Most of us have some professional or personal weakness that keeps us from advancing or developing as much as we could or would like. In my case, for example, my knowledge of the Chinese language is far from where I would like it to be. Others, of course, will have different examples. But regardless of the exact nature of the weakness, the following tips can help you overcome or reduce it.
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1: Admit that it exists
As with alcohol or drug issues (and I am certainly not suggesting that you have either or both), recognition of the issue is key toward addressing it. Unless this recognition occurs, progress rarely, if ever, can occur. Conversely, once this recognition occurs, progress can begin.
2: Be specific
Be as specific as you can with your issue. In my case, for example, "Issues with Chinese language" is too vague. More specific issues could include "Issues in knowing the traditional counterpart of the simplified character and vice versa" or "Knowing how to write the character by hand when I hear it." So let's say you believe you have an issue with impatience. You could be more specific and say, "I'm impatient when I get phone calls from users who lost data." The more specific you are the more effective will be your actions to address the issue.
3: Set quantifiable goals
Rather than just say, "I want to improve in this area," set a quantifiable goal. Otherwise, you will never be able to tell how much progress you have made. Worse, you will despair because you will never seem to have made any progress at all.
For instance, to increase my comprehension of Chinese characters, I need to be specific and say, "By the end of November, I want to be able to read, without consulting a dictionary, at least 90% of the characters in the poem 'youziyin.'" If your goal is to be less impatient with users, perhaps you could say, "This week, I don't want to become impatient more than x times with users who lost data."
4: Seek advice and guidance from others
Remember that gag you used to play when you were younger — the one where you put a Post-it note that said "Kick me" on someone's back? That poor victim couldn't see the note, but everyone else could. In other words, that person had a blind spot.
You have similar blind spots. Even though you recognize the issue, you still might be affected by it in ways that others recognize but you don't. So ask people you know and trust to give you their insights. When they do, try not to be upset — assuming, of course, that they speak in good faith and are attempting to help. As an old saying goes, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted."
5: Assess yourself regularly
If you never check the oil in your car, don't be surprised when your engine melts one day because the oil level is too low. If you ignore that lump or fever or other symptom in your body, don't be surprised if one day you get bad news from your doctor. If you keep opening app after app, don't be surprised when you eventually get that "insufficient memory" message.
To make progress, you need to monitor yourself against those objectives you set. If you are proceeding according to plan, congratulate yourself. Otherwise, you need to assess what factors are hindering you and make adjustments.
6: Put yourself in situations where you have had problems before
If you are learning to ride a bicycle and never remove the training wheels, you will never really learn to ride. If you constantly have an interpreter with you in your meetings in China, you will never really learn to understand, speak, or write the language. You need to remove the training wheels — or be in a position where you must know, speak, or write another language simply to survive.
In other words, you must confront the circumstances in which your weakness is an issue. Only then can you do the self-assessment discussed earlier. In our example of impatience, you need to place yourself in the position of taking those calls. But this time, focus on avoiding the impatient reaction.
7: Keep a journal
By keeping a journal or some similar record, you can reflect on the progress you have made and the progress you still must make. In addition, a journal can help you address other weaknesses and areas for improvement.
8: Forget the past
I have found the saying "Too soon old, too late smart" to be all too true. Of course, my mother was right: I really should have done more in studying Chinese when I was young. No amount of reflection, though, can change the past. Therefore, using the philosophy of "Better late than never," I simply work on my language skills to improve them day by day. Holding regrets about the past does nothing for me. Rather than berate yourself for past mistakes, focus on improving yourself for the future.
9: Realize that progress might take time
Rome was not built in a single day. Neither will you overcome your weakness in one day or perhaps even in one week. Habits and traits take time to become ingrained and can take time to be undone. Be aggressive in your goals but be realistic as well.
10. Seek small victories
An old Japanese proverb tells us that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Likewise, the old joke tells us that the way to eat an elephant is to do so one bite at a time. Break down your plan into smaller segments with their own sub-objectives. As you gain victory in these small areas, you will be encouraged and emboldened to continue your mission.
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.