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Why we should embrace our inner Nitwit

Be wary of positive self-help mantras for better confidence. Instead, know thy idiocy.

The inner nitwit unleashed.

There’s a lot said about how good human nature is, or how evil it is. I think we should remember how ridiculous it is.

Here's my ridiculousness. I can drive, I use a computer, I can even operate a modern tin opener (just) but I can’t for the life of me open a silly little glue bottle that comes with a child’s crafting kit. How do you pierce the lid to let the glue out? Ten minutes of struggle and I'm still stumped.

Later my 12-year-old asked: "Is being an adult hard? It looks hard and boring". I say that it’s only boring if you let it be; and it’s only hard if you take yourself too seriously.

The road to greater confidence begins with telling yourself 'I'm a muttonhead'.

There’s a wonderful section in Alan de Botton’s book, The School of Life, in which he comments on a painting by Pieter Bruegel called Dutch Proverbs:

“Everyone, [Bruegel] suggests, is pretty much deranged; here’s a man throwing his money into the river; there’s a soldier squatting on the fire and burning his trousers; someone is intently bashing his head against a brick wall, whilst another is biting a pillar.

Importantly, the painting is not an attack on just a few unusually awful people: it’s a picture of parts of all of us… We are idiots now, we have been idiots in the past and we will be idiots again in the future – and that is o.k. There aren’t any other available options for human beings."

De Botton argues that if we learn to gracefully accept our foolish nature, the risk of trying and failing would have its sting substantially removed.

"The fear of humiliation would no longer stalk us in the shadows of our minds. We would be free to give things a go by accepting that failure and idiocy were the norm. And every so often, amid the endless rebuffs we’d get a hug, we’d make a friend, we’d get a pay rise.

The road to greater confidence begins with a ritual of telling oneself solemnly every morning, before embarking on the challenges of the day, that one is a muttonhead, a cretin, a dumb-bell and an imbecile. One or two more acts of folly, should, thereafter, not feel so catastrophic after all"

The socially awkward nitwit deserves compassion.

In the spirit of gracefully owning my folly, as de Botton suggests, let me confess another muttonhead moment: addressing someone by the wrong name.

It doesn't end there.

I'm mortified and I don't hear their real name because it’s turned into an awkward moment. When I finally grasp it, I'm still muddled because "Theirs Is The Name I Mustn’t Get Wrong" and inevitably, I do. The sorry tale continues as I devise ways of addressing them without using their name at all. I’ve entered a weird vortex of memory, social embarrassment and brain-refusing-to-act-normally. I doubt my ability to use their name properly ever again.

Instead of inwardly groaning at my social ineptness, from now on I'll be more forgiving.

As de Botton says, if we start from a 'glass half empty' perspective, we can process our failings with kindness. We can let go of the inner critical voice when we mess up. We cease consuming precious energy churning through feelings of humiliation, of letting people down, of being inadequate or incompetent.

Even better, as de Botton says, 'we'd be free to give things a go'.

Imagine how many more things we'd try - striking up conversations, going for promotions, taking up a sport - if we were truly reconciled with the likelihood of tripping up, falling flat on our faces and, well, behaving like a nitwit.

A new mantra for a happier life?

Telling yourself you’re a cretin every morning goes against the fashionable holy mantras of self-help advice.

To be fair, swapping ‘You’re an awesome human being with gifts to bring to the world’ with ‘You’re an idiot and it’s a miracle if you make it through the day’ is a bit much.

But trying to manifest success runs into trouble when we experience failure. It dissuades further experiment, we recoil and cease to develop.

If self-awareness doesn’t include knowing our folly and ridiculousness, we are going to have a really hard time of it.

So, some tips for happiness:

  • Lower your expectations. Remember I’m a fool, you are a fool and so is everyone else.

  • Take a chance and experiment. There's no standard of perfection from which to fall. The opposite, in fact. This opens up an upwards path for growth and learning.

  • Anytime you don’t act like a fool is a win!

  • Don’t get mad with yourself. Laugh. Put your arm around your inner nitwit and give her a hug.

Let me know what you think below, and you are cordially invited to share your own nitwit moments!

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Nov 04, 2023

This has really helped me thanks!😊

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