Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Strengths, Part Four - New Strategies for Life Management

In the first three posts in this series I have given an overview of the StrengthsFinder assessment and a summary of my strengths, I've talked about how this affected my overall view of myself, and how it affected my life at work. Now I want to talk about my new strategies for using my strengths to their fullest while also compensating for my weaknesses, especially as it relates to overall home- and life-management.

Just because I don't have any "executing" strengths in my top five does not excuse me from ever having to execute anything. The stuff of life must be done, strengths or not. I have laundry to do, bills to pay, dishes to wash, groceries to get.

In the past, back when I was really good at comparing myself to others, I often felt "less than" everyone else. I felt like everyone else had it together and could keep up with life while I was always just a few steps away from drowning in unfinished tasks.

I procrastinated terribly and was constantly overwhelmed by life. I would go through cycles where I worked up enough motivation to try and tackle all the unfinished business but I never fully caught up and I was left feeling exhausted by all the activity. I was a pendulum swinging between two extremes - the first was "I'm so overwhelmed I don't care" and the second was "if I just work hard enough maybe there is hope for me to be normal."

When I discovered my strengths, life didn't automatically change. The StrengthsFinder assessment didn't come with a cleaning fairy for those who discovered a lack of executing strengths. (What a disappointment.)

But there was a huge shift in my thinking and I could finally get off the pendulum. There is a monumental difference between "I ought to be good at this and I'm not" and "I know this isn't my strength but if I can learn this skill my life will be better." The first thought frames me as a failure. The second thought offers me an opportunity and recognizes that I don't have to compare myself to others. Making this switch was the first step in renewing my thinking and changing my habits.

The second step was understanding where my roadblocks occurred. I used to walk into a messy house and think, This place is a mess, I'm so behind, I'm a failure, I'm overwhelmed, and obviously the best course of action is to ignore all of this and instead focus on eating an entire bag of Doritos while watching Pawn Stars. You might think this is a plan for success but I will tell you it is not. (You're welcome. Feel free to throw a dollar in the tip jar in exchange for this ground-breaking piece of knowledge.)

But now I found myself walking into the house and thinking, This is a mess and I feel overwhelmed, but I believe that God desires for me to feel empowered. Why do I feel overwhelmed by this and what choices do I have that will empower me instead?

This led directly to the next step of changing the way that I think and act - I tried to look at my choices in terms of my strengths instead of in terms of my weaknesses. Instead of thinking about the 50 things on my to-do list that I ought to do and didn't want to do, I tried to envision what I would feel like once the house was picked up. I tried to think about what things I needed to address in order to feel at peace with my house and then focus only on those areas instead of thinking I had to address everything. I recognized my need to be creative and innovative and embraced the idea of doing things a little differently every time instead of thinking that I needed to be consistent. (Somehow I used to think that my gateway to being a "normal" person included finding one system and sticking to it all the time.)

I also began to think about systems that actually work instead of systems that are perfect. Example - having a perfect filing system for all of my bills vs. having a basket where I throw everything and then twice a month when I realize that bills needs to be paid, I rifle through the basket and find what I need. Is it perfectly organized? Nope. Is it organized enough? Yes.

Bye-bye perfectionism!

Many of these steps were easy for me to take because they embraced my strengths. But two really important steps weren't quite so easy - facing the stuff I was scared of and doing the things I didn't want to do.

The first category - stuff I was scared of - is kind of complicated. It involved some deeply rooted emotional stuff, along with some really irrational and dumb stuff, and some areas of sin and rebellious stuff.  I'm not sure if this really belongs in a discussion about strengths; perhaps it belongs more in a discussion about therapy and my relationship with God. But it was for sure a big part of my healing and being able to move forward. I won't go into any more detail than that right now, I just want to recognize this as integral to my growth.

The second category - things I didn't want to do - is pretty straightforward. I've had to learn that sometimes there is no amount of leveraging my strengths, no amount of innovation or creativity or envisioning the future that will propel me to a place where I want to do particular tasks. I just have to be a grown up and do them. (I think this novel concept is called self-discipline.) 

The funny thing is that the more freedom I get in my expectations and the more I let go of perfectionism, the more I have the mental fortitude necessary to do the things I don't want to do. It used to be that everything was in the category of "things I don't want to do," but now there are truly only a few things on that list. Freedom in the other areas gives me the momentum I need to be self-disciplined in the areas that count.

Oh yeah, and speaking of areas that count, I've re-prioritized what counts. There are some things that I just refuse to lose sleep over anymore. It's easier to address the list of "what counts" when it contains ten things instead of 100 things.

I'm sure there are a few other strengths-related strategies for life management that I could share, but I think I've hit on the ones with the most impact. I have one more post I want to write in this strengths series, one that wraps it up and gives me a chance to share a few final thoughts.

What would happen if you stopped expecting yourself to be good at your weaknesses? Are there some things that are currently on your list of "things that count" that you need to let go of?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I ended up here as I am working my way through Aslobcomesclean. Just wanted to say enjoyed your strengths approach. I can relate. I'd say I'm low on execute too. You mentioned self discipline. I've been trying to look at that as coming from the word disciple and viewing it as self care, rather than a straight jacket imposed by societal standards. Thanks for the thought provoking posts. Cheers, Kay