My body treats me like a perpetually grumpy old coach treats an eager but distracted athlete. It constantly pushes me and teaches me uncomfortable truths, and when my ego gets out of check, it snaps me back to reality.
The other day at the gym, it taught me that things are easier when you focus on your strengths. I was struggling to push my usual weight on an incline press machine. The sides on this machine move independently, and though my left side is at least four times stronger than my right, I load equal weight on both sides. Out of habit, I focused on my weaker right side, trying to do all I could to make it work the way that it should. As I did that, my left side began to struggle too. My weakness was holding back my strength.
How often do we do something like that in our everyday lives? Maybe we have a big presentation at work, and instead of focusing on our mastery of the subject, we focus on our fear of public speaking. Because we’re so worried about botching the delivery, we miss key points, and the presentation isn’t as effective as it could be. Had we focused on our expertise – our strength – instead of our public-speaking fear – our weakness, the presentation would have been much more effective.
We all have weaknesses, and too many of us spend too much our time and energy worrying about them. When we do this, we make ourselves far less effective.
When I helped coach my son’s youth football team, like almost all youth teams, we had glaring weaknesses, but we also had tremendous strengths. We had to put 11 players on the field, working from a roster of about 20. We usually had four or five good players and an exceptional player or two, while the rest of our roster ranged from average to weak, depending on the day. We had the most success with formations and plays that capitalized on the talents of our better players. When we spent too much time trying to work around our weaknesses, we often failed to capitalize on our strengths.
That doesn’t mean that we ignored our weaker players. In practice, we worked with them to try to figure out what they were good at, and then we put them in a position where they could use their strengths. Some of the kids who thought they should be handling the ball failed miserably when we gave them that opportunity. Some of those same kids were pleasantly surprised when we put them in positions to block or tackle. Success is highly motivating, and you’re most successful when you can play to your strengths.
Focusing on our strengths not only makes us more effective, it also improves our attitude and mood. It’s extremely difficult to stay positive and energetic when we devote too much time to worrying about and trying to improve our weaknesses. When we do that, we invite frustration and discontent into our lives, and our strengths wither in neglect.
Back at the gym, I focused on my left side for my second set of incline press. That arm generally has no trouble moving the amount of weight that my right side can handle, and the weight went up easily. What’s more, my right side came with it. I didn’t get any stronger between sets, but my attitude, concentration and energy all benefitted when my brain focused on my stronger side.
Try that the next time that something doesn’t go the way you want. Instead of lamenting your failure and weaknesses, back up and think about how you can leverage your strengths to solve the problem. Then, repeat that process until it becomes a habit.