How to get out of your own way
(photo by Jeffrey Beall, flickr)
Oops, there I go again...
“Damn, I’ve done it again.” Lost my cool in traffic. Sat like a lump on the couch. Left it to the last minute. Ate too much. Drank too much. Spent too much. Said too much.
In other words, the same old thing you always do.
Two areas will help us dive in. Ready to start exploring habitual patterns you don’t love?
Part of the answer lies in your nature:
- What is your personality style? Each Enneagram style has its ‘basic instinct’ to behave in a certain way when feeling stressed, exhausted, threatened or otherwise vulnerable. Fours, for instance, tend to withdraw and get moody. Eights can be controlling and demanding. Ones can get angry and impatient.
- What are your “lesser strengths”? Your lowest-ranked character strengths, or psychological traits, can offer insights into the ways you naturally tend to feel and behave at your weakest. If self-regulation is low on your list, you may feel out of control and overeat, gamble, etc. If hope is in the bottom five, you may become despondent and pessimistic. If you’re low on forgiveness, you may feel vengeful.
Part of the answer lies in the way you’ve been nurtured:
- How did the important people in your early life behave? How did they respond to stress? We absorb so many lessons when we’re young – are you repeating something someone else did?
The great news is that you can change these negative habitual patterns. You are the boss of you. Once you begin to understand yourself better – like exploring your personality style, your character strengths and the models from your early life – you can start choosing to respond to even the most challenging situations in ways that draw on your natural strengths instead of your natural (ahem, pardon me,) weaknesses.
The greatest return on investment of your time and energy will come from flexing your strengths and positive instincts, but you can also work on building up your weaker ones if you wish.
This conscious positive behavior starts by becoming more self-aware. Some great places to start, all for free, include:
- Exploring your Enneagram personality style. I’m developing some descriptions for this site but in the meantime I recommend Ginger-Lapid Bogda’s website and particularly the interactive “Find Your Enneagram Style” activity. Within each style you’ll find inherent strengths as well as areas for growth.
- Assessing your character strengths. I most highly recommend the VIA Institute on Character’s VIA Me free profile and you could do no better than by starting here. Their descriptions are easy to understand; the assessment is quick, easy and informative; and I like the way the VIA focuses on character rather than workplace skills. You’ll get a list of 24 strengths; the top five are your instinctive, “signature,” strengths and the bottom five are your “lesser strengths,” or areas you might want to do some work.
Marcus Buckingham has done lots of research and writing on strengths, but you have to buy one of his books to get access to the assessment. Do this if you fall in love with the whole notion of strengths and want to learn more. I did and found useful information to apply to the way I work.
- Looking at past performance reviews. What types of activities did you consistently do well and enjoy? What earned you the highest marks or the greatest praise? What would you like to do more of? The answers to these questions will probably point directly at your strengths.
- Asking friends and family. Asking, “What do you think I’m good at?” might be a little awkward, but do it anyway – you’ll get some really useful information and it will make you feel good, too. (You can always return the favor, which will make you feel good again and help your loved ones learn to play to their own strengths—a win-win!.)
Try using the tools above to start leveraging your strengths toward positive outcomes (instead of using your usual responses to lead to an “oops”). Nothing will help you move forward faster than embracing your strengths. Then please come back here and share how it’s worked for you—what did you learn? How did you put it into action? Was it easy or tough? What advice could you share with other readers?