The Self-Improvement Myth: 9 Reasons We Don’t Know How to Develop Our Strengths

What do you do when you’re confronted with something you’re not good at?Some people get discouraged and quit. Others keep doggedly working to get better at it, and in the process become more “well-rounded” human beings.Conventional wisdom says that the second response is the healthy one. But the empirical evidence suggests that it’s people who specialize in an area of aptitude who are successful and happy, not those who focus their energies on becoming “well rounded.”As a psychologist, I was trained to assess and treat what was wrong in peoples’ lives, to help people accomplish this business of “self-improvement.” But something changed in me about thirty years ago. I grew very weary of working on what was wrong with people and became more interested in what was right with them (i.e., their strengths).It was this change that ultimately led me to working with Lynda-Ross Vega to develop Your Talent Advantage (YTA), a sophisticated psychological assessment that accurately assesses a person’s strengths and forms the basis of a roadmap for developing them in their lives.

Many times after I have given presentations about YTA, and even after I have just delivered a person’s assessment results, I have been met with, “Okay. That’s interesting, but so what?” As in, “Now that I know this about myself, of what practical use is it?” I am convinced that this response is because the results are focused on their strengths, rather than on their weaknesses and deficiencies.

If the YTA assessment results were like school report cards and employee performance reviews that highlight areas “in need of improvement,” I suspect that the question “so what?” would never arise. The questions would be about what you could do to improve or where you could find classes for remediation. People would be jumping in, raring to get to work on improving themselves.

Perhaps this is because people don’t think there’s any work involved in making the most of their talents and abilities. After all, these are the things they’re already good at, right? So where’s the room to move?

But here’s an analogy – if you had a mining claim somewhere, with a few different veins of gold running through it, wouldn’t you want to know which vein lay closest to the surface? It’s not that digging up that gold wouldn’t still be work. It would just be the kind of work most likely to yield results.

Still, so many people love working on what they don’t do well that they’re baffled about how to take advantage of information about their natural skills and abilities. Why? Because:

1. We get so little feedback about or gifts, skills, and talents in life that we don’t understand what it takes to further develop them. (Interested in this? Take a look at a skill or talent you have, then look at a leader who exemplifies that skill or talent. What would it take to close the gap between your level of mastery and theirs?)

2. Our gifts and talents are so chronically underdeveloped that we are unaware of what they are and cannot recognize their value or practical expression. (Do you know how to lean on your natural skills and abilities during a crisis? In leading a team? In everyday problem-solving? If you’re like most people, the answer is ‘no’.)

3. There is an endless supply of what we don’t do naturally well, but only a finite list of our gifts and talents. Somehow, we believe that if we focus on the positive, we will run out of “areas to improve.”

4. We see others doing things we struggle with and buy into the idea that we are somehow “less than” they are because we can’t do everything.

5. We grossly undervalue the worth of our own innate abilities, falsely believing that if it is easy for us then it is easy for everyone. (Not true!)

6. We have bought into the belief that we must be “well-rounded” rather than specialists, despite all the empirical evidence demonstrating that those who specialize are more successful and happy.

7. We are conditioned to focus on “bad news” (newspapers, television and radio news, etc.) rather than “good news.”

8. We suffer from “pleasure anxiety” and distrust both positive feedback and feeling good about ourselves.

9. We somehow feel “wrong” focusing on our own positive qualities. As my mother used to say derisively, “Boy, you sure are tooting your own horn!”

Do you see yourself in any of these statements? (I know I do.) If so, it’s time to break out of the pack and do something extraordinary: discover the depth, unique qualities, and nuanced expression of skills and talents you are naturally gifted with.

To find out more about the services we have available to help you find the success you want and deserve go to www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.

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