Friday, February 06, 2015

That thing you dread..

What do you dread?
Are there things that you dread? Perhaps public speaking, or doing your tax return. Maybe it’s opening credit card bills, or a particular family get together. 

Maybe it’s opening your work inbox after the weekend or after a holiday. 

Perhaps you get a gnawing sense of dread on Sunday nights about going to work on Monday mornings. We all face dread at some point.
"We all face dread at some point"
In my mid-twenties I decided to take up triathlon, and in my enthusiasm I signed up for a number of events including a major Olympic distance race in the docks in Salford. In hindsight this was very ambitious, especially because my swimming left a lot to be desired. In fact, I couldn’t even do front crawl. So I tried to learn but just couldn’t get my breathing right. I couldn’t even swim one length without my lungs bursting, leading to a gathering sense of dread about what I’d signed myself up for.
I survived the swim..

In my desperation I signed up for some one to one swimming lessons, but even having learnt the right technique my swim stamina was still poor and I had major concerns about being able to the distance. Added to this was the open water element of the swim – until now I’d only ever swum in swimming pools. My first race was a short pool-based triathlon, which went ok, but I was dreading the open water swim on my next race.

Fast forward to a cold spring morning at Dorney Lake in Eton. Despite a heavy cold I am determined to make it through the race. I need to make it through the swim otherwise I feel I’ve no chance of completing the Olympic distance race in the summer. 

The horn goes and there’s a surge of swimmers off the line to the first buoy. The water is seething and I’m trying to swim but swallowing lots of water and being kicked and jostled all over the place. 

It doesn’t help that I’m streaming with a cold. I fall behind the main group and the water is calmer but I’m struggling to get enough air in my lungs and I’m panicking. I pull up at the first buoy to see where I’m going and the guys in the safety boat ask if I’m ok. I say yes but promptly feint and am hauled into the boat and back to the shore. Gutted is an understatement and my dread for the coming races increases.
"Sometimes getting pushed in the deep end with things we dread can help us get through them"
In hindsight, the moral of that story is not to attempt a triathlon when you’re ill. The happy ending was that I made it through the next race (in the River Thames at Windsor) despite a minor panic attack to begin with, and successfully completed the big race at the end of the season, learning to hang back a little in the swim to avoid the frenzy at the beginning. Funnily enough, being pulled out by the safety boat was kind of the worst thing that could happen in a swim, so experiencing that early in my triathlon career actually helped in the long run. Sometimes getting pushed in the deep end with things we dread can help us get through them. Quite literally in my case!

Now I’m all for trying new things, and stretching ourselves, like my swimming story above. But if we’re experiencing dread on a regular basis in our day to day lives it might be a warning light that we're not playing to our strengths.

There can be a culture in our workplaces where the focus is on improving on our weaknesses, and that's important to a degree. There's a place for getting better at things, and pushing through, but an over-focus on our weaknesses in the long term can lower our morale and increase our dread for the tasks we’re given. How about flipping it on its head and mainly focusing on our strengths? 
"if you’re experiencing dread on a regular basis in our day to day lives it might be a warning light that you're not playing to your strengths"
We’re all wired differently, with a unique blend of strengths, and if you’re not sure whether you have any then I’d strongly recommend the book “Now discover your strengths” which comes with a short online test to help identify your top 5 “themes”. I personally found the results astonishing, helping me articulate for the first time some of the key things that made me tick. Check it out.

Are you playing to your strengths?
Another approach to identifying your strengths is the Myers-Briggs profiling – there’s plenty of free tests for this online. 

This categorises you into one of 16 broad personality types, and while no test is completely perfect, in my office we’ve found the results to be uncannily accurate. 

In my team we’ve used both Strengths Finder and the Myers-Briggs profiles to help steer our personal development goals to areas of our strengths, rather than overly focussing on perceived weaknesses. 

Paul Sohn shared a fun infographic about ideal types of jobs for each personality type, the headline for my own ENFJ personality type is “inspiring guide” – something that chimes with me and fills me with excitement, not dread!

When we orient our work around the things we're strong at then we're less likely to dread our tasks, or opening our inbox. Instead of living in dread we can start living the dream!

If you feel a general sense of dread about your work then I’d encourage you to read Jeff Goins’s new book “TheArt of Work”. I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team and can honestly say it’s really helped me to look at my work, my dreams and my calling differently. 
"Instead of living in dread we can start living the dream!"
So this week, why not take some time to consider your strengths. Perhaps ask some friends or colleagues you trust what strengths they see in you? You may be surprised at the result! 

Don’t settle for a life of dread, stretch yourself, play to your strengths - you may be surprised at what happens! 


Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on dread! If you've enjoyed it why not share it with your friends on social media?

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