Play to Your Strengths

I hit my walking goal last night – 5.3 miles, and the last 0.6 mile of it around 7:30 pm in the cold and the dark. Mostly because I looked at my FitBit and saw 4.72 miles and said “there is no way I’m not going to hit this today. Not when I’m this close.” So I threw on my winter coat and my hat and my gloves, and put on my headphones, and went for a walk. As I was walking I was listening to episode 23 of This Is Your Life, titled “Operating in Your Strengths Zone”, which was based on the book Strengthsfinder 2.0. So, I spent fifteen minutes listening to the importance of figuring out what your strengths are and working with them, rather than focusing on your weaknesses and trying to overcome them. Inspirational stuff, but then Michael Hyatt is really good at inspiration.

The walk and the podcast got me thinking. So I thought about goals, and about achieving them, and the things I’ve done so far to achieve them. And I’ll be honest: initially, an imp of the perverse sat on my shoulder and made me think I was going to write about how weaknesses can be used to help you achieve goals as well. Because I’ve got a strong competitive streak, and that competitive streak was what drove my walking last night, and I’ve been told more than once that I’m too competitive.

But here’s what’s interesting. Last year my work paid for me to take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 survey, and here’s my list of my top five strengths:

  1. Adaptability (You respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans. Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforeseen detours. You expect them. They are inevitable. Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them.)
  2. Input (You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information or you might collect tangible objects. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting.)
  3. Intellection (You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions.)
  4. Competition (Competition is rooted in comparison. When you look at the world, you are instinctively aware of other people’s performance. Their performance is the ultimate yardstick. No matter how hard you tried, no matter how worthy your intentions, if you reached your goal but did not outperform your peers, the achievement feels hollow.)
  5. Deliberative (You are careful. You are vigilant. You are a private person. You know that the world is an unpredictable place. Everything may seem in order, but beneath the surface you sense the many risks. Rather than denying these risks, you draw each one out into the open. Then each risk can be identified, assessed, and ultimately reduced.)

When I first took the test, my wife read the and the detailed assessment that came with it. Her response? “Well, that’s you dead on.” So, I think it’s pretty accurate. And check out number four: Competition. That’s right. Being competitive is a strength. And I’ve got full license to be competitive, as long as I’m not using it to belittle or demean others. (Which is one of the reasons why I no longer let myself play Monopoly.  Because I am a terrible human being when I play that game.)

That’s all well and good, you may be asking, but what does this have to do with anything? Well, I’ll tell you. When you’ve got a huge goal to achieve – losing 200 pounds, for instance – it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of that goal. “I have to lose 200 pounds.” “I can’t eat that.” “I have to get up and exercise.” And on and on and on. It’s something that we’re culturally programmed to do. How many times as a child, or as a student, or even as a professional have you had your weaknesses dragged out and examined and commented on? Did your parents focus on the one bad grade on your report card to the exclusion of the good ones? Mine did, and I think they were great parents. Does your boss focus on your shortcomings at work, rather than the things you did well? I’ve had bosses do that, and many of them really wanted to see me succeed.

We focus on the negative far too often. Instead, we need to play to our strengths. Particularly when we’re trying to achieve something. Now, I’m not saying you need to buy a book and take a test to identify your strengths – particularly since I’m not getting any kickbacks from the Gallup Group to direct people to their site. What I am saying is that you need to spend a little time with yourself and figure out what you are good at, and what you enjoy, and use those things to your advantage. Here’s a few examples of how that might work, based on my strengths and my current goal:

  1. 1. Adaptability: I have goals, but they’re flexible goals. I don’t have a set schedule that says I must exercise at certain times. I just have an expectation of a certain distance to cover each day, and the knowledge that I can do it whenever I want as long as I do it. And I don’t have a set weight loss schedule. I just have an amount of weight I need to lose, and a series of flexible action steps to get me to that goal.
  2. Input: I let myself indulge that “collector” tendency by grabbing and trying out new weight loss and exercise tools and apps. And by looking up interesting health facts.
  3. Intellection: I put this to work on the ‘bookkeeping’ side of my weight loss goal. I let myself analyze recipes, figuring out their calorie cost and then trying to figure out ways to reduce that calorie count while still making it taste good.
  4. Competition: Oddly enough, this isn’t expressed by competing with others to lose weight. No, it’s competing against my own goals. I use the Habitica app I’ve mentioned before, and I see all of my daily activity goals in that app as a challenge. A challenge that I’m going to win. And then I get prizes for winning, in the shape of actual tangible things that I’m allowed to buy at certain weight loss benchmarks.
  5. Deliberative: It took me forever to face up to the fact that I needed to lose weight. Now that I have, I carefully plan out each phase of my weight loss plan. I tried and tested several calorie counting apps, looking for the best one for my purposes. I planned several different exercise strategies, and tested each one. I even looked for the ideal walking track, to maximize my distance traveled on my breaks.

You’re not me, clearly. You probably have different strengths and weaknesses. That’s a great thing! Be the unique individual you are, and don’t feel like you have to do things the same way I’ve done them. But don’t fight yourself. If you aren’t a morning person, and you hate running, don’t resolve to get up at four a.m. to go jogging. You won’t. Not for any length of time. You aren’t your enemy. You don’t need to defeat yourself to succeed.  You should be your own best friend, and you should work with yourself to succeed. So figure out what you’re good at, and what you like to do, and build your goals around those traits. You’ll be a whole lot happier, if you do. And far more successful.

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