There is a school of thought that you should myopically focus on your personal strengths and steer clear of your weaknesses. The idea holds that by doubling down on your strengths and wasting less time dealing with your weaknesses, your path to success accelerates. While I see merit in some of the points behind this philosophy, it has always seemed overly fatalistic to me. As though your path and destiny are inevitable. I don’t see evidence of this in my own life and career. I attribute much of my personal success to acute self-awareness and a constant cycle of reflection and improvement. I’ve played out this cycle over several decades to shore up my weaknesses and build the best possible version of myself.
Last week I had the chance to sit down with an old friend and fellow coach – a person I admire and respect greatly. We chatted about this very topic and it got me thinking about the success traps I’ve done battle with over the years and my quest to overcome them. Today I’m going to share the two traps I’ve struggled with most. I’d love to hear about the traps that plague you, so we can start working to remedy them together.
1. The Future State Fallacy
Once my divorce is finalized I’ll start working on my business again.
Just as soon as my travel schedule lightens up I’ll get back to writing.
Once I lose 15 pounds I’ll go back to the gym (love this one … lol).
Once things die down a bit, I’ll start doing more regular 1 on 1s with my team members.
If we can just close out this quarter strongly, I’ll start focusing more on my family.
Sound familiar to you?
This mindset – what I call the future state fallacy – is a killer for me. It’s safe to say, my career, my relationships, and my health have suffered greatly because I fall victim to this demon over and over again. Just as soon as I figure out how to solve this one, I can start focusing on being successful (See what I did there? J ).
Unlike some of the things I write about, where I have struggled with a problem and overcome it, this one is different. I’m still plagued by the future state fallacy. I catch myself in this line of thinking almost every day. “Once I do that, then I can start this.” It’s a trap. And if you’re not careful, it can prevent you from tackling the activities and projects and problems that will most profoundly impact on your life and career.
I have not overcome this one yet. But I can tell you, from years of experimentation and self-reflection, that it is helpful to actively look for the demon and acknowledge its existence. When I see myself heading down this path, I call it out and put a stop to it immediately. That seems to help. The other thing I do is make a weekly list of the biggest, scariest things I need to take on – and I try to act on them right away. Instead of looking for reasons why it makes more sense to wait until some future state to change my behavior, I look for reasons why I should start immediately.
I’d be lying if I told you this is a foolproof method, or that I’ve overcome the challenge. I haven’t, but this mindset does help. If you’re interested in reading more about my views on this subject, check out my recent blog:
I’d love to hear from any of you who have also struggled with the future state fallacy. Share your thoughts and stories in the comments or send me an email so we can learn from each other.
2. Pursuit of the Clean Inbox
Early in your career, when you get one call and only ten emails a day, the pursuit of a clean inbox is possible. But when you get ten calls and two hundred emails a day, this pursuit becomes a trap. The pursuit of the clean inbox is a demon I’ve faced and mostly conquered. And I can tell you it has had an extremely positive impact on my productivity and career success.
Too many of us let our natural desire for order trick us into prioritizing a clean inbox over real productivity and progress towards our most important goals. We get lost in a quest to stay current and in control, and lose sight of our real purpose. It’s easy to do. I did it for years.
Do any of these sound like you?
Answer the phone every time it rings.
Read every email as it comes in.
Check voice mails as soon as they come in.
Never leave work with unread messages.
Constantly cleanup and file inbox items.
On the surface, these behaviors masquerade as virtues. We tell ourselves we’re responsive. We’re on top of things. We feel good because life appears to be in balance. But in my experience, these behaviors are traps. They trick you into favoring responsiveness and order over real productivity. They create the illusion of progress.
The most successful people I know are myopically focused on specific goals, game changing initiatives, big wins. They embrace a certain degree of chaos around them so they can doggedly pursue the activities that will have the biggest impact on their mission and on their success.
There was a time when I struggled mightily with the pursuit of the clean inbox and other time wasting activities. They artificially constrained my success for many years. To overcome it, I adopted a new mindset and a specific set of behaviors designed to keep me focused on high impact pursuits. For example, I start every morning by identifying the big wins I am pursuing and then close each day by writing down the big wins I have achieved. It’s become a habit with many benefits. It keeps me focused on high impact work and it creates positive momentum as I actively make note of my wins on a daily basis. I do the same thing for the team’s I manage. I have found that a focus on wins, with purposeful behaviors to support it, goes a long way to getting you off the pursuit of order and onto the pursuit of progress.
If you find yourself falling into this trap, here’s another blog on the subject you might want to check out.
I hope that was helpful for you. It was certainly therapeutic for me. It’s easy to blame external factors for your problems. We all do it. But I have found it to be much more productive to focus on the internal demons that are limiting my success. More than anything, I have found that an honest acknowledgement of weakness, some healthy self-awareness, and a constant pursuit of improvement have been the biggest contributors to success in my life. I’d love to hear about your experiences so we can move towards success together.