There is an overwhelming temptation in any programme of self-improvement to focus on things you’re already amazing at, instead of facing your flaws.
But your weak points are precisely where the most value is waiting to be captured.
It is tempting to polish the cutlery on a sinking ship. Less stressful – for a while – than fixing it.
Like in many other areas (dating springs to mind), positive and negative have different weights. The bad has a disproportionate influence on the total result. The good thing about that bad thing is, it is insanely cost-effective and rewarding to fix your fucking flaws first.
Despite the emotional discomfort, the weeding out is easier than the cultivation – as well as a necessary prerequisite. Absence of the bad is the only way the good can properly be there at all.
If you add a bucket of shit to a barrel of wine, the result is not going to be a great vintage. Even if, by volume, it is a minority.
You would think that +6 and -3 would equal +3, but it’s more like -2 in practice (“He has a good sense of humor, but he’s also a serial killer”. “She speaks five languages, but has bad personal hygiene.”. “He’s really smart, but so antisocial!”). However, that means you can get a huge leap in wellbeing and personal quality (for lack of a better word) when you fix the bad thing. Getting rid of a -3 doesn’t boost your total by 3, it boosts you by like 8.
In other words, if you have any major flaws that you’re aware of, that’s where you should focus your powers – don’t gloss over and avoid them. Face them, dive into them headfirst, address them. Solve them. It will work miracles.
This is especially effective when you feel like you’ve been stagnating despite your best efforts – it might be you’re being held back by unacknowledged fundamental faults, polishing the windshield of a car whose engine is on fire and that doesn’t have any wheels.
Before learning another language, shaping your biceps or learning how to persuade anyone of anything, make sure you’re a good, reasonably balanced person with a well-put-together life and no black holes in the psyche.
Being a high-quality human being is more about absence of flagrant red flags than the presence of any extras, which start to matter once the basics are reasonably in place. Are yours? Don’t worry if not, it’s a process and there’s always time to start.
A pair of personal examples to get you started:
When I was a kid, I was the worst at sports. Ever since kindergarten, I finished all competitions last. I couldn’t run a single lap around the stadium. In fact, I feigned injuries so I wouldn’t have to finish. So as part of a personal rediscovery, I started running, and two years later:
With that gaping inferiority complex (which it was) gone, my baseline psychological welfare rose like 10%. Permanently.
Another embarassing example (this is on purpose to get you to be honest with yourself – I expose my weaknesses first to inspire you to face yours) – throughout my teens, I suffered from a serious speech impediment. It was so bad I couldn’t get halfway through a simple sentence without repeatedly embarassing myself (something that has not changed, but it is for different reasons now…). If you’ve seen King’s speech, it was like that. Or rather, l l l l l i kkke t t t tha tha tha t.
And when that happens to you in your formative years, when every conversation is a sweaty, embarassed minefield (above and beyond what it’s like for all teenagers), you tend to develop social anxiety and avoidant patterns of behaviour.
So I went full “Second coming of Cicero“. If you meet me in a group setting now, I will be likely to be one of the most confident and outgoing. And with that, another black hole closed.
Do you get it?
It is impossible to build the upper floors of anything properly when there are gaping holes in the foundations. Fix the foundations first. If you have any fears or flaws or complexes you’re avoiding, that’s precisely where you have to ride out and meet it.
Plug the holes in your boat, fix the crumbling foundations, stop the bleeding. Only then can you develop properly.
You’ll thank me.