When Your Strength Becomes A Weakness

Posted on December 10, 2012 by

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Do you ever find yourself relying too much on one of your strengths? Sometimes being  strong in one area can hinder your overall progress by allowing you to muscle through with bad technique.

The Best Technique Isn’t Always Obvious

When I was looking for tips on how to play bar chords I stumbled across this little story (opens a pdf).  The author talks about two students he had.  One was a strong 30 year old man who was struggling to make nice sounding bar chords and the other was a weak 7 year old girl who could play them beautifully.

How was it that this weak girl could play them so nicely while the strong man struggled?  Well it turns out that the man was trying to use his thumb and wrist muscles to hold the bar while the little girl was using her arms.

Little Jennifer knew intuitively to use her arm strength to hold down a bar. She had little strength in her left hand.

There was no way she was strong enough to even think of using her thumb and wrist so it had never occurred to her to try to do it that way.  She had naturally developed the better technique of using her strong arm and back muscles to pull the guitar into her body.

Sometimes Your Strength Can Slow Your Progress

When men are introduced to rock-climbing they usually rely heavily on their arms and back to climb the routes.  They move from one hand-hold to another  and effectively pull themselves up the route.  The stronger they are the farther this technique will get them but eventually they will begin to struggle.

New climbers tend to focus on their arms and pull themselves up the wall. One of the most common excuses I hear from people who think they can’t climb is “but I have no upper body strength”. This statement is misguided because massive upper body strength isn’t necessary at all. Overusing your arms and neglecting your legs is simply bad technique. – Source

Women on the other hand often find themselves too weak to pull themselves up the wall with their arms and back on day one.  In order to climb the route they need to figure out where to place their feet and then they climb the wall one foot hold at a time, using their powerful legs to push themselves up the wall while using their arms to balance themselves and hold their body close to the wall.

Be Wary of Your Strongest Character Traits

This doesn’t just happen when leaning physical skills.  Relying to heavily on your strong personality traits can have negative effects in your work and personal life.  Tony Schwartz tackled the topic in his post “Save Us From Our Strengths” saying,

No strength is reliably a strength by itself. Too much passion eventually becomes overbearing, but too much sober moderation leads to boring blandness. Too much introspection devolves into self-absorption, but too little results in superficiality. Confidence untempered by humility turns into arrogance. Tenacity unbalanced by flexibility congeals into rigidity. Courage without prudence becomes recklessness. Charm ungrounded in authenticity is simply disingenuousness.

I know a guy at work who is incredibly charming and is able to win most people over.  Occasionally I have seen him struggle to move a project forward or reach consensus because the other party simply didn’t find him charming.  Unfortunately this is the only trait he has developed and he wasn’t able to change gears and try a different approach.

Pay Attention to Your Weaknesses

Whether it is playing bar chords, climbing a wall or interacting at work it is easy to fall into a pattern of relying on your strengths.  The next time you are struggling with something or someone, when your normal techniques aren’t working, think about tackling it from a different direction.  If your muscles are beginning to fatigue, think about how you could use other parts of your body.  If a person isn’t receptive to your style try doing the opposite of what feels natural.

Have you ever experienced a strength becoming a weakness?  I would love to hear about it.

Posted in: Productivity