Do you ever find yourself consistently falling short to achieve your goals? If you can identify any patterns, you have likely hit upon one way to uncover your weaknesses. Understanding your weaknesses is perhaps more important than knowing your strengths.
Here are a few other ways to diagnose your weaknesses.
- What do you struggle with that others seem to find easy to do?
- What activities do you find draining and cumbersome?
- On what behaviors do people constantly give you constructive feedback?
- In traditional learning settings, are there topics in which you consistently perform poorly?
Take the free Values in Action (VIA) Character Strength Survey and see which attributes are at the bottom of the list for you.
Ask people who know you well what they see as your top areas to improve.
In billionaire Ray Dalio’s free app Principles, he recommends hunting for weaknesses by observing the patterns of your mistakes. He suggests “writing down your mistakes and connecting the dots between them.” Then write down your “one big challenge, the weakness that stands the most in the way of your getting what you want.”
Consider the recurring negative events in your life. If you’re in business, what type of deals do you tend to lose? In your relationships, what are the most common arguments?
Once you identify your weaknesses, Dalio highlights four possible responses:
1. Deny them
Dalio sees this as the worst choice since you will continue to get poor results if you don’t accept the reality of your situation. We are naturally wired to protect our egos, so we may deny having a weakness by reframing it as an underdeveloped strength or blame external factors for our underperformance. One of the best things you can do to achieve your goals is to be honest about and accept your areas of weakness. Let the benefits of achieving your goals outweigh the pain of a bruised ego.
“Don’t confuse what you wish were true with what is really true,” he writes.
2. Accept them and convert them to strengths
This is a potentially good option if it is in your nature to devote significant energy to develop yourself. If you’ve identified a true weakness, your resources spent shoring it up might give you better returns if invested someplace else. If you’re someone who feels that you don’t have any serious weaknesses or can fix every weakness you come across, be extra cautious. You may be susceptible to choosing this high-opportunity-cost option as your default. A good first step is to acknowledge and accept that you, along with everyone else, have weaknesses.
“Don’t worry about looking good–worry instead about achieving your goals,” Dalio writes.
3. Accept them and find ways around them
This step works if you can figure out concrete ways around your weaknesses. The most common way is to partner with or hire people who are strong where you are weak. The success of this solution depends heavily on your ability to accurately recognize your own weaknesses and vet other people’s aptitude for bridging the gap.
Dalio notes, “Don’t blame bad outcomes on anyone but yourself.”
4. Change what you’re going after
This last option was the most interesting to me because I rarely think about changing my goals when I hit a setback. My automatic tendency is to obsess about how to overcome the obstacle, which puts the focus on either option two or option three. When you come face-to-face with a weakness of yours, Dalio recommends staying open-minded and question whether what you’re going after is consistent with your nature.
If not, there might be a better pursuit for you, one with an even better payoff. We often think of the immediate pleasure of achieving a short-term goal but may lose sight of whether that short-term goal is leading to where we ultimately want to go.
“Don’t overweigh first-order consequences to second- and third-order ones,” he writes.
It is not always easy to confront your own weaknesses and to definitively decide to deal with them. Says Dalio: “Don’t let pain stand in the way of progress. Understand how to manage pain to produce progress.”
Robert Chen coaches high-performing leaders at Fortune 100 companies and teaches managerial communication, advanced persuasion, and storytelling at the Wharton business school. He’s a partner at Exec|Comm, a global communication skills consultancy, in the New York office.