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What’s Holding You Back?

Alright guys, I’m scared.

I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon on June 23rd and I’m afraid I’ll drown myself.

What does this have to do with you and why is it a topic on a career blog?

Well look, we all have stuff that holds us back from advancing – personally and professionally. My swimming phobia is what’s keeping me from longer-distance tris. You might have a fear of public speaking or a hard time delegating, for example, that’s keeping you from a higher profile and more lucrative career.

That’s the topic this week: Overcoming a stubborn weakness so that we don’t plateau before achieving our full potential. How to tap into that secret formula that leads to action and results. Because it’s too easy to say, “Eh, I’m not a good swimmer. I’ll just stick to sprints and duathlons.”

Here’s my attack plan. The same tactics could be applied to other self-improvement projects. Curious to hear what works for you!

Step 1: Don’t kid yourself.

This is one of my favorite pearls of wisdom from Jack Welch’s biography. The first critical step is to acknowledge that the outcome won’t improve without action.

You won’t become a better public speaker by shying away from opportunities to present. My swim won’t improve just because I splash around in the pool twice a week. Let’s not kid ourselves: Heavy lifting is required. What we’re doing right now isn’t working. Here’s the opportunity to say “Oh crap, we’re headed in the wrong direction. We need to change trains.”

Step 2: Figure out your baseline.

What are you working with? How will you measure progress and success?

Aim for some you can quantify to keep you brutally honest. For me, it’s stroke count across the pool and time it takes to swim a mile.

If you can’t quantify it, consider before & after or solicit sincere feedback from others. For example, videotape yourself giving a presentation, practice telling a story or delivering a joke, enlist your manager and team members to monitor your task management and delegation skills.

Step 3: Get out in front of it.

Okay, you’ve acknowledged the need to do things differently. You’ve got your baseline and success metrics. Now write an action plan.

Beware of bogus effort. I can swim casually twice a week and lounge in the sauna. Or I can do skills drills and swim against the clock with a group of people who know what they’re doing. In each case, I’m going thru the exercise of getting myself to the pool but the determination and quality of my workout yield very different results.

Step 4: Recognize you don’t have what it takes.

We’re working on a personal and persistent weakness, right? That’s different from an innate ability you want to refine. You don’t have the tools. You didn’t start out with them. I’m not Michael Phelps. You’re not Bill Clinton. We need someone to show us the ropes. Find a coach, a mentor or someone you want to emulate. Even a competitor will work. Figure out what gives them the advantage over the rest of us mortals and copy it.

Step 5: Give yourself a challenge or a deadline.

If you have bulletproof willpower and motivation, send some over, Rover. I need to make a game out of things. After years of daily chocolate binges, I was able to give it up cold turkey for the sake of beating 9 others in the Mel Runs Stronger than Chocolate Challenge. Bragging rights, bribes, rewards. Whatever it takes.

And there’s nothing like a do-or-die deadline to spur you to action. Master the swim or cling to a rescue kayak. Deliver a killer Best Man speech or lose face in front of family and friends. Pick a not-so-distant date on the calendar and write your action plan backward.

In fact, make your deadline June 23rd. That way we can train together. 🙂

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