Monday, August 6, 2012

Bring out the Olympic athlete in you

Did you know there is an Olympic athlete in you?

It's all about creating and keeping habits that build upon your natural talents to develop your strength. Maybe it's your physical strength, as in the athletes competing for the gold, but it can also be your communication, leadership, strategic, or other personal strengths.

Bestselling author, motivational speaker, and business consultant Marcus Buckingham says, "You grow most in your areas of greatest strength. It sounds odd but you will improve the most, be the most creative, be the most inquisitive, and bounce back the fastest in those areas where you have already shown some natural advantage over everyone else - your strengths. This doesn't mean you should ignore your weaknesses. It just means you'll grow most where you're already strong."

Most people, from teachers to managers, tell us to focus on our weaknesses - that lower grade or lacking communication skill - in order to improve this area. And I think most people do this in their own lives even without prompting from their superiors. It's tempting to want to "work on the weaknesses" because if you don't improve in them, then you were already weak in that area to begin with. There's no risk because you can't fail in an area where you are already weak.

Yet the most growth comes out of areas where you are already strong and can take this strength to an even higher level. And this requires risk because who wants to fail in an area where they're known for being strong? It's safer to stay at being good instead of reaching to become great.

Take the risk! (John jumping off sliding rock in NC)

But no athlete qualifies for the Olympics by playing it safe. The star of a Little League team doesn't eventually make Varsity baseball by practicing all of the positions he's not that great at. And the Varsity athlete only wins that scholarship to college by practicing what he's already excelling in day after day.

I'm currently reading The Power of Habits: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Although I just started it, the book is already compelling and very telling about why we act certain ways. Even trying to fix our weaknesses can become a habit, and the only way to break a habit is to replace it with a better one. To do this, however, you need to know what triggers the habit in the first place.

If you find yourself caught up in spending all of your energy on your weaknesses,

  • First, stop and think about how you spent your time today. Where did you devote your attention - on your weaknesses or on developing your strengths?
  • Second, write down the areas where you are weakness-focused. Do you see patterns there? Try to uncover a common theme to your actions.
  • Third,  from the pattern that has emerged, notice what is the trigger point. Do you see a peer excelling in an area where you are weak and then want to go fix this part of yourself? Do you get feedback from someone and only hear the negatives? 
  • Fourth, recognize that it is important to manage around your weaknesses and improve them enough to be competent and proficient. However, also determine what strengths you want to grow in. Clearly identify them and write them out. Need help with this? See this blog post.
  • Lastly, consciously decide how you will focus on your strengths next time you experience your identified trigger. Set a plan of action and record what happens.
Continue reflecting on this pattern and the results that occur when you replace a negative habit with a positive one. Over time, the Olympian in you will emerge. Go for the gold!

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