Posted On 15 Sep 2011
Is it better strategy in life to maximize strengths or to develop weaknesses?
Have you ever mastered something? Perhaps you mastered a musical instrument or a sport or a specific skill in a sport or cooking a certain cuisine. If so, how did you do it?
Did you develop a potential strength or talent into mastery or did you develop a weakness into mastery?
According to well-known psychologist and author Martin Seligman, “The keystone of high achievement and happiness is exercising your strengths, not correcting your weaknesses.”
I think he’s right.
Is it even possible to turn a weakness into a strength?
Suppose that you were crippled, physically handicapped. Would it be good strategy for you to spend your days practicing hockey skills so that you might be able to play someday as a professional in the NHL? Of course not! That would be foolish.
The superior strategy would be to identify your nonphysical talents and hone them into strengths.
Guess what? We are all handicapped in the sense that we all have weaknesses.
Sometimes, when it’s very important, it is possible to develop weaknesses, to increase our understanding and skills in a domain where we are naturally impoverished or weak, at least to the point of minimal competence. However, that is very hard work. Furthermore, weaknesses will never become areas of consistent excellence, powerful strengths.
Shoring up weaknesses is not the way to mastery.
It is better strategy to maximize strengths. Determine your undiscovered talents and develop them.
According to Benjamin Franklin’s wonderful analogy, undeveloped talents are like “sundials in the shade.” Why hide your sundials in the shade?
I happen to believe that everyone has undeveloped talents. The best strategy in life is to identify them and develop them into strengths, which is what the process of education should be all about.
M. Buckingham and D. Clifton: “The real tragedy of life is not that each of us doesn’t have strengths, it’s that we fail to use the ones we have.”
Part of the reason for that failure to maximize strengths is that we sometimes fail to identify our own strengths. Sometimes the educational process doesn’t work well.
This is yet another justification for living the examined life, for keeping the educational process going. It’s much better to discover and maximize strengths later in life than never!
How can you identify them in order to maximize strengths?
There are three complementary ways to identify your natural abilities.
The first and best way is through introspection. Your brain organizes experiences in certain distinctive ways. Pay close attention to how you naturally react.
It’s a mistake just to consider how you make major decisions; instead, focus on the hundreds of small decisions you make daily.
For example, how do you naturally react to interruptions? How do you greet other people? How do you react to being made to wait? How do you react to traffic? Do you really enjoy being with other people or does that drain your energy? And so on.
Over and over your brain goes down familiar pathways where it finds the least resistance. Those pathways reflect your underlying talents; they reveal how frequently and well you do something.
Talents that are potential strengths will be paths that you use consistently and that make you feel better and more energized.
A second way is to ask others who know you well. The problem with talents is that they can feel so natural that we overlook them. We mistakenly assume that, just become something comes easily to us, it must also come easily to others.
Once you admit that, in effect, you can be too close to your own natural abilities to identify them clearly, you’ll be more open to the idea of asking others. Of course, be ready to receive truthful answers! Also, reassure your friends or relatives in advance that you won’t hold them responsible for their answers, that you are only trying to work on yourself, and follow through on that.
A third way to identify natural abilities in order to maximize strengths is to take a good test. There are a number of good ones available; the references below can get you started.
When I did that, I didn’t find anything I didn’t already believe. Just expect the tests to give you some peace of mind that you didn’t overlook something in your quest to maximize strengths.
So, the right procedure to follow to maximize strengths is simple: identify your natural abilities, decide which ones to develop, and develop them.
The wrong procedure is to identify your natural weaknesses and keep focused on developing them. Insofar as it is possible, forget your weaknesses.
This is true even if there’s more money developing weaknesses. In the long run, you won’t be better off, even if you are wealthier, unless you maximize strengths. Why?
Living with unfulfilled potential is a terrible way to live.
[If you’d like to pursue this topic further, Dan Sullivan has an excellent audio program on this entitled “Pure Genius.” A related book is Catherine Nomura, et. al., UNIQUE ABILITY. Another book about how to identify yours strengths is Buckingham & Clifton’s NOW, DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS. You can purchase a good test online; click here for one such place (and I am not an affiliate).