The Weakness Bottleneck

What's your weakness?
What’s your weakness?

Success – Do and Stop!
We can think of achieving success as being composed of two parts – setting a goal, and going about doing the things necessary to achieve that goal. But, wait… I shall stop you there! It’s not always about doing things. Often it’s about stopping doing certain things that you’ve been doing so far – things I’d call your weakness.

Goal - do and ... stop!
Goal – do and … stop!

Thus, often, your success so far is despite this weakness not because of it. But you may not know it! A simple example might be a loud and obnoxious CEO of a startup company who badgers his employees into submission. Any success of the startup initially will be for a host of reasons despite his behaviour with his staff. The CEO sees the early success of the firm as representing his own set of actions, which include the unnecessarily bossy manner of dealing with his team – a form of weakness. This weakness will remain a bottleneck to future growth.

We have such weaknesses in every aspect of our lives – as individuals or as organizations, or as systems we set up. These weaknesses are both things we need to do, and things we need to stop doing. In our activities, in our attitudes, in our beliefs. For our professional goals, our fitness goals, or our relationships.

Bottlenecks reduce the probability of you achieving your goal
Bottlenecks reduce the probability of you achieving your goal

Why is clearing a bottleneck difficult?
A wise woman once said “if you can identify the problem, that’s half the problem solved”. Unfortunately, the identification of weaknesses is not something that we are naturally inclined to do. It is in our basic human nature to be willfully blind to what causes us pain.

It's not easy to accept failure!
It’s not easy to accept failure!

Recognizing a weakness involves admitting some form of failure, and recognizing some failure in oneself causes some amount of mental anguish. And it is not in our basic nature to cause ourselves pain – thus making the self-identification of weaknesses a challenge. The problem is compounded even when we are fortunate enough to have someone, who cares about us, identify a weakness – but our ego gets in the way – we dig our heels in and hold on stubbornly to the weakness. Ultimately, however, being self-aware and recognizing a failure is often what is necessary to redirect our journey from ordinary to exceptional.

The Shailja Files
Many of my life coaching clients are seeking better physical health. Some of them are what I call recreational endurance athletes. One of these is Shailja Singh Sridhar, a wonderful lady who lives in Gurgaon – a 34 year old mother of two who took up cycling and then running after her second child was relatively independent. She requested me to train her to complete her “first full marathon in less than 4 hours”. In my recollection, no other urban Indian mother of 2 had done this before so it was an interesting challenge for both of us. In the process of her training, as a mentor, it became evident to me that she was extremely impulsive. This can be a virtue – for instance, when action not just words and thoughts are important e.g. when emergency relief needs to be provided to people. In her case, as someone who worked really hard at her fitness goals, her impulsive nature increased the risk of her overtraining (which leads to underperformance). These impulsive acts were usually revealed to me through apologetic messages like “I know today was meant to be a rest day, but I went out for a 40km cycle ride”.

Even some short term good can be a long-term bottleneck
Shailja on one of her bicycles

She acknowledged that this was a recurring problem and we worked on trying to alleviate the problems around this weakness throughout the course of her training. On the flip side, as someone who was dedicated to her self-selected goal, she executed the various components of her training with high quality throughout.

Race Day – Exam Day – Showtime!
What was a bigger concern for us was exam day – in her case, race day in Berlin on 28 Sep 2014. The typical recreational marathoner almost always starts a race off too fast. Often their first half is as much as twenty minutes faster than their second half even for a “sub 4 hour finish”. This effect called “race day fervour” is such as to create a feeling of self-confidence, excitement and joy in the mind of the runner around the start of a race – much like when one arrives at a party where people are clearly having fun.

Misplaced overconfidence!
Misplaced overconfidence!

The physiological impact of starting off one’s race too fast as a result of this is felt in the latter stages of the race with a significantly slower second half, often resulting in a race time that is longer than if the psychological aspect of racing was under control throughout.

All I could do, as a mentor, was guide her through subtle and explicit messaging about the importance of not being impulsive on race day and to stick to a racing strategy that would ensure success. The rest was left to her – the final test.

Berlin Marathon 2014 - Shailja Sridhar's race splits
Berlin Marathon 2014 – Shailja Sridhar’s race splits

Looking at her race time splits, anyone who has even limited experience in marathons will tell you that her intelligence and maturity as a runner shone through and she overcame any impulses that might reduce her probability of success. To race a full marathon with negative splits (second half faster than the first) is a sign of a well-prepared runner with a superbly executed race strategy. With a finish time of 3:51:52 in her first full marathon she has also written her lines in the Indian amateur marathon history books.

Ironing out bottlenecks => Success!
Ironing out bottlenecks => Success!

Shailja’s set of strengths, physiological and psychological, far overshadows the set of weaknesses. An impulsive nature did not prove to be a weakness on race day. It is definitely not her only weakness, not least in running. But identifying and overcoming this specific weakness places her in an even better position for overcoming other obstacles in future challenges in life.

Are you in a jam?
Are you in a jam?

Stop focusing on the Ferrari
A Ferrari on a jam packed highway goes no faster than a jalopy! We all have multiple weaknesses in each and every one of our endeavours that provide bottlenecks to significant progress. The process of identifying these and then overcoming them systematically is what takes us closer to being truly exceptional versions of ourselves. Removing bottlenecks allows us to flow through life with exceptional grace!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

18 comments

  1. An excellent post, Purnendu.. It reinforced a lot of things my mother always told me about my failure to acknowledge certain personal attributes as weaknesses..but of course like most ordinary folks I have mostly concentrated on ignoring them or worse still, nurturing them…
    Loved Shailja’s story…High time I set myself some goals as far as running is concerned… 42k at 42 yrs perhaps 😀 ( that sounds utterly fictional & there’s the first bottleneck 😁)

    Like

    • Meenal… actually “42 before 42” was one of my goals (done!)
      Now there’s a “sub-45 10km while 45” (I have a few months to go of that short window!)
      It’s great that you can look back and appreciate what your Mum said. It’s never too late to grow!

      Like

  2. Puru, excellent point about recognizing weaknesses. There are those which are good to stop while there are others which are good to overcome….

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  3. Excellent read. I will be reading this article again and again, to make sure I act upon some of my ‘bottlenecks”.

    Do correct me if am I understanding this wrong – – After this article I will be telling myself “Valroy you are where you are today, because of your strengths and the weakness you have overcome and also notwithstanding the weaknesses/bottlenecks that continue to exist, so IMAGINE – where you will be – once you IDENTIFY those residual/underlying issues and overcome them too”

    Brilliant!

    Like

    • Absolutely spot on!
      If we make this part of our daily mantra in every aspect of our lives, achieving our genetic potential is just a matter of time…

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      • Re-Reading the article because I’m staring at a wall. And I need to jump over or walk around or soldier through. Or maybe turning back is an option, discretion and valor and all that jazz?

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  4. An excellent account of her efforts ( and yours ) for achieving this sub 4 goal so nicely . I have shared this blog with other “recreational” runners attempting their first full

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    • Running the first full… was just the backdrop.. Hope this helps people think of any challenge and understand what their bottlenecks might be.

      Like

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