Life is a complex journey. There are so many routes to success that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities.
People tend to constantly be looking to the future for the establishment of their happiness and success. And while a glimpse of one’s end goal can provide valuable motivation, we must still map out a route to actually bring us to our destination.
We can more effectively plot our own course if we better understand where we presently are, our strengths, our weaknesses, and how we can improve upon our current situation.
There is a simple business tool called a “SWOT Analysis” that can help us get a better grasp on our own personal journey.
SWOT is an acronym that stands for – “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.”
Traditionally, one would use a four block diagram or lists to brainstorm each of these categories in the context of a business operation. Since we are more focused on personal development, we need to approach this analysis in a different way.
Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors while Opportunities and Threats are external forces that may try to influence or push us in a particular direction.
Let’s look at each one in turn…
Strengths are factors within your control that include positive forces one can harness. These are not only positive factors about one’s personality or self, but also external resources that one can tap to try to make progress.
Under Strengths, you’ll want to answer questions like…
1. What do I do well? What talents do I have? What positive traits can I harness? What knowledge and experience can I leverage to move toward my goals?
Am I a free spirited or technical thinker? Would I benefit more from a rigid roadmap, or is it better if I have a more loose approach to my personal development?
Note: even if you’re the freest spirit in the world, it is beneficial to have at least a general roadmap and idea of where you want to get to.
2. What resources do I have available to me? Resources may include books, videos, counseling services, support groups, family, friends… essentially anything that can be tapped to help improve one’s situation.
That is not to suggest that you should use anyone for your own ends, just that other people have their own body of knowledge and experience that may help illuminate your own path.
3. What sacrifices can I make for the sake of my own progress? A sacrifice may not seem like a strength, but it is, because you’re giving up something you have for the ability to make progress.
That may be cutting back on a hobby or frivolous activities that can free up additional resources for more important things.
Weaknesses are factors that will impede your ability to progress. They may include things like economic position, character flaws, medical problems, and even other people.
Under Weaknesses you’ll want to answer questions like…
1. What aspects of myself are holding me back? Do I procrastinate too much? Am I too lazy in my approach toward life? Am I settling for the absence of bad instead of pursuing something good? Am I complacent? Do I have any goals that I am pursuing?
2. Do I put others before myself? Do I let myself get sidetracked helping others? Do I martyr myself?
Many people get wrapped up in the drama and problems of their friends and family, choosing to focus on those things instead of dealing with their own issues.
A lot of times, those people who feel they are practicing compassion for others are actually just running away from their own problems. And, by diving deeply into the woes of their friends and family, they end up getting sucked into more negativity.
3. Do I have appropriate access to resources? A lot of spiritual and self-help works tend to stay away from “material things” like money. But the reality is that money and the resources it can provide you with can help you more quickly identify and tackle your weaknesses.
Take counseling, for example; it is a powerful tool that can be used to overcome not only mental health problems, but general life problems too.
Is a lack of resources – money, material things, and time among others – holding you back? What can be done to improve this situation?
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Opportunities are the catalysts that help facilitate change. These are things that can help provide you with a positive outcome on your journey.
Identifying Opportunities isn’t enough. You must also be willing to embrace the Opportunities that come along and follow through on them.
What are we looking for here?
1. Are there advancements I can make in my career? Are there avenues to add to my education or training? Am I regularly applying for other jobs to continue to look for new or better paid opportunities? Am I keeping necessary skills fresh and adding to them?
2. Has anyone offered to help me in ways that I can utilize? Do I have friends or family that I can lean on as I work toward these new goals? How can I make sure I am giving appropriate support and appreciation back to these people? If not today, then tomorrow?
3. What are my hang-ups about embracing opportunities? Are there ways that I can find peace with asking for or accepting help?
Many people have a hard time accepting help, often feeling they are burdening another person with their problems.
This can be reframed by offering whatever it is that you can provide to that person to help balance the scales. Maybe it’s a skill, knowledge, or even friendly support of your own.
There are Threats and obstacles that will present themselves as you work to improve and better yourself.
I would love to be able to tell you that you won’t face any, but you will. And by and large, the biggest Threats to your desire for self-improvement are other people and your own mind.
There are certainly people out there who will be supportive and uplifting in your efforts. There will also be people who look at your efforts to change and grow as negative, because it serves as a reminder of their own flaws or misery.
You need to take an honest look at the potential threats around you.
1. Audit your innermost circle. Are the people that surround you supportive? Do they help pick you up? Are they generally positive, and do they strive to be helpful to you and your life?
Or do they drag you down? Put you down? Insult you? Throw subtle jabs at you through their words to tear you down? Are they dependable or do they flake out on you?
Optimally, you should remove any negative people from your innermost circles. They will make your journey much harder, if not impossible.
2. What is your own mentality like? Do you have a positive perception of yourself? Or do you sabotage your own efforts with a lack of belief in your ability to succeed? Or your own capabilities?
What is your self-talk like? Are you positive and uplifting to yourself? Do you love yourself as well as you can? You don’t have to be fake positive, but you do need to not tear your own efforts to pieces should you swing low or suffer a setback.
Identifying these points in a personal SWOT Analysis can help you highlight the main focuses and threats to your progress.
Upon conducting such a personal analysis, you should attempt to: utilize your strengths to their fullest, address and overcome your weakness wherever possible, take advantage of all the opportunities available to you, and find ways to neutralize the threats or plan for them accordingly.
While contemplating each of these four areas, try to be as honest and realistic as possible. And be comprehensive; even if you don’t think something is important, write it down anyway. Knowledge of yourself and your environment is key to progressing in life.
Self-improvement can be a painful, difficult process. You may end up needing to leave certain people behind. You may end up needing to change not only your perception of the world, but that of yourself.
It is not an easy task if you are dealing with complicated issues, and it may not be something you can figure out on your own. And that’s okay. It’s impossible to know everything, but this should help you identify the salient points that will lead you to success.