Why Am I So Stupid? 12 Reasons Why You May Think That and What to Do About It

We all feel stupid from time to time.

I’ve certainly done it plenty of times.

But I’ve also learned what to do when you feel stupid to improve upon that situation. So those negative thoughts and feelings don’t start taking over your whole life and outlook.

And in today’s post I want to share my best insights and tips from past 15 years or so.

Here are 12 reasons why you may feel or think you’re stupid and what to do about that to improve the situation you’re in, your opinion about yourself and your life.

1. Feeling stressed.

Why Am I So Stupid

I’ve often found that in certain situations where I’ve been feeling like I just don’t get it or I’ve felt stupid then that’s not about me actually being dumb.

I’ve just been stressed and so my ability to think clearly doesn’t work well at all.

What to do about it:

The simplest and quickest way to calm and slow down if you’re stressed is in my experience to just focus on your breathing.

Sit down if possible. Close your eyes. Breathe a little deeper than usual and breathe through your nose. For 2 minutes just focus on your breathing.

Nothing else. Just on those breaths going in and out of your body.

I usually find that it’s a lot easier to think clearly, to focus and to understand things after I’ve done that.

If you’re in a situation where you can’t take 2 minutes for that then take 3 deep breaths in and out through your nose. That can bring a bit of clarity and calm to your mind and body.

Bonus: Download a free step-by-step checklist that will show you how to quickly snap out of it when you feel stupid (it’s easy to save as a PDF or print out for whenever you need it during your day or week).

2. Letting your inner critic walk all over you.

We all have an inner critic.

A voice inside that can harshly criticize you when you have made a mistake. Or throw negative thoughts at you about what may happen if you say the wrong thing or mess up in, for instance, a meeting.

This negative self-talk can really drag you down. But it doesn’t have to.

What to do about it:

As soon as your inner critic pipes up, shut it down by saying a stop word or stop phrase.

In your mind, firmly say: No!

Or “Nope! Nope! Nope!”. Or one of my favorites: No, we are not going down that road again!

Don’t let your inner critic derail your thoughts into negativity. Shut it down as quickly as you can instead.

3. Not having a realistic roadmap to where you want to go.

An image of a boy holding a map.

It’s easy to become frustrated, impatient and to sometimes feel stupid if your roadmap to where you want to go isn’t realistic.

Thinking that things will be easy, with no setbacks or hiccups and that you will reach your goal quickly and then not have reality match those expectations is one of the most common reasons why people give up too soon and too easily.

What to do about it:

Talk to people who have gone where you want to go.

They can give you a more accurate roadmap and tell you what to expect in the real world.

Get information from people out there in the world.

If you don’t know someone who has gone where you want to go then listen to people further away. Read their books or websites. Listen to their podcasts or watch their Youtube channel.

And keep doing it to keep yourself grounded to realistic expectations and to not give up when you encounter obstacles.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

We all have things we learn a bit more quickly and other things that we may learn slower. That’s OK and normal.

So don’t compare yourself and your progress to the ones of friends or people you admire.

The important thing is to give yourself time to learn instead of giving up because then you make no progress at all. Going slowly forward is always better than standing still.

4. Fear of asking a dumb question.

We’ve all been there.

You want to ask something but you’re hesitant. The question feels stupid. And you don’t want to look or feel stupid. So you remain silent.

But the fear of being judged for asking questions can be an obstacle to learning or truly understanding something. And so, overcoming that can be a great help.

What to do about it:

Remember: People like curiosity.

Most people who teach like curiosity and questions. And they like people who clarify so they don’t make mistakes and people who want to get a deeper understanding of things.

So ask the question from the frame of mind that you want to clarify something or deepen your understanding of the topic.

Do that to both be able to ask more helpful questions and make it more clear to the one you’re asking that you’re doing it out of curiosity and an interest in learning more.

You don’t have to be perfect.

Many questions you ask will be good or even great. A few may not be. That’s OK. It’s just a part of anything you do in life.

No point in holding yourself to impossible or perfect standards. That will just hold you back.

People aren’t as judgmental as your inner critic may imagine.

And if people are judgmental in their response then that’s usually a lot more about them having a bad day, week or year than about you asking a simple question.

Normalize it to yourself.

Like with all things in life, the more you do it the less it will feel weird or uncomfortable. So ask more questions in all kinds of settings in your life to normalize this to yourself.

5. Imposter syndrome or self-doubt sweep in.

A man walking during sunset.

Self-doubt is of course something that will pop up from time to time.

It can come in the form of doubting that you can actually get something done but also in the form of doubting that you deserve the success you’ve had in life.

That latter is often called imposter syndrome and can lead to a fear of getting caught and being exposed as a “fraud” that does not belong in this workplace or at that school.

What to do about it:

If you are plagued by self-doubt about being able to accomplish something then talking back to your inner critic as described earlier in this post is certainly helpful.

I’ve also found it helpful to vent or discuss my doubts with someone close to me who can ground me and not let my thoughts spin into a big snowball to also be very helpful.

If you on the other hand tend to more often fall into feeling like an imposter then it can be helpful to write down your small and bigger wins on a list that you can review whenever you start to doubt yourself.

To not see yourself through a distorted lens, as described further down in this post, can also help you find a more accurate and deserving image of yourself.

You can learn more about overcoming self-doubt in this post and also what to do if you don’t feel good enough about yourself in this post.

6. An unhelpful view on mistakes and setbacks.

When you make a mistake or have a setback then that can sting.

You may feel bad about yourself even feel ashamed. And so your inner critic might start talking about you being one of those stupid people who always make stupid choices (so shut down that inner voice quickly).

What to do about it:

Be your own best friend.

This is my favorite way to handle a mistake or failure.

Instead of beating myself up or being dragged down into negativity and inaction, I ask myself:

How would my friend/parent support me and help me in this situation?

Then I talk to myself like he or she would and do things that this person close to me would recommend me to do.

Ask better questions.

If you keep asking yourself questions like “how could I be so dumb?”, then you’re not gonna feel good about yourself.

I’ve found that it is more helpful for me and my personal growth to focus on asking myself questions like:

What is one thing I can learn from this situation? And what is one opportunity – no matter if it’s a small one – that I can find in this situation?

Remember: It’s normal.

Finally, remind yourself that everyone that go outside of their comfort zone makes mistakes. That and having setbacks are natural parts of the learning process and of becoming better at something.

7. Being overly strict and serious with yourself.

A woman in a hat looking serious.

If you’re a bit too serious with yourself and give yourself little room to breathe, to relax and to sometimes make a mistake then that strictness can become something that holds you back.

Because it leads you into becoming your own worst critic all too often and to someone who holds yourself to perfect and impossible standards.

What to do about it:

Set human standards for yourself (you’ll do and feel better). And set them for everyone else in your life too. We all have strengths and flaws. And sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

That’s just life.

I know, being strict with yourself and expecting perfect results may look like a good idea to achieve what you want out of life.

But in my experience it tends to create anxiety, procrastination and it makes me perform worse because I’ve put too much pressure on myself.

So relax a bit. It will be easier to think. To take action. And you’ll feel better about yourself and your life.

8. Seeing yourself through a distorted and negative lens.

You’re not bad at everything. Or a failure. Or a stupid person.

But when you’re in a situation where you’re feeling dumb then it’s not always easy to remember that.

So here’s what I like to do to find a more accurate picture of myself.

What to do about it:

Find the exception to open up your mind.

When you, for example, feel like a failure in school or like your dating life sucks then ask yourself:

What’s one small exception to that though?

This can help you see that you’re actually doing pretty well in your geography class. Or that you had some nice dates with that one person a few months ago.

Let that small exception open your mind up to a more optimistic view of yourself. And let that help you find more positive things about yourself and your life.

Then make a list of those positive things and strengths you find. Keep it close if your mind starts seeing you through a negative lens again.

Remind yourself that all people have strengths and weaknesses in life.

Many intelligent people have struggled with one or more areas in their life. It’s totally normal.

9. Negative daily or weekly influences.

A man looking frustrated.

Sometimes we are our own biggest critic. At other times the criticism and negativity can come from other people like family members, friends and co-workers.

If you’re surrounded by or influenced by people each week that make you feel stupid or like a failure then that isn’t helpful.

What to do about it:

Realize that they most often do it to feel better about themselves.

Sure, we all sometimes make mistakes that people will be angry about. But if someone criticizes or puts you down again and again then it’s likely about them and not you.

Redesign your daily and weekly life.

Simply list the people who are the strongest negative influences in your life. And then the most positive influences.

Then, find a way this week and month to spend less time with those negative sources and use the time you’ve freed up on the most positive people or other sources – books, podcasts etc. – in your life.

You may also find this post about not taking things so personally helpful.

10. A lack of structure in daily life.

I’ve found that being disorganized and working without much structure definitely increases stress and decreases clarity of mind and movement forward with my work.

What to do about it:

Just a simple thing like a small paper pad where you write down your daily to-do list can make a big difference and also frees up your mind for thinking rather than trying to remember things you need to get done.

I use a to-do list online and then I write down my most important task to get done on that day on a small paper note pad.

When that important task is done then I add another important task from the to-do list online to my piece of paper. This keep me focused on just one thing at a time.

I also like using checklists for bigger projects so I don’t forget things and easily missable smaller details (especially during the end stage of the project when I’m a bit more tired and forgetful).

You don’t have to be super organized and use a ton of apps. A simple setup like this has helped me a lot to get things done and to make far fewer mistakes (or totally forget about things) compared to 15 years ago.

11. Low self-esteem.

A woman making a heart sign with her hands during sunset.

If you often feel bad about yourself in general then that can partly be from low self-esteem.

That was certainly the case for me in the past.

When my level of self-esteem was lower I beat myself up more often, I was more vulnerable to the criticism or attacks of others and so I was feeling stupid and tended to see myself through a negative lens in plenty of situations.

What to do about it:

Well, many of the tips in this post such as being your own best friend when you have a setback and learning how to talk back to your inner critic will over time help you improve your self-esteem.

You may also want to check my course on self-esteem to get a more structured approach to building a solid sense of self-respect and self-love.

12. You haven’t got the proper help you need yet.

Sometimes we simply need help from others.

I know that plenty of people who have felt stupid or been called stupid by others have later in life been diagnosed with for example dyslexia or ADHD.

The good thing about life today is that we know a lot more about these things than we used to and so specialized help tends to be more easily accessible.

What to do about it:

Contact local help where you live such as a mental health professional or a specialist at school or at work that you can get personalized help from.

Here’s the next step…

Now, you may think to yourself:

“This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice and actually make a real change with this challenge in my life?”

Well, I’ve got something special for you…

A free step-by-step checklist that includes all the steps in this article… save it or print it out so you have it for your daily life and for the next time you need it.
Download it now by entering your email below.

Free Exclusive Happiness Tips

Subscribe to The Positivity Newsletter and get weekly tips on happiness, self-esteem and plenty more.

You’ll also get three free guides on how to stop being lazy, what to do when life sucks and 21 things I wish they’d taught me in school.

100% privacy and no spam. You can unsubscribe anytime.

About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jane Bragg

    Thank you so much! And especially for the large type.
    I have the problem of not thinking before speaking and lack restraint of tongue of pen. As a result, I’ve lost two lucrative contracts for berating clients, and most recently a friend. How can I retrain my brain to think before I speak? I need to love myself so I can love others.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jane! I have found it helpful to use the first tip in post to quickly reduce either stress or anger. So to focus on your breathing for a little while is my tip.

  • Great post! I love how you gave advice on how to handle the emotion you’re feeling.

  • I love the emphasis on self-compassion in this post. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over our perceived shortcomings, but learning to be kinder to ourselves can make such a difference in our lives. Thank you for the reminder.

  • This is such a helpful post! It’s comforting to know that everyone struggles with self-doubt at times. I appreciate the tips on how to overcome those negative thoughts.

  • Thankful

    Hi, great list and very helpful.

    I think for #9 critical people do sometimes criticize to appear better than and make themselves feel “better” by insulting someone, and also sometimes people are critical because they are overwhelmed and subconsciously feel they are failing and possibly the other person’s unawareness is complicating things. Their criticism can be a reaction out of their own inability to understand their emotions and subconscious hurts, (or those of others) and they may not be critical or insulting to gratuitously feed their ego.

    Many times, if not most times, some of these people are not aware of the harm they are doing, and are more like a child in that way.

    They need the same gentleness we correct ourselves with. They may reject information because there is no place in their brain for it when they are escalated. But this is why consistent kindness and forgiveness and gentleness are so important toward ourselves and others.

    They may know they have a problem relating but have PTSD or some underlying traumatic situation they don’t feel safe looking at, but have little awareness of its affect on others because of their anxiety.

    I was very thankful when someone (who I knew did care) gently shared with me that maybe I was missing something. That started me on a journey of help. They could have blown me off. But they cared enough to go beyond just being irritated or hurt and rejecting me.

    There are also egotistical, critical people. But since I started to change how I see myself, I saw a difference in the people I myself thought were egotistical and critical. They usually were overwhelmed and had been cheated somehow or experienced a loss they felt helpless about and were trying to avoid failure and pain, both for themselves and others.

    And the more I’ve decided to be vulnerable and speak gently with care as had been done for me, the less I have experienced the frustration at their lack of understanding and was able to act out of empathy and compassion. Because I honestly did not understand how I was hurting people, and when I did, I was very ashamed and embarrassed and felt that hurt. I will forever be glad that someone spoke to me in kindness and understood that I did not know.

    Choose your actions wisely and judge for yourself who to be vulnerable to, but many people are more like us than we feel they are when we are hurt. Sometimes I have spoken (consistently) gently when I was 95% sure it wouldn’t make a difference and usually it has.

    I am thankful that the person who helped me did it without expectations and without resentment. They could have shamed me, but they had hope and loved me. I try to pay that forward because it changed my life. And maybe I can help another.