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Play to Your Strengths

Play to Your Strengths

As humans, most of us are inclined to spend more time dwelling on our negative attributes, and trying to improve upon them, than we are developing our inherent strengths. We learn this bad habit at an early age… a child is deficient in math but great at writing? Great, get them a math tutor to improve the deficiency and keep them at pace with their writing proficiencies. In adolescents this makes sense because of the need of self-discovery, developing learning styles, and foundational growth. However, once we have matured this reasoning can lead to frustration because sometimes our efforts become futile. If we have mastered something close to the peak of our potential in a particular area, then further training makes little sense. This ties in with my post Applying the Pareto Principle. When a maximum effort will only result in smaller and smaller increments of improvement for a skill that is not a core competency for fulfilling a particular goal, then wouldn’t your efforts be better served elsewhere? Peak performers on the other hand spend time developing their core strengths …and with any remaining time only try to correct their most dominant weaknesses.

The attributes of a particular “strength” are usually defined by the methodology used to evaluate a particular set of strengths. My personal preference is the VIA Strengths defined by Martin Segliman (due to my affinity for Positive Psychology), but there are others out there such as Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0.

Experts are starting to agree, that developing and improving upon existing strengths is a better use of time than trying to improve upon weaknesses. For another person’s take on strengths and weaknesses read the HBS article Stop Worrying about Your Weaknesses by Peter Bergman.

Define Your Market First

Inexperienced entrepreneurs create a business or product without knowing who their potential market audience is going to be. They innovate some new service and/or product and then go find the market (people to sell it to). If your goal is to be an entrepreneur (as opposed to an inventor where this model is part of the process) this course of action is ill-advised.

Market Blueprint

Seasoned entrepreneurs seek out hungry customers with a problem and then try to provide a desirable, consumable solution (product or service) to help these people alleviate their problem. The potential and capacity of your entrepreneurial reward is determined the minute you finalize the market choice for your product or service.

The world’s most successful fishermen will tell you this piece of advice (which is just as applicable to starting a business): You can have the best fishing pole and the best bait and still not catch any fish in a puddle of mud. With the advent of the Internet, there are some great ways to find a profitable market before you get started. A great book covering the topic of AdWords (with lots of details on finding profitable markets) is Google AdWords For Dummies by Howie Jacobson of AskHowie.com.

Weight as a Success Measure

In the health and fitness world we are bombarded with the word weight. Popular diet schemes have “weigh-ins” and mainstream media dramatizes the importance of weight as a success measure far too often. For instance, the network show The Biggest Loser spectacularly showcases people getting on a giant scale to announce to the world how much weight their participants have lost.

Weight as a Success Measure

The truth is that weight is only one of many measures you can use to gauge the success of a particular fitness regimen. Some people’s unhealthy obsession with weight loss influences them to worry about their scale weight so much that they will let themselves get dehydrated, lose valuable muscle, or in extreme cases fall victim to a life-threatening eating disorder. If your goal is weight loss, then weighing yourself all the time could actually deter you if you are swayed by days where internal fluid recalibration makes you believe you have had a setback.

Some fitness experts recommend only weighing yourself once a week. I’m actually a proponent of weighing yourself everyday because it is part of a daily routine that reminds me of my fitness goals, but that is because I have the self-disciple to not overreact if I see a five pound jump from one day to the next (and science backs up my methodology). These type of fluctuations are common, especially with dieters.

There are a number of other good data measures in addition to scale weight you can use to track your progress including body measurements (with a tape measure), body fat percentage, as well as fitness, flexibility and strength testing. In short, the scale is a valuable tool but there is no need to become a slave to daily weigh-ins.

Make the Call!

In my experience one of the clear cut differentiators between successful entrepreneurs and those that have been, for the most part, unsuccessful is tenacity and the ability to pick up a phone. Use these two skills to your advantage and almost anyone in the business world is accessible. For examples of this look no further than this Web site. How did someone like me get an interview with someone like Getting Things Done guru David Allen? I asked.

Tim Ferriss discusses an experiment he performed as a lecturer at Princeton (in his book The 4-Hour Workweek) where he challenged a group of students to contact three seemingly impossible-to-reach individuals for a chance at a round-trip ticket anywhere in the world. In the first year of conducting the experiment not one person was able to complete the assignment. The second year Mr. Ferriss was able to do a better job instilling confidence in his students stating, “From contacting billionaires to rubbing elbows with celebrities – it’s as easy as believing it can be done.” In the second year of conducting the experiment, 6 out of 17 of Tim’s students had completed the task within two days.

Roadtrip Nation further supports the notion that people are accessible if you are motivated. The show has highlighted numerous notable interviews, with remarkable interviewees, and virtually unknown interviewers. The show does a great job highlighting that fact that successful people will make time to help other people driven by purpose. The truth is successful people remember what it was like to begin something new, and if asked, are usually happy to help out the next guy… you! Success leaves clues, go find them.

Applying the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule as it is known to some, is the concept that 80 percent of any given output, usually comes from only 20 percent of a given effort to get that output.  Or conversely, that 80 percent of a given effort generates only 20 percent of a desired outcome.

The numbers 80 and 20 are arbitrary and are only used in the context of the general principle. The distribution could be 75 and 5, or 90 and 40. In other words, it is not necessary that the numbers add up to 100. What is important is identifying that in general there are tasks and habits that are considerably more effective and efficient than others.

Peak performers use this general concept to their advantage by continually evaluating any system they use to garner results (whether it is in business, fitness, education, or well-being) and eliminating tasks and processes with little yield. Identifying what is working and doing more of it, and identifying what is not working and doing less (or not doing it at all) seems intuitive but unfortunately is rarely applied in the real world — many people are simply resistant to systemic change to the detriment of productivity.

Remember to Breath

No matter what area of fitness you are involved in, practicing your breathing and maximizing your oxygen intake is essential. One of the biggest culprits of bad breathing techniques is novice weightlifters. Newbies to the weight room are often witnessed holding their breath while lifting heavy loads (myself included). It is true that anaerobic activity uses little oxygen in the body to create energy. However, when most people are engaged in heavy resistance exercise arterial hypertension goes up. If arterial hypertension gets too high, the lifter is potentially at a higher risk of a stroke (see Influence of breathing technique on arterial blood pressure during heavy weight lifting).

During aerobic activity, your breathing pattern can be a key indicator of exertion. Hyperventilation is your body’s way of cooling you down and also its attempt to get more oxygen into your body. For extended endurance activity, a good rule of thumb is to operate at a level where it is still comfortable for you to engage in conversation with someone else. If you are involved in short duration, high intensity, aerobic activity (as known as HIIT training) the rules are a bit different but rhythmic, full breathing techniques can still prove beneficial.

If you would like to get better at breathing there are numerous resources available ranging from how-to books to yoga classes. The benefits of proper breathing techniques only begin at optimizing oxygen consume… some of the additional studied benefits are unique to the sport or activity you are participating in. These additional benefits include reduced stress, reduced risk of injury, and operating at a higher metabolic rate… to name a few.