Focusing On Weaknesses
Two things are true about the beginning of each year:
One, many people are likely to make or consider making resolutions to improve their lives.
And, two, most of the people who make those resolutions won’t keep them.
That means that resolution making and keeping is a topic we don’t easily get right. The desire to change is evident but the know-how isn’t. It is a fitting topic to discuss.
In an endeavor to improve our record we should try and learn from other people. Not the people who have made and kept resolutions but those who aren’t as desperate to make them in the first place. Those whose flaws don’t seem to get in the way of their productive lives. Yes, you read that correctly. There are some people who are just as flawed as the rest of us but are too busy developing in other ways they don’t need to bother with resolutions. They start out on the right track and never veer very far from center line. Their progress is steady and obvious and those in that group who achieve celebrity are admired, honored and envied in spite of their apparent weaknesses. These are the people we can learn from.
A good example is Richard Branson, the magnate who developed the Virgin group of over 400 companies. He started at the bottom and worked his way to the top. Instead of improving his life he might resolve to keep doing the same things.
I’m not suggesting he is perfect. Perfection isn’t possible so it really isn’t the point. As far as I know Richard doesn’t preach perfection anyway.
I’m also not suggesting that successful people of the Branson mold are the most gifted. They have just as many weaknesses and inabilities as the rest of us. The difference is they mastered the art of working around their problems rather than on them and have become models of how not to do resolutions.
Branson, for example, admits to being dyslexic, performing poorly as a student – he quit school at 15 – and not understanding the difference between net and gross until after becoming the head of the largest group of independent companies in Europe. In spite of those inabilities he became a very successful man. He certainly has flaws he could resolve to change but whatever they are don’t seem to slow him down too much. In fact, a resolution to become the greatest reader ever would have set him back.
The truth is, if you’re life track has dead ended and seems to have no future, resolutions are for you. But learn from Richard. Pick and choose your improvements carefully. Like Richard, some of our flaws should be left alone. Improving them sounds better on paper than they are worth in practice.
Monitoring The Progress
Let’s back up a step and talk about timing. Whatever resolutions you choose you’ll want to track your progress and there are two units of time suitable for that purpose. One is the year and the other is the week. This is a generalization not an absolute rule.
The year is the best unit of time for measuring solid change and it is broken up nicely into 52 seven-day weeks for assessing progress and making adjustments as you go. In fact, the number “7” is often referred to as the number of perfection or completion and I like to think of it as the number of assessment.
God is the one who established this pattern.
He created the universe in 6 days and then took the 7th day to assess what He had done. He was actually making assessments at the end of each day but on the 7th day, the day of rest, there is no doubt He contemplated everything done the previous six days and how it would effect the next six days.
One quality needed to make this work-first-then-analyze approach effective, however, is patience. Some people just don’t have any and I’m not suggesting patience should be the focus of their first resolution. If we make resolutions correctly we may not need as much patience as we think. Patience in this case does not mean waiting endlessly while getting no where.
Compared to a year, seven days is a short period of time but even that may be too long to wait for results. Monitoring progress only once a week may seem a little slow for some but if your resolution targets the most strategic improvements, the ones that really work for you, you won’t get bored. If you’re headed in the right direction, time may seem to be going by too quickly.
Don’t get me wrong resolutions take time to develop but the time is much easier to stomach when positive things are happening.
So keep this in mind as you work your resolution. If you’re getting horribly bored you might be on the wrong track. I doubt Mr. Branson spent much time wishing he was someplace else doing some thing else.
The Good and Bad of Resolutions
Since most people aren’t getting “Resolutions” to stick, and before we get into specifics, let’s quickly look at the good and bad of this topic. It’s philosophical.
Resolutions have become a once a year proposition that is only briefly considered on only one day, New Year’s Eve, and on that day, we make promises to do some particular thing differently in the future than we did in the past. These promises are made late in the day, after we have eaten too much and drunk to much so by the time January 1st arrives it’s all a fog.
What we do in the name of resolutions is more like dreaming or wishing our way to a better life. Because of that, resolutions repeatedly fail and have become the source of perennial jokes. No positive changes occur from one year to the next and we accept that.
The word “resolution” highlights an attribute that is unique to humans. Not only do we have the ability to change in positive and constructive ways, we have a choice in the matter also. I refer to this attribute as become-ability.
Change, of course, is inevitable but constructive change is not. God wants us to develop in useful ways but His desire for that to happen isn’t sufficient. Human response is a determining factor.
As humans, we have a very wide range of possible changes to consider. We can decide how we dress, the activities we engage, the careers we follow and more. We can decide how we make money and what we do with it once it’s made. We can make mistakes and learn from the experience.
No person must be defined by their genetic makeup or the perceptions of others or the mistakes they make or the sins they commit. We can determine what we wish to become in life, make a plan to achieve it and resolve to execute the plan.
And we usually call the outcome of that process self-improvement. That is the “good” of resolution making.
But the track record isn’t so good. Only about half of all people make resolutions and no more than 10 to 20% of those keep their resolutions for any length of time at all. So, here are some guidelines for making resolutions that stick.
Pick Your Resolutions Strategically
Don’t work on your greatest weakness. Identify your greatest strength and develop it. Marcus Buckingham, working with Gallup, researched this topic extensively and wrote several books encouraging this approach, the first of which is First, Break All the Rules.
Richard Branson’s story illustrates the point and let’s face it, if Richard had spent his energy in the early days trying to become a speed reader he might not be so successful today. The idea is not to change your basic nature but to be as productive as possible with the natural abilities you have.
Be Patient With The Process
The problem with resolutions is they usually aim at getting us out of the trouble our old habits got us into. We have a lot of debt or too much weight and no energy at all and we have to deal with this buildup before we can make progress. Just remember that getting out of trouble is progress. Paying debt isn’t near as rewarding as investing wisely but it does provide a sense of satisfaction. Feed off of that satisfaction.
It doesn’t take any less time to get out of trouble than it does to get into trouble. Paying off unwanted debt can be a slow process but if you begin making a difference and stay the course you will get there. The unfortunate thing about money is you can only measure your progress in monthly increments but be patient.
If spending money is a problem entertain yourself by finding ways to make it. Using your strengths, of course.
And remember that resolutions are to be managed not made and management requires constant attention to detail, possibly over an extended period of time. Resolutions aren’t really made until they are kept so hang in there.
Narrow Your Focus And Broaden Your Scope
Every person is a compilation of many different abilities. We all have these abilities in common but not in equal amounts. We don’t all run at the same pace or read equally well or work as deftly with our hands and achieving equality is not the object. We don’t need to be equal and we don’t need to change everything at once.
The object in making resolutions is to be the best me I can be not achieve equality with everyone else. The correct approach to resolution making is to make a list of all your abilities, the best and the worst, and concentrate, not on ignoring your strengths but developing them, one area at a time.
And that is the important point to remember. Making positive changes in any one area is bound to effect all the other areas also. A human being may have many parts but you can’t disconnect them. Whatever happens in one area effects the others so developing one ability well is bound to bleed over to other areas also.
Revisit, Rearrange And Extend The Lessons You Learn
Again, Branson is a good example of this truth. He identified what didn’t work in the past, set it aside and tried something different until he found what worked, for him. He didn’t focus on the problematic areas of his life and grind away at it till he was disillusioned. He discarded what he couldn’t do and embraced what he could.
Most resolution makers go around in circles. They work on the same irritating weakness and rarely achieve success. On the odd occasion when someone does succeed they aren’t thrilled with the outcome. They lose weight but their health isn’t any better for it and they’re happy only as long as they can maintain the grind.
That isn’t success and it does nothing to improve life. Rather than lose weight work on being healthy.
Don’t Tie Your Goals To Popular People Or Trends
What works for another person may not work for you. Focus on discovering who you are and what you do well. Many resolution maps are nothing more than a graphic representation of what others have done. Don’t allow yourself to be imposed upon by these generalized icons. You can only beat Roger Federer with your game not his.
Lastly, know how to handle failure. Failure is a fact of life. Sometimes we fail unintentionally. Sometimes we fail sinfully. We did the very thing we knew we shouldn’t with premeditation but in either case there is hope.
The number 8 represents new beginnings. The eighth day in our lives is the first day of the week which immediately follows the seventh day of the previous week. It’s a do-over. We get to start again. And if you’re worried about guilt, because of your premeditated sins, there’s a solution for that too.
Jesus died. He died on purpose. He died to make it possible for you to be forgiven so feeling guilty and feeling sorry for yourself is like adding sin to sin.
Accept it when you try and fail innocently. Confess it when you sin intentionally but always start again. You could say that Jesus died to help make your resolutions stick.