Strengths and Weaknesses

We all have our strengths and talents but, as nobody is perfect, we also have weaknesses too. Conventional wisdom tells us that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and must address our weaknesses in order to live life at its fullest. That makes sense, but what about our strengths, though? Surely, if we devote all of our attention to our weaknesses, there is a chance that our strengths might start to go a little rusty. Work on both then, I hear you say.

The first thing we need to do is determine which of our strengths and weaknesses we should work on, in which area and why. There are two areas in life, in which we have both strengths and weaknesses. How we work on these not only determines our quality of life but also how much value we bring to the world and enrich the lives of others. The first of these areas is our character. Character is who we are as a person and how we relate to others and the world around us. The second area is related to our skills and abilities. Our skills and abilities determine the value which we provide both for ourselves and others.

Traditionally, we focus on our weaknesses when it comes to our skills, and our strengths when it comes to our character. What if there was a better way, though? While this tried and tested approach works, I strongly believe that if you want real transformational change your focus needs to shift.

When we focus on our skills- related weaknesses, it takes time and during this time our strengths can go rusty. It’s far better, then to use this time and focus on our strengths when it comes to our skills. Invest in your strengths, work on them daily and watch them grow. This is how to provide greater value for others as well as yourself. Working on your weaknesses takes time and attention away from our strengths, which lose a little of their power. The result is a varied skillset in which you are between average and good at many, but excel at none. Better to have a few skills in which you are particularly strong and can make a real difference.

The opposite is true of our character. We focus on our strengths when it’s our weaknesses which need our attention. Focusing on improving our weaknesses while maintaining our strengths will help us to become the best version of ourselves. When you work on your weaknesses, you become more empathetic and compassionate towards other people and the world around you. At the same time, you also evolve and develop a more rounded character. This is what will help you to forge more meaningful and deeper relationships with people, both personally and professionally.

There is so much advice out there on strengths and weaknesses that it’s confusing. Here are a few pointers to get you started;

  • Determine your character and skills strengths. Reflect on where you believe your strengths lie in both areas and write them down. On a separate sheet of paper, ask family, friends and colleagues where they feel that your strengths lie. Write these down too, and compare both lists. Decide which ones you will take from both lists, and compile a final list.
  • Determine your character and skills weaknesses. Follow the same steps as you did for your strengths.
  • Draw up a plan of action. Now that you know where your skills-related strengths and character-related weaknesses lie, how are you going to work on both? Is there a book you can read? A seminar you can attend? Somebody who could coach or mentor you?
  • Take action daily to become the best version of yourself and provide value to yourself and others. 

So, if you feel that you are doing all that you can but making slow progress, turn conventional thinking and advice on its head. Work instead on your skills strengths and your character weaknesses, and see where that leads.

Good luck!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can we please stop advising people to Give 110%?!

It’s everywhere, from sports coaching to books and articles on business, psychology and self-help. We are being bombarded with the advice that, if we want to achieve great things we need to give 110%. Which makes no sense.

This idea that you too can become a successful entrepreneur, sports star, actor or whatever else you want to be by giving 110, 120, or even 150% sounds simple, cool and catchy. Hence it is spreading like wildfire, but it’s time that we contain it and put it out.

Maybe I am just being pedantic, but we can only give 100% effort. That is our maximum, no more. Effort depends on so many factors that you might feel like you are giving your all today, but find that you can give a little more tomorrow. These factors can range from getting enough rest or food to the level of knowledge which you possess.

Let’s take running as an example. I might be able to manage 25 minutes at a steady pace on the treadmill today, but a week later find myself completing 45 minutes. In that time, I haven’t discovered a mystical energy reserve which allowed me to give 110%, but more likely the improvement came about as a result of my body adapting to the demands of my training and a possible improvement in my rest, recovery and nutrition.

The same can be said of progress made from one week to the next in business and other arenas. It is doubtful that your success is driven by 110% effort, but rather an increase in knowledge, understanding and experience.

If you are giving your all, that means that you are giving 100%. no more, no less. If you walk away from whatever you are engaged in and still have some energy left in the tank, then it is unlikely that you gave 100% in the first place, but rather around 80% which was the most you could give at that point in time. A good night’s rest, some further reading or adequate hydration and you might be able to return the next day and truly give 100% effort.

I believe that in order to be successful in your field of interest or expertise, there is a formula which could help;

1 – Identify what it is that you want to achieve, alongside the behaviours and skills which you want to develop.

2 – Set goals, both short and long-term, do your research and formulate a plan of action.

3 – Take action. Set up regular check-ins which will allow you to review your progress and identify any areas in which improvements can be made. Make tweaks as and when you feel appropriate.

4 – Be consistent. Keep putting in the work. Bounce back from setbacks, and as you reach each of your goals, tick them off and replace them with more challenging goals.

5 – Repeat.

Consistent, focused effort and hard work, mixed with passion and dedication is a formula which can drive you towards success, so please can we change the conversation and give more sensible advice?!

 

You are what you read

If there is one thing that many leaders and successful people have in common, it is a thirst for knowledge. Not all, but the majority of these people see their development as a life-long, continuous process and are constantly seeking to learn and grow before taking action. Others, however, prefer to skip the first part and just learn through experience, which is also a powerful teacher. That said, taking action without a good understanding of what you want to achieve is as reckless as it is bold. There is a fine balance between learning and making plans, and taking action which leads to learning experiences. You need a knowledge base, plans and goals but this all amounts to nothing if you don’t act upon them. As I have stated previously, we should be wary of spending too much time and attention on making plans, and be prepared to take action and learn from the experiences.

All day every day, we are bombarded with information, and demands are placed on our attention, but those who have an appetite for knowledge and learning are very deliberate in what they choose to focus on. Rather than reaching for the tv remote or a newspaper, they read a book, magazine or a blog article on a topic which interests them. Rather than binge-watch the latest drama series on Netflix, they will more likely be found watching TED talks, documentaries or Youtube videos on a topic related to their goals and development. The internet has created an explosion in resources, available in an instant and accessible from anywhere, that can help us on our journeys of self discovery and achievement. The greatest challenge, however,  lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. That is to say, we need to be careful in choosing which resources we will be devoting our time and attention to, focusing on feeding our minds with positive input which is of good quality. After all, that which we choose to feed our minds, in turn influences our thoughts, mindset, attitude, decisions and actions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you have goals which you are striving towards and you want to become successful in a particular area, that you select good quality sources of information which could help you on your journey of learning and development.

Education does not end when your time in the classroom does. We are naturally curious, and as such should be using that curiosity, and our free time, to constantly learn and push ourselves to become, and achieve, more. Read a book or magazine article written by a great philosopher, influential person or thought leader, watch a documentary or take advantage of the internet or your local library. Good quality resources offer the opportunity to expand your mind and help you grow.

Social media also has a role to play. Humans are social beings, so it helps to associate with influential people who are leaders in their particular field, while also networking with other like-minded people with whom to share and discuss ideas. LinkedIn is just one of many platforms which, if used wisely, has much to offer in this area.

In short, we should be more careful and deliberate when choosing what we pay attention to and how we spend our time. Great progress requires great effort and sacrifice after all.

Goals are not just something you see in sports

Goals are not just something a football player might score, but a valuable tool to guide us on our journey towards success, self-discovery and achievement. Without goals, there is a danger that we might find ourselves just drifting through life lacking purpose, direction and focus while falling far short of our potential. The real benefit of having goals and striving to achieve them, however, is not in the goal itself but in what we learn along the way and how we develop and grow on this journey.

“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It’s as simple as that.”

Earl Nightingale

In short, goals give us the power to take control of the direction of our lives, force us to learn and grow and provide a tool to measure success and achievement.

There are 2 different types of goals, long-term and short-term and both are essential. Long-term goals are sometimes referred to as BHAGs (Big, Hairy and Audacious Goals) and should be challenging yet achievable. Your long-term goal is your overall vision of success. However, your long-term goal comes at the end of a journey of hard work, consistent effort, self-discovery and achievement. Along this journey, there are a number of sign-posts and checkpoints. These are your short-term goals. Short-term goals are the stepping stones which lead you towards your long-term goals, so it is essential that they are related to one another.

Before you start thinking about potential goals, define what success will look like to you. Carefully consider what it is that you want to achieve long-term and how you will do this through smaller short-term goals. Be honest and realistic about the resources available to you, and try to identify the behaviours and skills which you will need to develop in order to achieve your overarching goal.

A goal must be important to you, and be related to your priorities. There must be value in achieving your goals, as this helps to increase motivation and commitment, provide a sense of urgency and get you back on track after a setback. Essentially, you should be taking each short-term goal in turn and considering why it is important to you, what value it offers and how it will help you get closer to achieving your long-term goal.

“Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life.”

Les Brown

Business literature, journals and the internet are full of recommendations as to the many different ways in which goals can be set. One of the most popular and highly recommended is the process of setting SMART goals, and it is on this process which we will be focusing. An effective way to create short-term goals is by making them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound).

Specific. There should be clarity in the definition of your goal. Goals are like signposts on the road to success, guiding you on a journey of self-discovery and achievement.

Measurable.  Be precise when determining how success will be measured (ie. generate ‘x’ amount of sales by ‘y’ date). With a way to measure your progress towards your goals, it becomes easier to identify and celebrate your successes while also identifying any areas for improvement.

Achievable.  As good as it may be to have a goal which stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone, you must be realistic and honest with yourself about whether it can be done. Too challenging, and it could negatively affect your confidence and halt your progress.

Relevant.  There should be a clear link between your goals and the direction in which you want to steer your life. Your goals should be building blocks or signposts towards success

Time-Bound.  There must be a timeline in which you want to achieve your long-term goals, with deadlines for the short-term goals along the way. This helps to create a sense of urgency.

With your goals, both long and short-term set, the next step is to write them down. A goal becomes real when you put it before you in writing. I choose to write mine in a series of positive statements starting with “I will…” and ending with a deadline “by….”

Accountability can also be helpful and provide extra motivation. This is not for everyone, but your goals can be shared with trusted friends or family. Some people find that this is another helpful way to create a sense of urgency and keep you on track. Others, however, prefer their privacy and would rather work in silence.

Simply stating that you want something to happen is wishful thinking or dreaming. For it to become a reality, you need a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and why. Then comes the goal-setting process, before planning and taking action, celebrating victories and reflecting on what you’ve learned along the way.

Who doesn’t love a list?!

Lists are everywhere and form an integral part of our daily lives, whether they be shopping lists, to-do lists, done lists, short term goals, long term goals, bucket lists or favourite quotes among many others. Personally, I love them and the done list is one of my favourites, as it forms a reminder of everything which I have accomplished during that day, week or month. Lists can also be helpful, saving memory space in our overloaded brains as well as valuable time. A shopping list is a good example of this; you identify what you need, write it down, put that list in your pocket and off you go. These are, however, not the type of list which we will be looking at today.

There is a type of list upon which we are becoming overly reliant. This is, in my humble opinion, to our detriment. What type of list am I thinking of as I write this? The list of what successful people do, read, eat…

Don’t get me wrong, they can be very interesting and motivational, but that’s about it. The problem with these success lists, is that the evidence of success and achievement is deeply personal and specific to that individual. I can adopt all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s behaviours, training routine and eating habits but that won’t give me the same results and turn me into a star footballer.  There is also the matter of context; what works in professional sports will not always be transferrable to another domain, such as business. Another question is raised over the validity of the evidence. These lists are often based on generalisations and similarities, pointing at particular behaviours or traits that a groups of successful people share. There is often a lack of scientific support for these findings, which tend to be anecdotal. As mentioned before, they can also be rather specific to a particular context and bear little relevance to the situation in which you find yourself. Then we have the small matter of change. Times change. The world evolves and changes. Technology advances and changes at a rapid rate. These particular lists, however, do not always account for this. A quick google search on Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg  will bring up plenty of lists, many of which deal with their rise to eminence. What they do not take into account, though, are their circumstances and the climate in which they released their groundbreaking products. It is simply not possible to follow a list and launch another Apple or Facebook today, in the same way that Jobs or Zuckerberg did all those years ago.

The problem is that these success lists are comforting. In an age where everything is fast, from our food to our information, it’s encouraging to be offered a shortcut to success. The truth, though, is that there is no shortcut. If you want to be successful, you need to take action but be prepared to fail and then learn from your experiences. There are no substitutes for hard work and effort. Rather than focusing on what successful people do, focus on your strengths and abilities and stop trying to be someone else. As Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,”

Thank you, as always for reading. If you agree, or disagree, with the above please feel free to leave a comment

Lights, Camera…ACTION!!

Having reflected on your current situation, and come to the realisation that change is necessary in order to grow, it is important to set appropriate goals. If possible, also identify the skills and behaviours which you will need to improve or develop.

From there; research. Whether reading, watching or listening to blogs, vlogs, books, audiobooks, podcasts or whichever medium you prefer, researching and gathering information is the logical next step. All the best plans and research, however, will come to nothing, unless you act upon them.

Knowledge is, of course, important, but it can only lead to meaningful change and progress if you act upon it.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”

 –  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

A simplified way to look at the process above could be something like this;

  • Determine which areas you would like to make changes in
  • Set your goals and identify the steps which will take you closer to them. This includes identifying and working on the key behaviours and skills which will help you on your journey.
  • Do the preparatory work; read, research, plan and gather resources which you feel you may need.
  • Take action
  • Document your journey, paying attention not only to successes but also the lessons learned along the way. This is essential as it offers a blueprint as to how to maintain your momentum or recover after a setback.

There is no such thing as the perfect plan, or the perfect time to act upon it, so don’t waste time hunting for it or waiting for inspiration to strike. Just act on the plan which you have. This can lead to gaining momentum, courage, experience, confidence and motivation. It is far easier to get started and keep going if you take baby steps. Experience is key, as it is an excellent teacher. If things don’t turn out as you would have liked, learn from the experience and try again.

Furthermore, y taking action, you embark on a voyage of discovery. What works for me is to break my goals down into small actions or steps and work on one or two each day.

Failure, or more precisely the fear of failure, is what stops a lot of great people in their tracks. It is, whether you like it or not, an inevitable by-product of taking action. Not everything will work out the way you envisaged. Don’t let this deter you from taking action towards your goals, though. When failure comes, embrace it like you would an old friend. Treat it as a learning experience. Reflect on it and see what you can learn from it in order to move forward wiser and better informed.

“The possibilities are endless once we decide to act and not react”

 – George Bernard Shaw

As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment or share. The next few posts will be looking at the dangers of lists and looking for shortcuts, and also embracing failure

The power of the mind

Having looked at several factors and strategies which can enhance our learning and development potential, it’s now time to look at the human brain and how we can harness the power within.

The adult brain weighs around 3 pounds and contains more than 60 different chemicals which affect our memory, learning and behaviour. Not only that, but it is also home to around 100 billion neurons, each one being capable of making thousands of connections. Returning momentarily to the subject of memory, it is interesting to note that we have 2 types or systems. These are spatial memory, which records our daily experiences and rote memory which deals with fact and skills.

This, however, is where the generalities and similarities end. Everyone is, after all, unique. All humans have the same set of systems, but we are all different based on our genes, our prior knowledge and our environments. It also stands to reason that the more we learn, the more unique we become. This is a notion which is becoming increasingly popular in a day and age where people strive to stand out from the crowd, and one method of achieving this for a growing number of people is by becoming life-long learners.

Brain-Based Learning is one popular theory on how we learn. While the research and focus of this theory primarily concerns formal education settings (namely how students learn and what approaches teachers can adopt in order to maximise their learning potential), there is much that is relevant for adults as life-long learners. This theory is more than just an exploration of teaching and learning, it explores the structure and function of the brain as well as the learning process and how that changes as we age, grow and mature socially, emotionally and cognitively.

That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for us?

Essentially, the brain is a muscle and, like the rest of our muscles, needs a challenge in order to grow. Naturally, there are a number of ways, and stimuli, with which to challenge our brains and enhance the learning process.

Stimuli refers to what we feed the brain, and good quality information is essential brain food. The brain absorbs information with which it is directly involved, such as journal articles, books and podcasts, but it also pays attention to peripheral information. Essentially, learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception, so it helps to be mindful of what we spend our time reading or listening to as well as where we spend our time. Challenge your brain and keep it well-fed with information which can help your development and get you closer to your goals, while also being mindful of where you spend your time and what you choose to surround yourself with.

As for the ways in which learning can take place there are many, but we will be looking at one today; movement. The learning process engages the whole physiology and body, so movement is a critical consideration. After all, sitting still all the time can be incredibly boring, not to mention tiring and counterproductive. Research shows that physical movement can enhance our readiness for learning, as it increases the oxygen in the bloodstream and can help to improve concentration. This can be done through listening to audiobooks or podcasts while exercising, or going for a walk while reflecting on what you have just learned.  Get active, whatever form that may take, in order to increase your learning potential.

On a final note, I would like to look at whether there are specific conditions under which people learn best. And the short answer is no. Everybody is different, and therefore has their own strategy which works for them. Some need time and space for quiet reflection, away from outside interference. Others prefer a collaborative climate, whether in person or through social media and blogs, in which to share thoughts and ideas. And some just need to feel safe and supported. Whatever the method, learning will occur as long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes.

Thank you for reading, and as always please feel free to share your own thoughts, reflections and experiences.

Mindset

In my first post, I would like to take a look at the Mindset,  and what it is, inspired by the excellent book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck.

Mindset is defined in the dictionary as the established set of attitudes held by someone. In the aforementioned book, the author describes how a person’s mindset can either be defined as a fixed mindset or a growth mindset,

In order to highlight the differences between the different mindsets, let us look at how they impact on an individual’s understanding of, and attitude towards, SKILLS, CHALLENGE, & EFFORT. Taking each attribute in turn, we will see how an individual behaves when in possession of a fixed or a growth mindset.

SKILLS

In a fixed mindset, there exists the belief that skills are inherent, that is to say something that you are born with and is fixed. You cannot change it or do anything about it. This simply isn’t the case, as research has shown that skills can be learned and perfected through many hours of purposeful practice (10,000 hours to be precise).

In a growth mindset, however, there is recognition that skills can be learned or developed through hard work and that there is always room for improvement through purposeful practice. Improvement, therefore, is dictated by a person’s will, determination and use of the resources available to them.

CHALLENGES

In a fixed mindset, challenges are often viewed with caution due to the risk involved. Of course, if a challenge is met with successfully, this highlights a person’s skills and abilities. However, not all challenges are completed successfully and it is the fear of failure which holds back those in possession of a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, failure is viewed as final, fatal and a reflection of a person’s lack of skill or ability.

In a growth mindset, challenges are embraced, and regarded as an opportunity to grow and learn. Therefore, people with a growth mindset are more likely to seek challenges, despite the possibility of failure.

EFFORT

Fixed mindset holders can have the view that effort is unnecessary, as they are already naturally talented .However, with a growth mindset, effort is regarded as an essential step on the path to self-mastery and achievement.

Possessed of a growth mindset, people believe that everything can be achieved through hard work and that there is always room for improvement.

With regards to people being born naturally talented, this is simply not the case. Every successful person has at one time or another failed, some having done so many times. What separates them from the rest is their perseverance, because through refusing to give up, embracing challenges, using their skills and putting in the required effort, they learned, grew and became successful.