It’s almost a new year. I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, simply because the chapters of my own life never align so perfectly with what we arbitrarily call January 1st. However, I am one for setting goals, wanting to become a better self, and being aware of time.
My “2014” started about three months ago. I had set some of the biggest goals I’ve ever set in my life, and I was determined to not give truth to the saying that all new year’s resolutions were meant to be broken. That said, I was also aware my excitement was from starting something new, and excitement is never enough to last the effort that would ensue. My biggest doubt was in persevering through the mundanities of daily progress some few months down the line. There is no sense of external urgency. My daily tasks are too far removed from directly impacting the achievement of my goals. I questioned how I would fend off temptations to just bum out.
At that time, I had lunch with a friend who recommended a very appropriate book to me called The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. The book could not have come at a more pivotal time. It teaches you the basic science behind self-control and how to fight common willpower challenges. You’ve probably faced problems of these variations before:
- procrastination: I have a week left and I need to start a semester-long project
- giving in to temptations: I smelled the popcorn when walking by and just had to buy it
- undoing your previous effort: I’ll eat an extra cupcake as a reward for working out
- screw the rest of it: I already screwed up my diet today so I’ll just eat whatever I want
For me, reading the book was like preemptively donning sword and shield against the very real possibility of productivity and motivation doldrums. While weapon and armor are necessary, so are practice and skill before the actual battle. I was glad I found the book before I found myself stuck in a slump.
I had certainly independently arrived at some of the tactics suggested in the book by fine-tuning from my past experiences. For example, when procrastination tempts me, I just tell myself to do the task for ten minutes with no pressure to complete it. Once I’m started, it’s often a lot easier to continue. Other times, it’s okay to just give in. I’m a person with limited energy. I need to pick my battles carefully.
Learning from past mistakes is great, but I certainly wish I were equipped with some of this knowledge during my college years. Procrastination was my biggest struggle. I would stay up late to watch movies instead of doing work. I didn’t understand why I kept procrastinating when it so obviously made everything worse. If only I had known that as humans, we’re wired to seek immediate relief from what is causing us distress. My problem was that I was stressed about being behind, and thus I coped by procrastinating more to avoid thinking about my problem of being behind.
It’s empowering to learn about self-control. I now understand it’s how my brain works, that it’s not just my personal shortcomings. I just have to set up my life such that I minimize opportunities for my primitive brain to reign over my self-control one. So do yourself a favor. Read The Willpower Instinct for your new year’s resolution. Let this be the resolution that enables all future resolutions.
I came across a friend’s Strengths Finder results this morning on Facebook. It immediately prompted me to dig up my own results from a year ago. I distinctly remember being awed by the accuracy of the report. It felt like reading about your astrological sign, except with over 95% accuracy. (You know you think that’s fun.)
You need to purchase Strengths Finder 2.0 for the access code to take the test. It’s definitely worth whatever price you pay for the book. Many companies actually offer this as training. Something to look into or prod whomever is in charge of your employee development.
The basic premise is that you gain more ground by focusing on your strengths rather than weaknesses. Before taking the test, I remember being opposed to this premise. When embarking on self-improvement, I always prefer to focus on my shortcomings, not put more energy into something I was already good at.
Lo and behold the results. One of my top five strengths was Restorative, which means to improve deficiencies. I was more receptive to the premise after learning about this implanted loophole.
My top five strengths are:
I’m curious to look back on this post a few years from now and retake the test.
Direct excerpts from the Strengths Finder report.
People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.
Driven by your talents, you have a strong, no-nonsense, sober side to your personality. It explains why you often engage in conversations that delve into weighty or philosophical matters. You like to think deeply and carefully about various issues. Then you want to talk with serious-minded people who can help you explore, expand upon, question, or modify your thinking. By nature, you select your friends with great care. You are comfortable nurturing up-close and personal relationships with these chosen individuals. The quality of your relationships is much more important to you than the number of people who say you are their friend. Chances are good that you are intentional and purposeful about what you do. “Rash” and “impulsive” are not adjectives most people would use to describe you. Typically you think through things thoroughly before speaking or acting. By nature, you tend to be businesslike in your approach to personal and professional issues. Because of your strengths, you may remain silent rather than join conversations that involve the sharing of intimate or personal information. Occasionally you try to change the topic altogether. If your attempts are unsuccessful, you might excuse yourself from discussion about the upbringing, finances, problems, physical conditions, or mental health of yourself or others. It’s very likely that you may be selective about how much you reveal to particular individuals about your history, future intentions, or current affairs. Maybe you are less inclined than some people to launch into chit-chat or discussion. Why? You realize you might be asked or expected to answer some personal questions.
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
Because of your strengths, you might do your best training after you become well-acquainted with someone. Perhaps you want to discover each individual’s unique talents, work style, goals, motivations, or interests. Maybe these insights tell you what suggestions to make or what tips to offer during coaching sessions. Chances are good that you may be determined to share some of your knowledge, skills, or experiences with people. Perhaps you use this information as a coaching tool if you train someone. By nature, you may be regarded by some individuals as a fine trainer, tutor, or instructor. Occasionally you describe yourself in these terms. It’s very likely that you are occasionally willing to be vulnerable. Perhaps you claim your talents or admit your weaknesses. Your openness may help some people know you better as a person. Your straightforward style may convince others you are honest, dependable, and reliable. Driven by your talents, you welcome the questions and concerns others voice. These afford you an opportunity to listen compassionately and offer counsel. People tend to seek you out because your insights are helpful and often lead them to think in new ways.
People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
By nature, you guide people by offering them your advice and suggestions. You probably tell them about areas in which they would be wise to enhance, upgrade, or expand their knowledge or skills. You prefer to point out deficiencies. Then you help individuals eradicate—that is, remove or wipe out—all traces of deficiencies. You probably use this “fix it” approach on yourself, too. It’s very likely that you spend some of your time examining problems, malfunctions, or glitches. If you experience a personal or professional loss, make a mistake, or suffer a defeat, you might investigate. Perhaps you feel restless until you have answers to your basic questions: What? How? When? Where? Who? Why? Because of your strengths, you actually create opportunities to think with forward-looking people. You probably rely on their vivid imaginations to help you figure out how to fix things in your personal or professional life. Driven by your talents, you typically decide what is to be done. You are as comfortable issuing orders as you are making demands. Your bold and confident style allows you to gain and maintain control over people, circumstances, timetables, plans, or material resources. Chances are good that you prefer to register for rigorous courses of study rather than take easy classes. This often satisfies your need to do things that do not come naturally. You trust you can endure the unpleasantness and difficulties that accompany the expansion of your knowledge base, the acquisition of skills, and the conquest of deficiencies.
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
Chances are good that you periodically engage in conversations that plumb the depth and breadth of ideas, concepts, possibilities, or the meaning of life. Driven by your talents, you need uninterrupted quiet time to be alone with your thoughts. Seldom do you automatically accept all the ideas of someone who has authored a book, been interviewed by the media, or been invited to address an audience. Instead, you scrutinize the theories and concepts of writers, speakers, and philosophers. You probably are a critical thinker. Instinctively, you may be constantly occupied with your studies, especially when you can concentrate on topics that fascinate you. Perhaps you acquire unexpected knowledge or skills simply by being open-minded rather than close-minded. By nature, you designate a minimum of five hours a week for solitary thinking. You probably have figured out how to eliminate distractions and interruptions. You accept the fact that you have less free time to spend with family, friends, coworkers, teammates, or classmates. Because of your strengths, you gravitate to conversations in which intelligent, unemotional, and reasonable thoughts are freely exchanged. These give-and-take sessions inspire you to consider what you need to upgrade, perfect, or raise to excellence.
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
By nature, you may be delighted when you can generate new and innovative ideas for doing certain tasks or projects. Perhaps you lose enthusiasm or become bored when you are forced to follow standard operating procedures. Periodically you wonder if you are in the right job or course of study when your creativity is stifled. Maybe you are frustrated by people who conclude that your inventive suggestions are forms of criticism or insubordination—that is, refusal to submit to authority. Chances are good that you occasionally wonder whether some people view you as aloof or standoffish. Perhaps you give this impression because beginning discussions or engaging in small talk is difficult for you. Driven by your talents, you may assist people by creating innovative ways to perform tasks, solve problems, plan trips, prepare meals, or construct agendas. Because of your strengths, you regard yourself as logical and reasonable. You spontaneously reduce mechanisms, processes, proposals, ideas, or formulas to their basic parts. You figure out how the pieces interrelate. Your discoveries tell you why something does or does not function the way it should. Instinctively, you occasionally scrutinize yourself from the vantage point of an outsider looking in. Somewhat aware of your public persona—that is, the personality you present to the world—you may strive to appear confident and polished. This partially explains why you intentionally strive to be perceived as a talented, skilled, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and accomplished individual.