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Weekly 3: Seeing yourself more clearly

Summary: Be a better judge of yourself (and others). Understand your strengths. See the many faces yo

Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 28 · Issue #97 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Be a better judge of yourself (and others). Understand your strengths. See the many faces you wear. (~5 min read)
Note: Idea #1 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the core theme: seeing yourself more clearly.

#1. Pay more attention to actions than promises
Psychiatrist Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that we are a verbal species, so much that we are “drowning in words, many of which turn out to be lies we tell ourselves or others.”
And yet for all those words, we are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. Instead, we are defined by what we do.
In judging other people, Livingston argues that we should pay attention not to what they promise, but to how they behave.
Following this simple rule “could prevent much of the pain and misunderstanding that infect human relationships.”
As Livingston notes, a lot of the heartbreak that people encounter is the result of ignoring the reality that past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.
#2. Examine the results of your decisions over time to understand your strengths
In an essay titled Managing Oneself, management expert Peter Drucker writes that most people think they know what they’re good at, but they are usually wrong. 
As he points out, this is a problem because a person can only perform well using their strengths: “One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.”
For Drucker, the best way to understand your strengths is through what he calls “feedback analysis.” Whenever you undertake a key action or decision, write down what you expect to happen. Then 9 or 12 months later, compare the results with your expectations. 
Within a few years, this exercise will illuminate your strengths, and leave you with the following 5 actionable conclusions: 
1. Concentrate on your strengths
Place yourself in contexts where your strengths can produce maximum performance and results.
2. Work on improving your strengths
The feedback analysis will highlight those areas where your existing knowledge and skills are no longer adequate and need to be updated.                     
3. Identify areas and instances where your arrogance leads to ignorance
People who are very knowledgeable in one area sometimes look down on knowledge in other areas, or they believe that simply being smart is a substitute for actual experience in a given field. Feedback analysis will reveal those cases where poor performance is the result of such arrogance.
4. Fix your bad habits
This involves those things you do, or fail to do, that “inhibit your effectiveness and performance.”
Drucker gives the example of a person not achieving the results they wish simply because he or she lacks manners. As Drucker notes, many otherwise smart people don’t grasp the importance of manners as the “lubricating oil” of an organization.
5. Waste as little energy as possible on areas of low competence
For Drucker, no matter our strengths, each of us has “an infinite number of areas in which we have no talent, no skill, and little chance to become even mediocre.” 
You should concentrate your efforts on areas of high competence and high skill: “It takes far more energy and far more work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
#3. Each one of us wears many faces
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that we learn to be consummate actors from an early age.
For example, we learn how to get what we want from our parents and siblings by using certain looks to elicit affection or sympathy. And we become good at flattering people who are important to win over, such as popular peers or teachers.
As we get older and strive to carve out a career, “we learn how to create the proper front in order to be hired and fit into a group culture.”
Whether we become a bartender or an executive or a professor, we must act the part.
This behavior is so ingrained that many of us aren’t aware of it even as it happens.
For contrast, imagine a person who never develops such acting skills. Someone who grimaces when they dislike something you say, who always speaks their mind, and who acts the same way whether they’re talking to a child or their boss. As Greene notes, this is a person who would be “shunned, ridiculed, and despised.”
To better appreciate your own acting skills, Greene recommends paying attention as you interact with different members of your family, and with your boss and colleagues at work: “You will see yourself subtly change what you say, your tone of voice, your mannerisms, your whole body language, to suit each individual and situation.”
You wear, for example, one face when you’re trying to impress someone, and a different face if the person you’re interacting with is familiar, and you can let your guard down.
For Greene, our natural tendency to play different roles is best captured by Shakespeare in the play As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Quote of the Week
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”
- Actress Judy Garland as quoted in the book Business Etiquette for the Nineties: Your Ticket to Career Success
Idea Journal
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