Turning a weakness into a weapon

MEA Triathlon Team in April 2016 - I've turned my work team into my triathlon squad!

Turning a weakness into a weapon

As a triathlete, I make a pretty handy runner. Or at least I did until injury plagued my amateur sporting dreams for so long that it left me with little joy for the thing that once defined me. It was during yet another injury that I realised I’d had enough of spending all my time feeling sorry for myself. I’d been feeling sorry that I couldn’t run, that I wouldn’t be fast enough anymore, and all the other self-pitying catch cries I could think of. As I couldn’t work on my strengths – running and cycling – I decided that the time had come to look at the other end of the spectrum, my weakness – swimming.

I always used to think of the swim leg as my weakness when competing. I used to be the athlete who was always last out of the water. When I finally managed to come third-last out of the water in a race, I was ecstatic. I didn’t enjoy swimming, or consider myself a swimmer, so I neglected that skill in favour of things I liked doing, like riding and running. With a slow swim, I was always in chase mode. Belting myself on the bike to make up the ground I had lost and then hanging on in the run. Not a very efficient method of racing at all.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you aren’t a triathlete, but for most people, there is a weakness in a skill set that they often ignore, and end up playing catch up to make up for. Maybe it is having difficult conversations, maybe it is understanding detailed financials, maybe it is being organised. Whatever it is, with any weakness, there’s always room for improvement, improvement that will inevitably make your job, and by default other areas of your life, easier.
So how do you turn that weakness into a weapon? It’s not easy that’s for sure, but there are some pretty simple steps that you can follow to make the changes needed.

Step 1 – Recognise and accept the issue at hand

If you are simply changing because someone gave you some feedback and you aren’t invested in the process, you are unlikely to successfully make the change. And let’s face it, change is hard enough without doing it begrudgingly. For me, that meant that I had to admit that I was not a great swimmer, but more importantly I had to recognise why; because I hadn’t bothered to give it the attention it needed.

Step 2 – Know what success looks like

If you aren’t sure what you are aiming for the change to look like, how can you create a plan that will work? Look for examples of others who have that skill or behaviour in abundance, research the best practice in a particular skill, visualise what you would be like if you could make that change. How would people recognise that you had made an improvement? This one was easy – I wouldn’t be last out of the water!

Step 3 – Make a plan

Change is difficult on so many levels (see our tips on that here) so it pays to be well organised and have a detailed plan of attack. That means breaking it down into SMART goals, small chunks that have some tangible, measurable outcomes that you can reward yourself for as you go. Success breeds success as they say. My planning involved having my bags packed at the start of the week for the swim sessions I had committed to doing so there was no excuse about not having my gear. A small change, but part of the overall process.

Step 4 – Get help

This one is often the hardest part. Finding someone you trust to assist you on the journey to change is often the difference between success and failure. Going it alone is a daunting task, so be sure to look for a great resource in a mentor, coach, adviser or trusted colleague. Look for someone who can help you refine the plan and provide some encouraging words when things fall off the rails, because at some stage, they will, so choose that adviser wisely. As a self-coached athlete, choosing a coach for my swimming was difficult as I needed them to understand all my other plans but only wanted them to influence one area. In finding the right style of coach I found an excellent resource for my personal swim development and for those of my fellow athletes.

Step 5 – Practice

This is the big one. Deciding to change, knowing what it looks like, making a plan and getting help, will not make the change occur. The only way to make that change is to do it. Over and over and over again. That’s called practice. And it isn’t that practice makes perfect, it’s that practice makes better. You might be looking to improve the ability to have difficult conversations. Before you launch into the big uncomfortable conversation you’ve been putting off at work for months, practice what you are going to say, how you are going to say it and how you are going to respond on yourself. Out loud. In front of a mirror. Then use your trusted adviser to practice on them. Get some feedback. Fine tune it until it feels more natural and comfortable. Then tackle a smaller conversation first. Leave the bigger one (you’ve left it this long) until you feel more confident.

Step 6 – Be accountable

The critical step that can be intrinsically linked to getting help, as they may use the same resource. Being accountable means to yourself and to others. Your brain is shifty and likes old habits. It is easy to tell yourself that you’ll try again next time but it is harder to tell someone else that. Being honest with yourself about what you are looking to change, how you are going to go about it, and how you are tracking against that goal will help you continue to move forward along the journey.

Step 7 – Reward success

As I said, change is hard and there are often setbacks along the way, but building in small rewards for persistence and incremental change provides you with the encouragement and motivation to keep trying. For me, it was a new set of goggles at my first milestone (a week of consecutive swim sets), and a new pair of swimmers after a month block of swimming.
Once you’ve mastered this with one skill or behaviour, that means it is time to move onto another one. All these weaknesses now become weapons in your kitbag to deal with the types of experiences you encounter on a daily basis. Things that you once avoided become part of what you are known for being able to manage.

For me, that has meant going from last in the swim to the top ten. Now, they’re chasing me.

This post was written by MEA’s General Manager of Membership Services, Michelle Cooper. If you have a story to submit, please email us today.

Michelle Cooper

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