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Sometimes in life, it turns out that the truth is the exact opposite of what we believed it to be.
For example, up until the sixties, pregnant women in the US were recommended to smoke. Not until in the eighties(!) did people, in general, learn that it permanently hurts the child (1).
We can call these “truths” toxic advice. These are the advice we think will help us – when in reality they end up hurting us!
When it comes to success, there’s a common toxic advice that I want to talk about today.
I’ve always been told that the way to succeed in life is to psyche up; to tell yourself that you’re great and focus on all the things you do great – not on your flaws and weaknesses.
It sounds like the right thing to do, right?
As it turns out, the opposite is true. The advice above will make you feel WORSE about yourself and it will make it HARDER for you to succeed. Let me show you why.
To become really good at something we have to be brave enough (and go through the pain) of looking at where we CAN improve. We need to acknowledge and accept our weaknesses.
As an example, it’s first when someone finally accepts that they have a problem with drinking that they can start looking for ways to get out of it. (Up until the point they accept it as a problem, they’ve been in denial of it.)
I have so many flaws and weaknesses that I know about – and many more that I probably don’t yet know exist. Because I accept that they are there today, I can work on them.
When it comes to business, I tend to over-work details. I tend to want to do things myself rather than delegating. Thanks to accepting that I have these flaws, I can account for them. When it comes to social life, all my social flaws and my commitment to improving them is what has turned into SocialPro.
There’s a book called “Principles”, written by one of the most successful people in the world, Ray Dalio. (He owns the world’s largest hedge fund.) In his book, he writes about what has been a factor in making him so successful:
“Thinking about problems that are difficult to solve may make you anxious, but not thinking about them (and hence not dealing with them) should make you more anxious still.
[…]Acknowledging your weaknesses is not the same as surrendering to them. It’s the first step toward overcoming them.”
Great coaches know about this. They first make their clients accept that they have flaws and weaknesses. They then help them deal with these flaws. To be able to deal with them, we first need to accept that we have them.
But what about staying positive and being happy with who you are?
Ok, so here’s where people get confused.
There’s the good and bad kind of self-criticism:
- Bad self-criticism: “I’m way too undisciplined. I suck.”
- Good self-criticism: “I’m undisciplined. What could I do to become more disciplined? I can buy a well-reviewed book on self-discipline and make sure to put its methods to use.”
It’s no coincidence that one of the most successful therapy forms in the world is “ACT” or “Acceptance and commitment therapy” (2). You first ACCEPT your current situation. You then COMMIT to changing it.
Interestingly enough, we become both happier AND more successful in life when we combine these two views on life: Accept whatever situation you’re in. Commit to changing it.
But what about things we CAN’T change about ourselves or that aren’t worth the effort it would take to change them?
It’s even more important that we accept those things.
I have a pretty bright voice. I´m not too tall. I’m way too pale. Thanks to accepting these traits rather than ruminating over them, I can be much more comfortable with who I am and stop caring so much about what others think. I can move on in life instead of being controlled by my flaws.
How I stopped caring what others think.
What are your weaknesses? Is there any of them you want to commit to change? The first step is to write it down. I’m excited to hear in the comments below!
- Oakley, A. (1989). Smoking in pregnancy: smokescreen or risk factor? Towards a materialist analysis. Sociology of Health & Illness, 11(4), 311-334. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.ep11372513
- A-Tjak, J. G., Davis, M. L., Morina, N., Powers, M. B., Smits, J. A., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Clinically Relevant Mental and Physical Health Problems. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 84(1), 30-36. doi:10.1159/000365764