Focus on Your Strengths to Reach Your Goals Faster

Jon Hawkins

Look past your weaknesses to increase success.

According to Psychologist Alison Ledgerwood, our perception of the world is naturally negative. Her research indicates our failures and shortcomings are more likely to stick in our minds than anything else. We reflect on them more than our successes.

No matter what we achieve, it’s natural for a part of us to feel like a failure.

In doing so, we often focus our efforts and attention on improving ourselves, as a means to overcome our weaknesses. That takes away from our ability to do the things we are good at. Why? According to Psychotherapist Laura Müller-Pinzle, it’s because humans are hardwired to focus on their limitations.

With just 24 hours in a day, to properly succeed, we have to focus and prioritize achieving our goals over anything else. Wasting time fixating on our weaknesses drastically hinders our chances of success. It prevents us from thriving at what we are good at. After all, in the words of David K Williams:

‘Success isn’t down to effort, it’s down to focused effort.’

There’s nothing impressive about being the jack of all trades and the master of none. Failing isn’t something to be ashamed of, and you can’t be good at everything. As Tom Rath puts it:

“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.”

Therefore, to reach your full potential, you need to focus your attention on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Here are three ways you can do so.

The Illusion of Easy Success

A lot of people give off the illusion of easy success. They’re quite happy to show off their wins. But when doing so, they rarely shout about their past failings and hours of hard work to get where they are.

Thomas Oppong calls this phenomenon the Iceberg Illusion of success. People don’t see all the costs and sacrifices made beneath the surface to achieve the success we see today. We only see the end result.

In the words of Mathew Syed:

“When we witness extraordinary feats … we are witnessing the end product of a process measured in years. What’s invisible to us — the submerged evidence, as it were — is the countless hours of practice that have gone into the making of the virtuoso performance.”

Humans often think new tasks are easier than they actually are. “If they can do it so easily, I can too,” we tell ourselves. We assume we can achieve the same results in a short period of time. When in reality, unless you’re naturally skilled at a task, it will take significantly longer to master the required skills.

Psychologists call this The Planning Fallacy; the natural tendency to underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task.

Yet, more often than not, upon discovering the difficulty of a task that we once underestimated, we give up on it. Instead of taking things further, we move onto a different task that we perceive as easier.

This mode of thinking causes us to spread ourselves too thin. We’re so busy trying out new things, that we neglect the things we’re actually good at.

The Pareto (80/20) Principle

In 1906, Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, developed a principle that illustrates how focusing our efforts can help us towards success. It came about when Pareto noticed 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of its population.

The principle states we should aim to perform actions that produce 80% of results from 20% of our efforts.

Of course, because we are naturally better at some tasks, we have cultivated better skills for them compared to others. As a result, there may be an imbalance in the quality of effects bought about by our actions. For example, you are likely to yield better results spending an hour working on a task if you are a professional, compared to if you were a complete beginner.

In performing an unskilled task, you are likely to yield significantly less than 80% results from your 20% effort. By comparison, playing to your strengths will help you yield the desired 80/20 results.

To use this principle to your advantage, you could:

  1. Identify which actions will produce the best results with minimal effort.
  2. Disregard and avoid the tasks that have a poorer ratio, which brings about poor results given the amount of effort.
  3. Where you can, focus your efforts entirely on the tasks with the highest ratio to maximize your results.

Generally, actions that involve our weaknesses have a significantly poorer ratio of effort to results. Therefore, according to this principle, we should instead buckle down on our strengths.

Let's link this back to my discussion of the illusion of easy success. Rather than making choices based on others' actions, assess your strengths and weaknesses based on your own experiences. Remember, just because someone appears to succeed at something easily, doesn't mean you will.

Get the most optimal results, from the least amount of work possible:

“Doing less is not being lazy. Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.”
Tim Ferriss

How to Stop Covering Up Your Weaknesses

Most of us get embarrassed by our weaknesses. Because of that, we spend a lot of time trying to hide our mistakes and improve our shortcomings. Rather than looking to succeed, we fixate on trying to hide our failings.

In his book, Strength Finder 2.0, Tom Rath argues we should forget about fixing our failings. By letting them slide, we can double down and go all-in on our strengths.

Sadly, according to Rath, the average person fails to acknowledge this fact. In his words:

“From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to our shortcomings than to our strengths.”

We spend far too much time ironing out our imperfections and hiding our shortcomings than working on what we’re actually good at.

Rath states we should spend as little time as possible on the things we are bad at, or don’t enjoy. If you’re bad at sports, for example, you should do the minimum required to stay healthy. You should then reallocate the remaining time to work on something that helps you achieve your dreams.

Rath identifies 34 different types of character strengths and argues you should seek to identify your own.

He also notes that when trying new things, you shouldn’t get upset if you aren’t good at them. Rather than trying to hide your failings, you can take pride in knowing you have strengths elsewhere.

Self-Recognition Translates to Self-Confidence

According to research by Hodges and Harter (2002), becoming actively aware of our own strengths has positive impacts on emotions and traits like:

  • Confidence
  • Hope
  • Relational Growth
  • Academic Success (in College Students)

Having observed college students, Clifton and Harter (2003), found that strength development involves three stages: identification of talents, integration of identified talents into one’s self-view, and behavioral change.

In short, to reap the positive emotional benefits, you should identify your strengths and then internalize them. The positive behavioral change: becoming a more confident runner, having higher aspirations, and hopes of becoming professional, will all follow.

According to Hodge’s and Harter’s, to undergo this process:

“Strengths development begins with individuals recognizing and psychologically owning their talents. Next, individuals recognize the value derived from performing activities congruent with their talents. They should make a conscious effort to seek out opportunities to exercise talents and share information about talents with family, friends, and fellow students or co-workers.”

This new-found confidence gained from identifying with your strengths, increase your chances of success.

According to well-being teacher Michelle McQuaid, praise and focus on employee's strengths in the workplace, resulted in improved team performance and higher chances of success.

On her account, these types of leaders also benefit from lower staff turnover and higher productivity in the workplace. Therefore, focusing on your strengths is a way to boost your confidence and self-esteem. And as a consequence, drastically increases your chances of success.

The Takeaways

On Psychologist Alison Ledgerwood’s account, we naturally focus on our weaknesses — and that hinders our ability to thrive at what we’re actually good at.

To reach your full potential, you need to re-allocate your time and focus on your strengths:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the illusion of easy success. Instead of making choices based on other’s achievements, use the Pareto Principle. Strive to act in accordance with your strengths, for that will yield the highest results based on your efforts.
  2. Follow the advice of Tom Ruth: rather than being embarrassed by, and trying to iron out your failings, spend as little time as possible on your imperfections, and double down on your strengths.
  3. Acknowledge that self-recognition translates to self-confidence. Identify and internalize your strengths — doing so will lead to positive emotional traits, which will increase your chances of success.
“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.”
Marilyn Von Savant

I write about self-improvement, life lessons, philosophy, psychology & business — to help you reach your full potential.

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Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe. Durham University.


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