Building strengths Vs fixing weaknesses

New Year's Anti-Resolutionsphoto © 2010 Keoni 101 | more info (via: Wylio)
Recently, I have been reading Tim Ferriss’ book, ‘The Four Hour Work Week’. Something in the book struck a chord with me.

He says, rather than trying to fix the chinks in your armor, aim for better use of your best weapons. In other words, focus on building your strengths rather than fixing your weaknesses.

Most of us are very conscious about the things we are not good at and are embarrassed about them. We spend most of our energy in trying to improve in these embarrassing areas. We don’t give ourselves as much credit for the things we are naturally good at, that we enjoy. The result is, we improve less on what we are good at, never becoming a master at them. We keep working at what we are not naturally inclined to, something that we find boring. At best, we become mediocre at these things.

Two experiences I had

When I was a software engineer, I saw that I had certain strengths and weaknesses. My strengths were in learning something in detail and creating something new from scratch. My weaknesses lay in not picking up new things quickly and in understanding and maintaining code that had been written by someone else.

I had some impossible expectations off myself. I felt I needed to be good at everything there was to do as a software engineer. So, for a long time, I felt guilty about my shortcomings and focused on trying to fix them. I had a very miserable first year at my job.

Then I decided to shift my focus to what I knew I was good at. I started learning one technology in it’s details. I chose the programming language Java and after a few months preparation, took a widely recognized test in it. I scored 95%. This got me some recognition in my company and I got to do some development projects. I proved to be good at those.

I also noticed that although I had tried hard before, I had not been able to make much of a dent in my weaknesses. I did progress but the rate was slow. On the other hand, when I took up preparing for the test, I instantly felt I was in my elements. It involved logical reasoning, something I have always had an aptitude for, something that has always been my strength. The results came far quicker than before. Within months, I had cleared a tough exam with flying colors and was doing much better at work.

I should have learnt my lesson then but I repeated the mistake again. I know what they call a person who repeats the same mistake twice..a fool… I have been that :)

I had been very good at boxing since I was a kid. I can say I had a gift for it. I would never practice but would win most of the time. I won a lot of medals in my school. But I was very bad at grappling(wrestling, ground fighting).

When(after having settled as a programmer) I decided to train in martial arts, I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a grappling art. I did this to fix my weakness at grappling. After more than a year of training, I was still a white belt, still mediocre. I finally switched to a different school where I trained in striking arts, mainly kick boxing. The guy I trained with, Maximillion Chen, has been part of the US Wushu team. In the very first class, he told me I was very good. He asked me whether I had been practicing before!

I felt totally at home from day one.

Since then, I have learned to focus more on my strengths.

Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want

This is a statement from the very first personal development book I read, ‘You Can Win’ by Shiv Khera.

In a sense, focusing on your strengths is not very different from the idea of focusing on the positives in life, being grateful for what you have. If you have the tendency of focusing on your weaknesses, chances are, you also have a tendency to look for the negative in other areas of your life. The half filled glass is always half empty for you. Learn to focus on what you have, be grateful for it and build up on it.

When we dominantly think of our weaknesses we manifest more of them in our lives. But if we focus on building our strengths, the weaknesses become less and less of a problem. They either disappear on their own or don’t seem like a problem anymore. Later, you might see a need to overcome them. But by that time, your confidence and personality are so much stronger, and the weaknesses so much weaker, that it takes only a nudge to let it crumble into dust.

Keeping our focus positive, keeping it on our strengths, brings us in a state of flow where we don’t need to fight to make things right. Progress and results come easy. Laozi probably had this in mind when he said :

The Master allows things to happen.
He shapes events as they come.
He steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

Building upon strengths is more fun than fixing weaknesses

Building strengths is fun. Our strengths are usually things that we enjoy doing. I enjoy analytical reasoning, puzzle solving, so programming is my strength(which requires analytical abilities). I enjoy keeping fit, being focused, fighting my fears, being present in the moment, all of which make me a better fighter. Building upon our strengths is so much fun.

For some reason, most of us have this subconscious idea that progress has to be hard. When we work on our strengths, we feel we are not working as much as we should. We try to shift to the hardest way forward, which gives us a sense of making real effort.

This idea arises from a negative attitude, from fear. Get over it. Build on your strengths, claim joy, become a master!

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