The Little Engine That Assumed it Couldn’t: How To Stop Underestimating Your Abilities


Thumbnail from a youtube video I did a while back. Link to the video will be at the end of this post.

This is a story about how science helped me stop underestimating my abilities and increased my courage to try new things.


I threw myself into doing a lot of the things I love or have always wanted to do this year. I used to think I didn’t know enough to attempt them or that because other people who were “better at it” were already doing them, there was no point in me trying them as well. I was so convinced I’d fail at them that I never even tried.

It’s puzzling how easy it is to discredit ourselves before giving something a real shot or to assume that because someone else is already an expert at something that we will never get there and that there’s no use in even trying.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ve seen me mention it a bunch of times that “feelings are not facts” and neither are assumptions. It took me a while to realize this correlation but when I finally did it’s almost like a light bulb went on.

One of the results of me finally understanding this is this blog! I understood that my feelings of not being a good enough writer or not having anything meaningful to say were not only untrue but non-factual assumptions.

To get out of this mindset I started asking myself this one simple question whenever I told myself “I can’t do that”: Can I prove it with science? Is there scientific proof that I am unable to do this? And I already see some of you with your eyebrows raised. Yes, I asked myself if there was scientific evidence that I am unable to do whatever it was I was trying to do.

And being the complete nerd that I am I did my “googles” on “how to scientifically prove anything” and found a really simple explanation of the Scientific Method that I’ve been using to overcome my fears, stop underestimating myself and doing all the things I’ve always wanted to do.

So, What Is The Scientific Method?


According to Science Buddies:

  • The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments.
  • The steps of the scientific method are to:
    • Ask a Question
    • Do Background Research
    • Construct a Hypothesis
    • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
    • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
    • Communicate Your Results
  • It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A “fair test” occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.

(You can read the full article here).

Let’s break this method down step by step.

Ask A Question

“I can’t do it” is a statement, a conclusion, not a question so already, this thought process is flawed. At best we can view it as a hypothesis and try to prove or disprove it but ideally you’d want to change your base assumption into question like for example, “Can I do it?”

Do Background Research

Now, for background research a general process would be doing a google search of what is necessary to do whatever it is that you want to do and then going down that list and seeing which things you already know how to do or which tools you already have in your possession. For example, if you wanted to be a writer you might find in doing background research that you need:

  • A working brain
  • A pen and paper, or a typewriter or a computer
  • To know how to write
  • To be “good with words”

If you go down that list, and you check off a working brain, any of the tools above mentioned, knowledge of how to write or type you’re already 75% of the way there.

Construct A Hypothesis

Because you don’t have all the tools mentioned in the list, your hypothesis might be “I can’t do it”. You can also take a positive perspective and decide to think that because you do have some of the tools need, you can focus on looking at the tools you don’t have to formulate your hypothesis. Sticking to the writing example, a hypothesis one might want to test would be “I’m not good with words”. This would be the factor you’re trying to prove or (hopefully) disprove.

Test Your Hypothesis By Doing An Experiment

This has to be my all time favorite part of this entire process. A hypothesis has to be tested to be proven true or false. If you don’t test it, it’s nothing more than an assumption and not a scientific fact. How would you prove, say, that “I’m not good with words”? you  might ask. Simple. You write something and subject it to criticism by people who you consider good with words, who the world considers good with words or simply by people who enjoy reading. You write something, get feedback and then draw a conclusion.

Now, a good scientist approaches a hypothesis from all angles before he reaches a definite conclusion. This is to say that if you attempt to write poetry and the poetry critics say you’re not a good poet it doesn’t automatically mean you’re not a good writer. Poetry might just not be your thing (yet). You might want to try your hand at writing fiction. You might try your hand and writing shorter stories, or longer stories. You might find you’re better at writing from personal experience or from a personal perspective or you might find you have a knack for writing as a character, you might need to create a persona and write prom that perspective. The point here is that there are many angles from which you can (and should) try  to attack your hypothesis before you conclude you can or can’t do something.

Analyze Your Data And Draw A Conclusion

Two Types Of People

During the testing phase there are two general groups people fall into:

  1. You might have a general thing you’re interested in but you don’t know in which sub-area you’d want to work in. For the writing example, you might not have a preferred area or style of writing yet so you go from type to type until you find the style you’re good at.
  2. You have a specific sub-area you’re interested in but you’re not particularly good at it (yet). For the writing example we’re using today, you identify with a specific writing style and you realize your’re not necessarily the best at it.

You might chose to conclude you “can’t” do what you aspire to do or you can choose to reformulate your “can’t” conclusion into “how can I get good at this?” and restart the scientific method for this new question: research what the people who are good at that specific writing style do, go down a checklist and see what you’re already doing, create a new hypothesis, test it out by experimenting with the things good writers do that you’re not currently doing, writing and getting feedback and repeating the cycle until you get a satisfactory result for your hypothesis. You’ll either prove that you can do it or you prove that you can’t. The point here is that your testing and experimenting have to be extensive and thorough before you reach a solid conclusion.

Communicate Your Results

This is also a favorite part of the process for me because it basically involves claiming the title associated with the skill you were attempting to acquire. We talked about this in the last post and I truly believe that claiming this new truth that we have just now scientifically proven has a real impact on our mindset. You either claim “I’m not a good writer” or after persistent tests and experiments you claim “I am a good writer”. Claiming or communicating your results, even if it’s just to yourself, will give you piece of mind by knowing that you’ve tried your best and have proven evidence that your conclusion is accurate*.

*It’s important to know that like all things, people and circumstances change. Sometimes, things we didn’t like when we were kinds become our favorite things when we grow up. In the same way, things we weren’t able to do at a certain time might just be doable some time later. Sometimes, we think we gave it our best effort but it might not have been true. It’s necessary to revisit some of the things we assume we can’t do from time to time, specially when these things don’t leave our minds even after we’ve “concluded” we’re not good at them. If something in your heart keeps nagging you, why not give it another try? It certainly can’t hurt to try and you might just prove yourself wrong 🙂

The Power of Positive Thinking

Having a positive perspective on things and trying your best to use positive and affirmative language definitely helps you get to positive conclusions more often than not. One of my favorite quotes is by Henry Ford and he says:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t [either way] you are right”

And this definitely proves true 99.9% of the time. You create the world and the lifestyle you believe is achievable for you and if you think you aren’t capable the universe will conspire to make that true and if you believe you are in fact capable you the universe will conspire to make that true as well.

Using the Scientific Method can definitely help to re-configure our neuro-pathways  into a more positive “can do” space and it has definitely been helping me overcome a lot of nonfactual or, in other words, fear-based assumptions. And you can use this scientific method with anything. I chose writing because it’s near and dear to my heart but maybe you’ve always wanted to go into medicine or wanted to be a dancer, a DJ, a photographer, a lawyer. Give the scientific method a try, you might just prove yourself wrong.

(Bonus: click here if you want to see this very random youtube video I made a while back about assumptions in a different context. Can you tell how mad I was? lol)

And that’s it for today! What are some of the things you assume you can’t do but have never tested out before? Have you ever used the Scientific Method in ways other than school/work research before? How did you overcome fears or misconceptions about your skills and abilities? Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Leave them all below!





  1. Never heard of this Scientific Method before, and as I’m not a huge fan of science, its not a theory I’ll try out…erm, ‘ Mr Science and Maths: I just cant’…what are the things that i think i cant do but have not tested…well dont think i’ll ever be fluent in German, I live in Berlin for some months during the yr….so I have consoled myself with getting to at least A3 level and then we’ll see….maybe I should try out this theory!( : Ps good to see you on your blog again!


  2. Absolutely love this post! This reminds me of “The Work” by Byron Katie. She kinda says the same thing in a different way, like your post and the scientific method, that we need to put our thoughts under review and not be so quick to easily accept them as our truths. I’ve done “the work” on some areas in my life and it has changed my life. Now I put my thoughts under review more often because most of them are based off of nothing! Lol.


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