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Screw Your Weaknesses

  • By Jesse Thomas
  • Published Apr 2, 2014
Illustration by Matt Collins.

Jesse Thomas’ three-step plan to conquering all the stuff you suck at.

Unless you’re Ryan Gosling from the movie “Drive,” you probably have a weakness or two. I’ll tell you that I am no Ryan Gosling. I don’t own a leather jacket, I drive a Prius and there are tons of things I could work on that would make me a better person.

Most of us try to work on our weaknesses at least once a year, either with New Year’s resolutions, or in the case of us athletes, new season resolutions.

Most people take a deep look, make a list, set some goals, download an app and set off with big goofy smiles on their faces, convinced that they’re six weeks away from their perfect selves.

The problem is that three weeks later, most of us give up and revert to our old habits. WikiJesseBrain says that only 7.4 percent of new season resolutions last more than three weeks, unless that resolution involves more cookies, more TV and/or fewer vegetables.

I’m the same way, and used to do the exact same thing. I can’t tell you how many times I set tons of goals—no TV, juice every day, 1,000 kick in the pool, get a regular haircut. But alas, I just couldn’t do it, people! Like most of us, in the excitement of a new season, I’d overreach. I’d binge-better myself. And when the binge wore off, I’d pay the price with too many unsustainable goals that I couldn’t achieve. I’d burn out, feel bad about myself, throw ice cream, cookies, peanut butter and chocolate into the juicer and drown my sorrows watching “The Mindy Project.” (The last sentence is too detailed to be fake.)

But over the past few years, I feel like I’ve gotten better … at getting better. And ironically, I feel like I’ve done so by doing less. I work on fewer weaknesses, and in a more gradual, sustainable way: The results have been slower but shown more consistent improvement. That consistency ultimately leads to better performances, relationships and happiness.

Luckily, for the price of this magazine, my weaknesses-ridding plan can be yours. And if you read it twice, you can get two plans for the same price! Don’t miss this incredible opportunity and read below right now—Dr. Jesse’s Three-step Plan for Screwing Your Weaknesses:

Step 1: W.I.P. yourself.

Every year, in preparation for my next season, I go through a Weaknesses Identification Procedure (WIP). I WIP myself solidly for a few days. I brainstorm all the bad habits, personal, professional, or athletic deficiencies that keep me from being Ryan Gosling. If I have trouble identifying my problems, I just ask my wife, coach, family, friends and employees—which immediately results in dozens of reasons why I’m failing to live up to expectations. The process doesn’t make me feel awesome, but I do it. Self-understanding is an unfortunate but necessary part of self-improvement.

My list will range from purely athletic weaknesses (I don’t swim in a straight line) to my personal or professional weaknesses that keep me from living my best Triathlife (I’m late to workouts/meetings/dinner with family). As we all know, the non-athletic aspects of your life cannot be completely siloed, so while you’ll naturally focus on athletic things to improve, feel free to write down personal or professional weaknesses that might lead to a better you. Chances are they’ll eventually lead to a faster you as well.

RELATED – Triathlife: Stress-Free Adaptation

Step 2: Remember that you probably also suck at working on your weaknesses.

So now I’ve beaten the crap out of myself, clearly identifying the dozens of things that I suck at, and what do I do? I add one more weakness: “working on my weaknesses.” Like most people, I suck at working on my weaknesses. I’m a person of habit, and changing those habits is really hard. If it weren’t hard, I’d have been a perfect human being since I was 4 years old, like Doogie Howser. Most athletes are the same way, but for some reason, after they go through a WIP brainstorm they assume they’ll be able to make 100 changes to their habits and everything will be fine. I just don’t work that way. I can’t change everything at once. If I try, I can guarantee that I’ll give up within a few weeks and lose all the gains I tried to make.

So instead of working on all my weaknesses, I think to myself, “If I can only focus on three to five of these, which ones are going to make the biggest difference in my performance, fitness or ultimate happiness?” Usually a few crop up to the top, the ones I know are really holding me back. The other ones, I let go. I know that I can’t do them all, and if I have a chance at making real change and progress, I’ve got to focus on the priorities. Otherwise, I risk making no gains at all. I’ll keep those other weaknesses on the list for next season.

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Step 3: Screw your weaknesses.

When I was a kid, I used to “help” my dad build stuff. During that time, there were only two ways to fasten together two pieces of wood: a nail and a screw. Nails were great because I could use a hammer and smash them in in an instant. But a lot of times (for me anyway) they’d bend, wouldn’t go in all the way, and I’d end up in a screaming rage smashing them into the wood sideways. Regardless, they rarely made the connection, and even if they did, they wouldn’t hold the wood together for long. Screws, on the other hand, took forever to set. They’d take thousands of small rotations with a screwdriver over and over again until my forearm felt like a brown banana. It was hard, slow and a little frustrating, but the screw would stay straight, keeping me engaged and encouraged. I was always on track to making it work. Eventually the screw spanned the length of the nail, perfectly straight, and provided a much stronger, more permanent connection.

So for me, improving on my weaknesses is just like building stuff as a kid. To get a solid, dependable, permanent connection, I need to use a screw and turn it a quarter-turn better each week, month or season at a time. That way I’ll stay engaged, getting the positive reinforcement of making small but steady, regular improvements. Instead of “eat healthy,” I’ll eat healthier one meal a day. Instead of “strength every day,” I do one session a week. Then when I’m comfortable with those changes, I turn the screw a little farther—two meals, two sessions and so on. I get gradual, consistent improvement by using small but sustainable changes in habits. Eventually I’ve fulfilled my goals and developed the habits that make the eradication of my weaknesses second nature. At that point, I’m ready to go back to my WIP list and do the whole thing all over again.

So there you have it: Dr. Jesse’s Three-step Plan to Screwing Your Weaknesses. BAM! No, wait, not bam. SCREW!

More “Triathlife” with Jesse Thomas.

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