One of the main reasons we have a hard time creating the happy, passionate life we desire is because we are so highly-focused on our weaknesses and how we’ve screwed up in the past.
Failing, doing something poorly, being chastised for messing up, seeing others perform far better than we have — all of these make us feel lousy. We feel like losers, unable to measure up or get ahead. And those thoughts and feelings play over and over in our heads, preventing us from taking positive action.
Learning from our failures is extremely valuable and a great tool for growth after experiencing a period of grief. But wouldn’t it be better if we could just avoid some of these failures in the first place? Is it possible or necessary to strengthen our weaknesses in order to avoid the negative feelings of failure?
The answer is yes and no.
When we screw something up, it usually comes down to one of three factors (or sometimes all three).
1. Lack of skill
Failure in a particular endeavor reveals where our weaknesses are and where we might be lacking the necessary skills to perform successfully. This is when the lessons of failure can urge us on to strengthen our weaknesses by learning new skills. These might be areas of weakness where you have aptitude but haven’t learned the steps or practiced enough to become proficient or passionate.
For example, if you failed to meet a deadline with a project at work and therefore lost an important client, you might discover you need to improve your skills at time management, effective communication, or delegating. These are skills that can be learned if you have the personality type and aptitude toward these abilities. Or if you are musically inclined but fail to practice, you won’t live up to your potential or the minimum standards for achievement.
2. Lack of follow-through
There are other situations where we fail or don’t live up to expectations because we lose motivation or don’t follow through. We view ourselves as lazy or incapable of doing what we set out to do. Every one of us has experienced this situation.
- We want to start a new exercise program, but we quit after the first few weeks.
- We want to write a book, but we don’t get past the first chapter.
- We want to look for a better job, but we never get our resume written.
We have the desire and great intentions, and we even have the skills and aptitude to perform well, but we stop short and never finish. Is it because we are lazy? Are we weak and undisciplined?
The good news here is that you are neither lazy nor weak, at least not any more than the next person. Creating new habits is difficult and requires a particular set of skills. It’s difficult because it involves rewiring your brain.
Your brain is set with the patterns and habits that currently exist for you. It’s easy to brush your teeth, start your coffee, or take the same route to work every day because these habits have been established over time. But try to insert something new in the mix, and in short order your brain starts to resist.
But you can create new neural pathways as you practice new behaviors and skills. The more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become. But isn’t that the problem? How can you practice if you don’t follow through with practice? That’s where the you need to understand the skills of habit formation.
When you’re trying to accomplish something you know you have the ability to accomplish, even if you’ve failed to follow through many times before, you can become far more successful if you understand the steps involved in forming habits. Here they are :
First, you want to break down your goals into small, manageable pieces. If your goal is to begin running, start by simply putting on your running clothes, going outside, and running for two minutes.
Next, during the first week of beginning a new habit, keep your time to five minutes only. Five minutes is totally non-threatening and easily do-able. For some habits, it might feel ridiculously short — but stick to this rule. The purpose here is simply to establish a time and routine every day.
Be sure you attach your habit to a trigger, which will remind you to perform the habit. A trigger is a previously-established habit like brushing your teeth or walking the dog. Choose a solid trigger at a time when you can perform your habit for the eventual full amount of time required. The new habit should immediately follow the trigger.
After the first week, if your habit begins to feel somewhat natural, slowly increase your time. Depending on the size and complexity of your habit, it will take you 4-8 weeks before the habit is fully established and you create a new neural pathway in your brain — if you stick to this routine.
Learning to create habits is an excellent way to strengthen your perceived weaknesses.
3. Lack of natural ability
So you can improve your weakness by learning new skills and understanding habit creation. But what about that third factor — when we simply don’t have the natural aptitude to perform well? What if, try as we might, we simply stink at something?
I know without a doubt there are certain skills I simply don’t have the aptitude to do well. This doesn’t make me stupid or a failure. It simply means my personality and intelligence types reflect different abilities and strengths. There were times in my life when I was required to perform in these weaker areas. Sometimes I got incrementally better, and other times I got frustrated and gave up because it was too difficult.
There are occasions when we must perform in areas where we are weak — in school, at work, and with general life tasks. The best thing we can do in these situations is try our best and embrace our weakness as part of who we are. There are very few people who excel at everything. Having weaknesses is part of being human, so we can and should accept them as normal.
Strengthen your strengths
Beyond what we are required to do related to our weaknesses, should we focus time and energy trying to improve them? I believe it’s a far better use of your resources to strengthen your strengths rather than work to improve your weakness. Ask anyone who has found there life passion. They are playing to their strengths.
If you don’t have a compelling reason to focus energy improving your weaknesses, beyond just the ego desire to succeed or prove yourself, then release yourself from the drive to work on them. Let them go with a blessing.
Why bang your head against the wall by struggling with something that isn’t natural or enjoyable? How can it be enjoyable if you feel regularly disappointed and frustrated? If something is a real struggle, and you don’t have to keep at it, then drop it.
When you work on strengthening your strengths, you no longer feel like you’re paddling upstream. Everything is easier and more natural. Even if you need to become more proficient in your areas of strength, you can do so without the anxiety and self-doubt that comes with struggling to learn what feels unnatural or impossibly difficult. Just coping with the negative emotions of this weakens you sabotages your self-esteem and holds you back from finding your passion.
Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses. And every one of us has spent time trying to succeed in areas that aren’t natural for us. Sometimes we don’t realize how hard we are trying and how difficult it’s been until we give ourselves permission to let go and focus on our strengths and pursue our innate passions.
If that’s you right now, I encourage you to examine whether you really need to put so much energy in an area where you feel so much resistance or difficulty. Choose the path to an authentic, passionate life by choosing to focus most of your energy on strengthening your strengths.
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