short.
It may not even be that your expectations are too high. It might be that the expectations of others that you subject yourself to are too high. Other people in your life expect a lot from you and you don’t know how to set boundaries. So you bend over backward to meet their high standards.
Consistently failing to meet your expectations, realistic or not, can cause you to feel as though you never measure up. It can make you feel like you’re not good enough, regardless of your achievements or efforts.
10. You’re suffering from imposter syndrome.
Do you doubt your abilities or feel like a fraud? Are you waiting for people around you to discover you don’t know what you’re doing? Do you believe your achievements are due to just pure luck?
If you said yes to any of these questions, chances are you have a bad case of imposter syndrome. And this can be a significant factor in your negative feelings.
Imposter syndrome is the persistent belief that you are not as competent as others think you are. It’s the belief that your accomplishments are freak accidents, or due to external factors, instead of your abilities.
This can lead you to doubt yourself, despite evidence of your past achievements. It can push you to be in constant need of validation from others and fear failure.
Imposter syndrome can be emotionally draining and impact your self-esteem and confidence.
11. You’ve lost touch with yourself.
Sometimes you feel as if you’ve lost touch with yourself. You feel disconnected from your values, beliefs, desires, and strengths. You feel as though you’re just going through the motions and living a life that doesn’t align with who you truly are.
This can lead to feeling inadequate. Because you’re not living a life that is authentic to you, you feel unfulfilled, uninspired, or lack a clear sense of purpose. This can lead to difficulty in making decisions that resonate with you.
You may even find yourself making choices or living a life that doesn’t truly align with who you are.
12. You’re under a lot of stress.
The amount of stress you’re under can influence your mental and emotional health. If you’ve been under a lot of stress for a long time, your overall well-being has likely been negatively affected.
When you’re stressed, your brain is “shunting its resources because it’s in survival mode, not memory mode.” This is why you’re sometimes forgetful during stressful or emotionally taxing situations.
The pressure, overwhelm, and anxiety that comes with continued stress can also affect your ability to focus, make decisions, and perform optimally.
When you’re under constant stress, you can end up feeling as though you’re not meeting expectations and that you’re letting your responsibilities drop. You can become generally overwhelmed with everything that’s going on.
This can all heighten your feelings of incompetence. It can make even simple tasks feel overwhelming and challenging.
13. You don’t like your job.
It’s not that you don’t like your boss or your colleagues. You may not care about them one way or the other. Or perhaps you actually do like them. It’s your job that you don’t like.
You dread going to work every day. Waking up to get ready gets harder each day. And when you don’t like your job, it’s easy to feel as though you’re not good at it.
You’re not motivated to do a good job and you struggle to meet expectations. Which inevitably leads to poor performance and low confidence in your skills and abilities.
Your job is a significant part of your life. When you’re not enjoying it or feeling fulfilled, it can impact your self-worth.
This can show up in various ways, like increased anxiety or stress, decreased productivity or motivation, and a general sense of feeling stuck or unfulfilled in your career.
These negative feelings can spill over into other areas of your life, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and incompetent.
14. You’re struggling at your job.
When you’re struggling at your job, it’s natural to feel incompetent. Perhaps you’re not meeting your deadlines, your colleagues seem to be doing much better than you, or you’re just not feeling confident in your abilities.
This could be due to new responsibilities, an increased workload, or challenges in the workplace.
Whatever is behind your difficulty at the office, it’s causing you to doubt yourself and have a negative self-image.
This is likely the reason behind your feelings of anxiety or stress as you prepare to go to work in the morning. It could also be why you’re reluctant to take on new and challenging tasks at work.
15. You just started a new job.
Starting a new job can be overwhelming and stressful. There’s so much to learn and so many new people to meet. Not to mention the pressure of proving to your team that you are the right person for the role. This can lead to feelings of incompetence or self-doubt.
You may feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not catching on as quickly as you should, or you’re making silly mistakes. Perhaps you feel as if you’re not living up to the expectations of your colleagues or employer.
Adjusting to a new work environment is hard. And these feelings of inadequacy can affect your confidence and performance at work.
Unfortunately, this will only further reinforces your negative feelings. Especially as you work alongside colleagues who seem to have everything figured out.
16. You have a toxic boss.
We’ve all had one…sadly. Unfortunately, we live in a world where having a toxic boss is almost like a rite of passage. If you’re going to work for someone else, chances are you’re going to have a toxic boss at one point in your career. And having a toxic boss can have a major impact on your self-esteem at work.
When you have a boss who constantly criticizes, belittles, or micromanages you, the likelihood you’ll feel inadequate, anxious, depressed, or any number of negative emotions skyrockets.
You can remain positive for only so long in the face of unrelenting negativity. Eventually, your self-confidence will crack and you’ll start to doubt yourself when you have a boss who repeatedly undermines you and makes you feel like a failure.
You’ll start to question your skills, abilities, and even your intelligence. A toxic boss can also create a negative work environment that affects not only your motivation and productivity but also the team.
How can I feel more competent?
Now that we’ve discussed some of the reasons you might be feeling incompetent, you may be wondering what to do when you feel defeated or inadequate.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to boost your self-esteem and overcome these negative emotions. Below are 14 suggestions to try to help you feel more confident and empowered.
1. Work on your mental health.
Taking care of your mental health is something we should all do regularly. But it is especially important when you’re struggling with your mental health.
If you suspect that a mental health illness or challenge is behind your feelings of incompetence, seek help from a licensed therapist.
Working on your mental health is an essential step in feeling more confident and improving your self-esteem. Your mental health has a significant impact on how you feel about yourself and your abilities.
Take the time to prioritize your mental health by getting professional help, practicing self-care, and incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine.
Make time for activities that promote your mental well-being, such as getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
When you address any underlying mental health concerns, you’ll start to feel more in control and confident. This will ultimately lead to a more positive and fulfilling life.
Seeking help for your mental health is a sign of strength.
2. Appreciate your achievements.
It’s easy to overlook our achievements when we’re feeling incompetent. And when we’re feeling this way, it’s usually because our minds are fixed on our failures or areas where we’re falling short.
But appreciating and celebrating our successes can have a positive impact on our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small they seem, helps you to recognize your capabilities. It helps you to build a positive image of yourself.
Reflect on your accomplishments, whether it’s a work-related task, a personal goal, or a new skill. Give yourself credit for your efforts, progress, and achievements. Don’t downplay your successes.
Practice self-compassion by being kind to yourself. Remember, you are capable of achieving great things. Recognizing your achievements can help you shift your focus to a more empowered mindset that reinforces your confidence and self-worth.
3. Assess if the problem is you or your environment.
Usually, when we’re feeling inadequate, we assume we’re the problem. But sometimes we feel this way because of the negative or toxic environment we’re in.
As such, you need to assess if you’re the problem or if your environment is. Your lack of confidence could be because of external factors, such as a toxic work environment, an unsupportive boss/partner, or unrealistic expectations.
Objectively evaluate your situation. Figure out if there are external factors contributing to your negative feelings. This reflection exercise may reveal that your feelings of inadequacy are not entirely your fault and thus relieve you of unnecessary self-blame.
It can also empower you to take the steps to address the issue affecting your confidence and self-esteem, whether by setting boundaries or possibly changing your environment.
4. Accept and learn from your failures.
Failure is a part of life. Everyone experiences failures or setbacks at some point. This is a fact that we often forget. So we end up dwelling on our failures and beating ourselves up over them.
It’s time to change your perspective on your failures. You need to accept your failures and see them as learning opportunities. View them as valuable experiences that can help you to grow and improve.
As you reflect on your failures, identify areas where you can improve. Come up with an improvement plan.
Embrace a growth mindset that sees failures as stepping stones toward success rather than stumbling blocks. By learning from your failures, you develop resilience, gain new insights, and build confidence in your ability to overcome challenges.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Just make sure you use them as opportunities for growth and learning. Don’t use them as reasons to doubt your competence.
5. Accept your feelings.
Accepting your feelings is an essential step in improving your confidence and self-esteem.
It can be easy to dismiss or ignore negative emotions, such as self-doubt or inadequacy. But ignoring or suppressing your feelings may intensify them, making them feel more overwhelming.
Instead of bottling up your emotions, try to acknowledge and accept them without judgment. Everyone experiences self-doubt at times. It doesn’t define your worth or abilities.
By accepting your emotions and permitting yourself to feel them, you gain a better understanding of yourself.
Work toward addressing the root causes of your insecurities.
6. Make a change.
Your feelings of incompetence may be a sign that it’s time for a change. If you’re constantly struggling with your job, a particular relationship, or your mental health, it’s time to re-evaluate your situation and make some changes.
Reflect on the areas or aspects of your life that are contributing to your feelings of inadequacy. Identify practical changes you can implement that will help you make a positive change.
This means making changes that align with your values and goals, such as switching to a different career that better suits your strengths and passions.
It could also mean seeking support from mentors or coaches or even changing up your daily routine or habits.
As you make progress, monitor and track your achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Celebrate your successes along the way. Use them as motivation to keep going.
Making a change can help you regain a sense of control and empowerment. This can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
While change can be difficult, it can also be an opportunity for growth and personal development.
7. Ask for feedback.
Asking for feedback from others can be a powerful way to boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
Sometimes, when we’re feeling incompetent, we get stuck in a negative headspace where our thoughts don’t reflect reality.
Asking for feedback from people we trust is a chance for us to gain a more accurate understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. This can help us to focus on our areas of expertise and take steps to improve in areas where we need to grow.
It can also help us see ourselves more objectively and challenge any negative self-talk we may be experiencing.
Ask for constructive feedback from trusted colleagues, friends, or family members. Remember to listen to their comments and keep an open mind. Use them to fuel your growth and development.
8. Take on a challenge.
This may seem counterintuitive since you’re already battling with feelings of inadequacy. But taking on a new challenge can be a great way to deal with your feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.
You could try learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby, or volunteering for a new project at work. Challenge yourself to do something different.
It’s a positive way to push yourself to grow and develop new skills. Taking on a new challenge allows you to prove to yourself that you’re capable of achieving great things.
You’re showing yourself that you are capable of stepping out of your comfort zone.
Of course, taking on a new challenge can be difficult. So it’s important to choose something that’s also realistic and achievable.
9. Ignore negative comments.
One thing you should keep in mind is that not everyone’s opinion matters. Particularly when it comes to your mental health and how you perceive yourself.
Ignoring negative comments from others is a great solution to overcoming feelings of incompetence.
Negative comments can sometimes impact our self-esteem and make us doubt our abilities. However, we must realize that not all feedback is constructive or valid. People have different perspectives and opinions. Not everyone will appreciate or understand your unique strengths and abilities. And that’s ok. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
However, it’s also okay to filter out negative comments that are unhelpful, unfair, or unfounded.
Instead of dwelling on criticism, focus on feedback from trusted sources or those who genuinely support your growth and development. Surround yourself with positive and uplifting influences.
Your self-worth is not determined by others’ opinions. Learning to ignore negative comments can help you maintain a positive mindset and build confidence in yourself.
10. Practice self-compassion.
When we make mistakes or feel like we’ve failed, it’s very easy to be hard on ourselves. However, practicing self-compassion can help us be kinder toward ourselves and more understanding of our mistakes and failures.
Instead of criticizing yourself for not meeting your expectations or goals, treat yourself with the same kindness and care you would offer a friend who is going through difficult times.
This means acknowledging your mistakes and setbacks, but also recognizing that everyone makes mistakes. You’re doing the best you can.
So, be gentle with yourself, acknowledge your efforts and progress, and give yourself permission to learn and grow.
Practicing self-compassion can improve your self-esteem, reduce your anxiety and depression, and help you cultivate a more positive and nurturing relationship with yourself.
11. Get training.
Your feelings of incompetence or inadequacy may be coming from the fear that you don’t have enough knowledge or education in a particular area.
Getting training or additional education could be a proactive and empowering solution to your negative feelings.
We all have an area where we could use some improvement and growth. Seeking out training or professional development opportunities are positive ways we can build our skills and knowledge.
Whether you take a course, attend a workshop, or seek mentorship, investing in your development can boost your self-confidence and help you gain the competence you desire in a particular area.
It’s okay to acknowledge areas where you feel you are lacking. Take action to address them. Be open to learning and improving.
Feeling overwhelmed and inadequate at work can be tough. One solution that could help you overcome this is delegation.
If there are areas of your job where you feel weak, try delegating those tasks to someone else who may be more skilled or have more experience in them. You could also try delegating work when you’re overwhelmed with your deliverables.
Delegating tasks can help you focus on your strengths and build your confidence, while also ensuring that tasks are being handled efficiently and effectively.
It can empower and build trust within your team or colleagues, helping to promote collaboration and foster a supportive work environment.
It’s not a sign of weakness or inefficiency to delegate. Rather, it’s a strategic move to optimize your productivity and effectiveness. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help and trust in your team’s abilities to get the job done. You don’t have to do it all alone.
13. Look for another job.
If you’ve been feeling consistently inadequate in your current job despite your best efforts, it may be time to look for a new job.
You may feel as though you’re admitting defeat by doing this, but you have to prioritize your mental health.
Recognize that not all work environments are the right fit for everyone. It’s okay to explore other opportunities that align better with your skills, interests, and values.
Feeling incompetent at work for an extended period can take a toll on your self-esteem and overall well-being. It’s important to prioritize your mental health and professional growth.
By proactively seeking out new job opportunities that are better suited to your strengths and aspirations, you take a positive step toward improving your confidence.
Prioritizing your own career satisfaction and well-being is okay. Finding a job that makes you feel more confident and capable can be a transformative step toward a more fulfilling professional life.
14. Consider a career change.
It’s okay to reevaluate your career path and consider other options that better align with your skills, interests, and passions.
Gone are the days when people spent decades working for the same company or in the same office. In some industries, if you stay at the same company or position for too long, it’s assumed that nobody else wanted you.
If you’ve been feeling inadequate at work for some time, that could be a sign that you’re in the wrong field or industry. Your strengths and capabilities may be better suited elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to make the switch.
Explore different career opportunities that truly resonate with you. Don’t worry about whether it’s too late to make a career change. Because it’s never too late to switch careers and pursue one that brings you fulfillment and satisfaction. Your career should be a source of inspiration and growth.
Feeling inadequate or incompetent can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, but you’re not alone. Take proactive steps to build your confidence and create a more fulfilling and satisfying life for yourself.
You have the power to shape your narrative. So, embrace your worth and abilities. You deserve to feel confident and competent in all aspects of your life!