Five steps to harness your weaknesses

“I find I am much prouder of the victory I obtain over myself, when, in the very ardor of dispute, I make myself submit to my adversary’s force of reason, than I am pleased with the victory I obtain over him through his weakness.” ― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

One of the most difficult thing to do as a human being is acknowledge our weaknesses and our limitations. They suck, so why do we want to think about them?

There are, however, significant merits to putting our weaknesses at the fore of what we do.

Growing up, I was one of those high-achieving, hard-working students who hid his limitations. I found that it was easy to remember my higher grades and hard work in employment were strengths of mine, and that was enough. What I didn’t realise was that, as a person, I was not the best one: not by far.

Aside from the fact I avoided the sports I was bad at (all of them), I – like many academically minded people – stuck to what I knew and got better at it. I learnt from books, and I learnt from life, but one thing I did not learn was about life itself.

As I progressed through college and university, I began to question why I continued to build on my strengths and ignore my weaknesses. It made me great at writing assignments and reciting random facts, but I failed to be a well-rounded person.

I resorted to my books of knowledge to help me overcome my lack of people skills, average health masqueraded by a fast metabolism, and poor sporting ability. What I found was that not everything came from books, plenty did, but there were other ways.

So, I give you my five steps I use to harness and develop my own weaknesses.

Acknowledge your shortcomings

The first step to solving a problem, is acknowledging there is one. Ask of the weaknesses we have. Sometimes it is hard, our egos can get in the way. So instead, acknowledge strengths and work backwards. If you’re good at one thing, then what is the opposite of that and are you good at that too? We can learn a lot from being able to understand that we have weaknesses, and that is okay.

“My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.” ― Michael Jordan

Read and learn about your weaknesses

Start with the books, the blogs, the Wikipedia pages, or a perhaps even a mentor or friend. The first strategy we can deploy is to try to understand what our limitations actually are.

“There are no negatives in life, only challenges to overcome that will make you stronger.”
― Eric Bates

If we are bad communicators, then why is that the case? Is it that we are poor at choosing the right words or that we cannot think under pressure try Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Or is it that confidence is an issue, perhaps give Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People a read? The fact that our weaknesses are multi-faceted makes them harder to understand, but better to overcome.

Make a strategy, write it down

Start by making a memo note on your phone, or find a pad, or write on a whiteboard. It does not matter how you intend to record your strategy, it only matters that you have one to guide future decision making.

“Everything meaningful encounters resistance, don’t get scared of whatever comes your way, just go with the right strategy and plan, their you’ll overcome it at last.” ― Auliq Ice

Start with some kind of process for yourself, whether it is something you can learn from reading more or whether it requires practice, or perhaps even a combination.

Write down how it can be corrected. If it is an anger problem, then start with how it can be fixed in the short term. If it were me, trying to give myself control over anger, I would set myself little goals. Such as one day free of anger, or perhaps even finding a process to go through when feeling heat in my face as anger emerges.

After some steps have been wrote down, timelines can help keep goals on track. Is this a small weakness that can be overcome in the space of a week, or is it something bigger? Timelines are optional, but I find they keep me working towards a goal.

Practice makes perfect, or close to it

If it is an intellectual weakness and books are the solution, then make time to read. Perhaps getting up a little bit earlier in the morning and spending fifteen minutes reading each day on the given topic, reading in a cafe on lunch break, or reading in bed before lights out.

If it is health-related, then force yourself to practice the good habits you  were having trouble with. Reward yourself for achieving if that will help. Falling off the bandwagon a few times does happen. Don’t let it dishearten you, and move on from it.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ― Thomas Edison

The other way to practice something more abstract is to force yourself into a climate where it will be required. This tends to be uncomfortable at first, but it gets better over time, and eventually it is not an issue… perhaps it will even become a strength.

For example, a shy person could choose to improve their self-confidence by putting themselves in controlled situations which will enable them to learn. Jumping on the podium at day one might be a bit to far, but introducing yourself to a work colleague and holding down (or trying to hold down) a conversation might be a good start. I’d recommend starting with Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a book I once read in an attempt to better understand a timid partner.

Reflect and reevaluate

The final step is pretty common in much of strategy. Once we finish a portion of something, try to reflect on whether it was done well. Following those reflections, decide whether the strategy deployed needs to be changed, or whether it needs to be repeated. Ask the question: has it worked?

Using the example from above. If the shy person absolutely collapsed under the pressure of conversation with their new acquaintance, then they might go home a little upset. But it isn’t a reason to despair, it is just one step in the learning process, albeit a not-so-fun one.

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”
― Yvonne Woon

Ask why it failed? Perhaps the shy person took difficulty in working out what to say, so for next time how can that be improved? Maybe have a few conversation starters prepared, choose someone with similar work or interests to yourself, or choose someone who is more outgoing and is likely to lead conversation.

Whatever our weaknesses are, let’s acknowledge them and let’s make them go away. Our weaknesses can be our driving force to be a better person, and let’s face it: getting rid of one weakness can be a huge weight off our shoulders.

Take the first step in the comments section of this post, and let me know a weakness you have, and continue to tell me how you intend to deal with it. I will endeavor to comment on a few strategies, and offer advice where I can.