One of the many things I think about when considering what to write each week is the elimination of weaknesses. Behaviors that drag us down, or keep us from seeing our true goals, or create unwanted emotional chaff; I’m always wondering how to get them out of my mind, and how to communicate their elimination to you.
Yet at the same time, it’s important to recognize when certain behaviors or attitudes actually benefit us, even though we might normally think of them as weaknesses. Why? Well, first, that means we can give ourselves a bit more credit and boost our self-esteem, which is nice. Second, it means we can skip a little bit of work; rather than focus on getting rid of a thought process or tendency entirely, we can just harness its positives while learning to dodge its negatives. This is not only more realistic, but probably easier.
I don’t believe in a magical balance sheet of the universe where everything has a pro and con, and no personality or attitude is truly stronger than one another. That seems kind of like the wishy-washy, anti-tier thinking you get in fighting games, where “every character is good if you know how to use them.” Sometimes when you know how to use all the characters, some are just better. Likewise, some attitudes, thoughts, and tendencies will serve you far more than many others. They will also reflect reality more accurately. Sometimes yes, some personalities, attitudes, habits, and methods of thought/behavior are just better, overall.
But what got me thinking about “turning weaknesses into strengths” was this: when learning, the more sensory and emotional information we can associate with a lesson, the more quickly and strongly we will learn it. Let’s say you make a right at a stop sign without really checking for other cars. You pull out into the road, and your friend in the passenger seat, says, “wow, that was really unsafe.” You go, “yeah, I guess it was.” Not very emotionally stimulating. Odds of the mistake and lesson sticking with you are low, because your brain doesn’t have much to anchor the lesson to. It has no reason to care, because there were no consequences. Even a bit of embarrassment might do.
On the other hand, imagine you make the right without looking, and suddenly you hear screeching, honking, and screaming. Another car swerves out of the way to barely dodge you, and your friend is next to you shouting expletives in fear. Your heart is racing, your face is flushed, time is slowing down as stress chemicals flood your brain and body. This experience, odds are, will live on in your mind for a long time to come. It has sight and sound and emotion acting as anchors for the event. You will remember how you felt and what it sounded like, and the next time you arrive at a stop sign, the odds have increased that you will remember to check for traffic.
What does this have to do with the topic? Well, something I’ve recently pointed out as being a weakness is an unhealthy fear of failure. It’s something that I have had for a long time, where I interpreted anything short of godlike accomplishment as a sign that I was worthless. This kept me from trying things, it left me in an awful mood when I didn’t do things right the first time, and it had many negative effects. But one positive effect that it did have was I learned things extremely quickly.
Why? If mistakes are valuable because they teach you things, then emotionally powerful mistakes are even more valuable. If you make a mistake and you feel absolutely awful for hours afterwards, your brain has tremendous incentive to avoid that error in the future. It remembers, loudly and clearly. So this attitude, this fear and hatred of failure, actually created--for me, anyhow--a benefit; when I did make mistakes, I often took tremendous care to avoid them later on. At times it hindered me from trying new things, and it created unwanted emotional fallout from understandable mistakes. At others, it caused me to surge ahead of others when learning new skills. Pro and con, weakness and strength.
The goal then is not to evaluate things purely as “strengths” or “weaknesses,” but to establish the causes and effects of attitudes or tendencies. What does this typically cause me to do? When does it help me reach a given goal? When does it hinder me? What possible benefits does it have that I’m not using now?
Part of this process is about continuing to improve the efficiency of your attitudes, and forcing your behaviors to work for you more than against you; that is to say, finding the strong side of weaknesses, rather than waste time completely eliminating some behaviors and tendencies. The other part is to dissociate you from the notion that a single attitude defines you, and a single tendency represents your entire pool of abilities. Those aren't defining elements of you, but tools and services your brain offers you to meet your goals. We have a tendency to think, “this is my personality, this is me, this is who I am,” rather than see certain behaviors, habits, or thought patterns as characteristics which are observable and malleable.
Go figure, that’s a tendency I have a hard time finding strength in. Perhaps you can.
Thanks for reading.