Jul 1, 2014

A Constructive Approach to Strength and Weaknesses

At certain times in life, for many people, I think it can be very constructive to view strengths and weaknesses as integral parts of one's personality. Socionics can help with this. It can be useful to stop trying to identify with or overcome one's weak areas and focus instead on strengths. I think this is especially important during the active formation of one's self-identify, typically during one's late teens and early twenties.

At other times, brushing off character flaws or overstating one's strengths — especially using some socionics (or other psychological) pseudo-explanation — may be counter-productive. It can keep you from addressing important issues that could improve your quality of life and level of happiness.

Different moments in life present different challenges and require different approaches. There is a time and a place for imbalance as well as for balance.

As one matures, however, one must find a balance where one neither dwells on areas of weakness nor ignores them.

Here's how I've come to view strengths and weaknesses that I used to associate with specific socionics functions and saw as less fluid than I do now.

Basically, I think in terms of "best practices" and "skill acquisition." Every conceivable area of life has its "best practices," be it professional development, housekeeping, or emotional health. You simply happen to know or to not know these practices.

And whether you realize it or not, you already employ certain practices (habits) in every area of life. Your practices may range from "horrific" in one area to "top-notch" in another.

While personality/socionic type may be somewhat predictive of your skill profile, I think it eventually becomes unproductive to dwell on it. You still have to work on your habits, and that's an entirely different process altogether.

It's important to realize that a) almost everything you do is an ingrained habit that is almost entirely automated, and b) neuroplasticity allows for new habit formation, which can be directed through conscious control, though our conscious resources are limited (but they can be grown, too).

Instead of thinking, "I'm just not good at X," you can think, "I currently have low-quality X habits." Then improving this area becomes a matter of finding out some best practices and finding a way to incorporate them. I suspect the best way to do this is through repetitive exercises designed to create automatic habits.

Now, let's talk about "best practices." These tend to be quick-and-dirty solutions that give you 80% of possible results for 20% of the possible effort.

People who, for instance, truly love cooking, may put in a 100% effort to get all 100% of the results. And it's these people who tend to write the cookbooks. Cookbooks don't actually contain the best practices the vast majority of people need to improve their food consumption habits and skills. So don't necessarily count on recognized pros to give you the practices you need.

Constantly concocting complex dishes that stimulate every possible taste receptor in your mouth and nose may be a "best practice" for a chef, but not for a nonprofessional whose goal is optimization of health and well-being.

In other words, best practices for total mastery and best practices for maintenance will take you in different directions.

If "maintenance" is your aim, some of the best role models are people who are clearly above-average in a certain area while appearing to invest uncommonly little effort. Most likely, the way they do this is by applying very specific, tried-and-true algorithms that require a minimum of effort once turned into habits.

When you look at things this way, you may discover that you indulge in many of your areas of strength for purely recreational purposes. Could that actually be unconstructive? Is the value of that recreation greater than the value of developing a different set of habits and skills? Something to think about.

Probably the most effective and painless way to improve a skill is to copy someone who clearly does it much better than you. In the absence of such a person, you may have to look much harder for best practices, searching online, in books, or asking around.

Once you think you have identified a best (or "better") practice that is compatible with your lifestyle and values, it is time to work on habit formation. Depending on the skill, this might mean committing to a daily practice requiring anywhere from one minute to hours of effort. The more willpower and concentration necessary for the task, the more likely that you will need to do it in the morning soon after waking.

In my view, skills — even mental ones — are basically just composed of mechanical habits. "When X, do Y." For instance, "when you sit down at the computer, start your timer. When 20 minutes have passed, get up and walk around." "When a team player near you opens for a pass, start opening for a pass yourself so that he has someone to pass to immediately." "When you feel yourself becoming negative, stop to remember the good things that have happened recently, and why they happened."

With as little as a few days or weeks of conscious effort, you may be able to establish a habit that noticeably changes your life for the better.