Manage your inhibitions

I have always had my doubts about the psychological notions of introversion and extroversion, as if we can simply pigeonhole people into one category or the other. Sociology teaches us that people will generally behave differently in different circumstances. Someone who may appear quite introverted and uncomfortable at a party, may come across as very extroverted when performing on stage for their local amateur dramatic society. Likewise, someone who is the life and soul of the party may be very self-contained and appear introverted when dealing with someone who is distressed. Different people have different comfort zones.

However, what the introversion-extroversion axis revolves around is how we manage our inhibitions. We have bodily systems that will serve to protect us when we feel we may be in danger, including the fight or flight mechanism of adrenaline being pumped into the blood stream. In many situations where we feel threatened, we will withdraw, we will become inhibited for the benefit of our safety and self-preservation. This can include withdrawing from physical threats, but also from psychological ones, such as losing face or being humiliated.

So, I agree with the psychological idea that different people will have different ‘thresholds’ for when their inhibitions kick in, some people doing so much more readily than others. However, we need to counterbalance this with the sociological idea that different social settings will spur different reactions. Just attaching an ‘introvert’ or ‘extrovert’ label is therefore an oversimplification. To get an adequate understanding of what is happening, we need to take account of the psychological and sociological insights.

What does that mean for each of us? Well, at the very least, it means that we can benefit from knowing two things about ourselves:

  1. Am I someone whose inhibitions and defences kick in easily or not so easily?
  2. In what circumstances am I more or less likely to become inhibited?

It is important to know the answers to these two questions, as this knowledge could help us to become more skilled at managing our inhibitions. Why do we need to manage our inhibitions? The short answer is that it can be an empowering process that gives us greater control over how we react in difficult situations.

For example, if we have a tendency to hold back very easily, we may be denying ourselves important opportunities. In such circumstances we may also come across as unconfident and unassertive, thereby putting ourselves at a disadvantage in terms of our interactions with others. If, by contrast, we are too slow to allow our inhibitions to kick in, we may find that we are placing ourselves at unnecessary risk – whether physical risk (aggression) or emotional risk (embarrassing ourselves and possibly others). Similarly, if we are aware of what our potential ‘trigger’ situations are, we can be better equipped to control our reactions. For example, if we know that we struggle to deal with situations involving conflict, we may be better prepared to handle such interactions when called upon to do so. In effect, managing our inhibitions can be seen as an important aspect of self-awareness.

So, what it comes down to is two things. The first is clarifying whether you need to take a little longer before you allow your defensive inhibitions to kick in or do you perhaps need to implement them sooner? Only you can answer those questions, but people who know you well will no doubt be able to offer an opinion if you venture to ask them. Second, you need to be aware of what type of situation is potentially problematic for you: What are the circumstances where you may be prone to be nervous and thereby run the risk of activating your inhibitions too soon, and/or what are the circumstances where you feel very relaxed and comfortable and may therefore risk being overconfident and not activating your inhibitions too late? Important food for thought.

Do something you don’t want to do

At the end of my first year at university, my tutor said to me: ‘Neil, you have a lot of strengths, but the trouble is that you are always playing to them’. He went on to explain that what he meant was that I was well aware of what I was good at and what I was not so good at, and I always headed straight for what I knew I could do well and steered clear of anything I wasn’t so sure of. The problem with that approach, he said, is that you will never develop, never extend your repertoire. And he was right. I was quite happy to stay in my comfort zone, and he helped me realise that would hold me back.

So, after that, I started trying out new things, doing things I didn’t want to do. While, at first, I didn’t like it and was beginning to doubt the wisdom of his advice, it wasn’t long before I was seeing the fruits of this new approach. I began to realise that it doesn’t take long to get used to new, unfamiliar territory and that there was a lot to be gained from doing so, not least a sense of achievement and progress.

Of course, I came across things that were beyond me, challenges that were a step too far. But even that was a positive thing as it helped me recognise my limitations. No one can be good at everything, but if you stick to what you know you are good at, there may be things that you can become good at that you will never know about, because you are not prepared to venture that far. This experience made me realise that what had been holding me back was a fear of failure – by sticking to my strengths, I knew that failure was unlikely. What I have learned since then is that failure is nothing to fear. As I have said before and will no doubt say again, failure is not the opposite of success, it is a component of success – you can’t succeed without trying and you can’t realistically expect to succeed every time you try.

Failing can be painful, but if you expect to be able to succeed every time, then you are making any failures that do crop up all the more difficult to bear – or you are doing what I used to do, namely constantly playing to your strengths and thereby denying yourself the opportunity to turn weaknesses into strengths.

 Another tutor used to say: ‘Attitude is everything’, and while I think that the ‘everything’ bit is an exaggeration, I would certainly agree that our attitude, the way we approach a situation and the mindset we adopt in doing so, is very important. While some people create problems for themselves by approaching situations with an attitude of ‘I am going to fail’ (which makes it much more likely that they will), others can create problems by having an attitude of ‘I must not fail’ which creates all sorts of unnecessary difficulties.

By following my tutor’s advice to look beyond what I was already good at, I have since become good at things I would never have dreamed of doing well, while also learning that there are things that I am just not cut out for. These insights have been an important part of self-awareness and have stood me in good stead over the years.

So, why not give it a try? There’s no need to set yourself up to fail by trying something that you know to be beyond you, but there will be very many things you are not keen to try that could open doors for you – and those could be an important part of your personal and professional development.

Connect with people and places that matter to you

I have been involved in studying (and tackling) stress for decades. A number of things have stood out for me from my activity in this area. One important one is that there is a danger that, when pressures start to mount, people have a tendency to stop doing things that normally help them cope and keep pressures within manageable limits (and thereby avoid stress). Ironically, this then has the effect of making stress more likely: just as pressures are mounting, we start doing less of the things that counteract stress. For example, the person who really benefits from going to the gym regularly and is able to use that to keep pressures under control may reach the point, once pressures start to multiply, of not bothering to go to the gym – they don’t feel up to it. The person who gets a lot of benefit from talking over problems with trusted friends and colleagues may keep their own counsel and not say anything when the pressures reach a certain level – they don’t feel comfortable talking about it any more. People who cope with pressures through humour don’t think it is funny any more and withdraw into themselves, switching off the humour, thereby putting themselves in a situation where they feel the pressures more acutely.

Different people can experience this general trend in different ways. However, what my experience has taught me is that a recurring theme is the tendency to cut ourselves off from the people and places that matter to us. It is as if it is a self-protective mechanism. Once pressures start to bother us, we need to be spending more time with the people who matter to us, more time at the places that matter to us, but, in reality, what so often happens is that we do the opposite. Perhaps it is because we feel vulnerable and so want to withdraw into our shell, in the hope that we will feel safer that way. But, whatever the reason, the result is the same: at the very time we need the benefits of supportive people and the reassuring familiarity of places we know and love, we may choose to move away from them.

This has (at least) two sets of implications. First, it is important for ourselves. We need to be aware of this danger and be prepared to counteract it in any reasonable way we can. That is, we need to be prepared to fight the tendency to disconnect ourselves at the very time we would benefit from connecting. There is no set way of doing this, no guaranteed formula. However, there are plenty of options to explore. Think carefully about what might work for you. One possibility is to make two lists. List one: think about the people who matter to you. Who are the people whose company offers you something positive? Who are the people who help you recharge your batteries and feel good about yourself? List two: think about the places you have positive associations with. What are the places that give you a positive sense of well-being and comfort? Places can be important, because, if you are so tense that you can’t face spending time with people, there are still places that can have a renewing effect.

Second, we can – gently, sensitively, supportively – encourage others (without pressurising them) to connect more to their important people and places if we notice that this disempowering process is happening to them. We have to be very careful to make sure that this does not amount to kicking them when they are down – gently does it, and be prepared to back off quickly if it is clearly not what they want or is not something they are ready for yet.

So, connecting with people and places that matter to us is something we should not lose sight of, however much or little pressure we are under.

Get perspective – Look up at the stars

These days so many people seem to lead very busy, pressurised lives. One of the results of that can be a narrow focus on the last mistake, the next deadline and so on. It can so easily become the case that all we see is the pressure and the potential problems. This can especially be the case when work pressures combine with pressures at home (and, indeed, they can reinforce each other).

One of the dangers in situations like this is that we lose perspective, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We can easily start to think that all there is to life is pressure and problems. That can create a sense of defeatism and even cynicism and things can start to crowd in on us.

We can then get into an escalation situation. Problems seem to be greater than they really are. Solutions seem out of reach. Confidence goes down and a sense of foreboding gets greater. We can become trapped in a cocoon of negativity.

Although at times it can be more easily said than done, what can be a useful antidote to this is to look up at the stars, appreciate how big the universe and therefore how minor our concerns are by comparison.  The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, made the famous comment that the vastness of the universe and its ‘eternal silences’ frightened him. I’m not sure about it being frightening, but perhaps unnerving. But, on a more positive note, it can help us put our own trials and tribulations in perspective.

There are billions of stars in a galaxy and more galaxies in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth, so that should help to show just how small our pressures are in the overall scheme of things. This is not to belittle the importance of our concerns, but, rather to balance them out, to see them in perspective. That perspective should make us feel less pressurised and give us more strength to do what we need to do to move forward positively.

It is easy to understand how readily we can find ourselves in that situation where we feel surrounded by problems and challenges, perhaps wondering if there will be a more relaxed time. But, that does not alter the fact that it is not a good place to be or that there isn’t a better, more balanced way of looking at things.

So, it can be important to ask yourself whether your life is balanced in terms of its focus. Are you seeing your life and its pressures in perspective? Or is there a danger that your focus is too narrow and too negative? Also, what is happening in terms of the people around you? Are they influencing you in the direction of a narrow focus, or perhaps that is what you are doing to them?

There is no simple way to get a sense of perspective, but it is certainly worth the effort of trying to do so. It might be helpful to think about who wold be well placed to support you in this. Who do you know who has that knack of keeping a clear focus on their problems and pressures, but also seeing them as art of a wider picture? How might they help you do the same?

Be clear about your goals

When I undertook my management training many years ago we were taught the importance of a ‘strategic’ approach, which meant at all times being clear about what we were trying to achieve – that is, what our strategic goals are. Our strategy, then, is the plan for achieving these goals, hence the term ‘strategic’. At that point I had been a practising social worker for a number of years and, to me, having clarity about what we were trying to achieve was second nature. So, I was surprised when so many of the other students on the course seemed to think that this ideas of a ‘strategic’ approach was something new and exciting.

Since then I have learned that I should not have been surprised by this. I have come to realise that it is not uncommon for people to lack clarity about their goals or how they are going to achieve them. This is because, whether at work or in our private lives, it is so easy to get bogged down with ‘getting on with it’. At home, it can be about making sure the bills get paid and so on – just the day-to-day chores of earning a living and keeping a household going can take up not just a lot of time and effort, but also space in our head. Similarly, at work, just getting through the day and the demands made on us – especially if you work somewhere where demands come at you from different angles – can be enough to fill your diary and your head. This can be especially the case in workplaces cultures that are characterised by a ‘heads down, get on with it’ culture, with little or no room for reflective practice.

While this state of affairs is understandable, it is far from desirable. As the old saying goes, ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there’. If you are not sure what you are trying to achieve, how do you make informed choices about how to move forward? How do you know whether your time, effort or other resources are being used to best effect? How do you know whether you are wasting your time?

Also, if you are not clear where you are trying to get to, you may well be prey to one or more unscrupulous people manoeuvring you into helping them get where they want to be – that is, they use you by capitalising on your lack of a sense of direction.

There is also the issue of confidence to consider. If we are clear about what we are trying to achieve and this is apparent to the people around us, they are more likely to trust us and have confidence in us – in other words, our credibility will be higher. By contrast, if people get the impression we are drifting, unclear about what we are doing and where we are going, they are likely to have much less faith in us and therefore a lower level of confidence. If we become aware that people have less confidence in us, that can mean that we have less confidence in ourselves and a vicious circle can be created. Contrast that with the confidence boost we can have if we are aware that we have a good level of credibility and people have confidence in us because they know we are clear about where we are trying to get to and how we are going to get there.

And, finally, there is the question of leadership. An effective leader is someone who helps people to understand where they are trying to get to and supports them and inspires them in trying to get there. Having clarity about our own goals, then, can be seen as a feature of ‘self-leadership’ and all the benefits that brings.

Pick yourself up!

The idea that you should get straight back on the bike as soon as you have fallen off is not a new one and is not without its usefulness. Things that we associate with pain and fear have a nasty habit of weighing heavily on our minds and thereby stopping us from getting on with our lives. The longer we leave it before getting back on that bike, literally or metaphorically, the harder it becomes to do so. This is because the negative feelings generated initially have had chance to establish themselves and loom large to us. We are allowing obstacles to progress to establish a foothold.

And ‘allowing’ is a key word here because it does not have to be this way. We can distance ourselves from such problems by ‘picking ourselves up’ – that is, recognising that things have not gone as we would want, but using that negativity to make us all the more determined to move forward positively in whatever ways we can.

The technical term for this is ‘resilience’, what is often referred to as ‘bouncebackability’. It relates to the way in which we have the potential to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. Life knocks us down and we pick ourselves up as best we can.

For some people it’s a case of being knocked down and staying down, being diminished as a person in the process. There may be various reasons for this, such as a lack of confidence. Sadly, it can also be the case that some people do not pick themselves up because they have been knocked down so many times that they have lost the will to get up. Alternatively, the impact of being knocked down can be so severe and overwhelming that we just do not feel capable of picking ourselves up. Abuse and other traumatic experiences can come into this category.

So, it is important not to be judgemental about anyone who does not bounce back – it is a complex set of factors that we are encountering. Making judgements about people and situations we do not fully understand can be dangerous and counterproductive.

Ideally, what we should aim for is not only to pick ourselves up, but also to learn from the experience, to come out of it stronger and better equipped for the next time adversity strikes – and, of course, it will strike again sooner or later, we all know that.

But, of course, that is easier said than done. None the less, it is still worth the effort to get the benefits that can be gained. It is partly a matter of attitude. If we approach such situations with a negative, defeatist attitude, it is unlikely that the results will be positive. However, if, by contrast, we approach such circumstances with a positive attitude it is much more likely that we will indeed secure a more positive outcome.

We can also build on our successes. A small success after one episode of adversity can give us the confidence to take a bigger step next time, and so on, steadily building up a momentum in a positive direction.

We should also do our best to avoid obstacles, not least by steering clear of people’s negativity that can drag us down. Sadly, some people go a long way to encourage negativity in others, perhaps because it makes them feel more comfortable about their own ingrained negativity towards themselves.

The more effective you become at picking yourself up after life has knocked you down, the better equipped you become to help others do the same and the more you get out of your life into the bargain.

There’s no such thing as willpower

To hear people talk about willpower you would think it was some mystical power that we all have to varying degrees. Those with a lot of will power are able to do difficult things like give up smoking or lose weight, while – or so it would seem – those with a low level of willpower are doomed to continue smoking or continue to be overweight. The reality is not so simple.

As human beings we are complex creatures, and part of that complexity is facing conflicting desires. I want to lose weight, but I also want that extra portion of potatoes and a piece of cake to follow it. I can’t have it both ways, so what happens? Well, in short what will happen is that I will follow the course of action that represents what I want more. If losing weight is more important to me than enjoying those calories, then I will resist the temptation. However, if the pleasure of consuming those calories appeals more than the idea of losing weight, I will choose to tuck in. There is no magical or mystical ‘willpower’ – it boils down to which we want more.

What complicates matters is that much will depend on the circumstances at the time – that is, there will be contextual factors that will influence which preference I rate above another at any given moment. If someone has just really annoyed me by, for example, promising to do something by a particular time and then putting me in a very difficult position when they don’t actually do it, then my preference for ‘comfort eating’ to manage my feelings of annoyance and disappointment at that point may displace my desire to lose weight, and so I go for the extra food option. However, consider a different scenario. Imagine that I have just found out that someone I know who was quite overweight has died of a heart attack at just 49 years of age. At that moment my commitment to losing weight is more likely to come to the fore, enabling me to find it easier to resist those tempting calories.

There will be other factors too. Today it’s a friend’s birthday and everyone is overeating, so I find it much easier to join in the indulgence. Tomorrow, though, I may well find myself breathless after walking up two flights of stairs and I will be determined to decline the biscuits that will be offered at the meeting I am going to.

What will make a difference is how consistent we can manage to be. If, for example, I am determined to lose weight, then I know that I must be consistent in how I approach the subject. Being careful about what I eat and taking exercise one day and stuffing my face, with no exercise the next will not help me achieve what I want to. And, in addition, there is a fair chance that I will feel disappointed in myself for letting myself down – allegedly because I see myself as ‘lacking will power’, which comes to be seen as a personal failing. In turn, that can become an excuse, an example of bad faith, when we say to ourselves: ‘There’s no point trying to lose weight. I haven’t got the willpower’.

There is, then, no ‘willpower’ that we need to harness. We just need to be clear which of the conflicting desires is more important to us and try to be as consistent as we can in evolving circumstances. It can help too to be aware of who and what will influence our choices, so that we are in a stronger, better-informed position to make the choices that matter to us.

Take control

Having little or no sense of control is a key factor in stress. People who are under immense pressure will often not get stressed while they have some degree of control over those pressures. At the same time, some people can face fairly modest levels of pressure, but be highly stressed because they have little sense of control over the circumstances they are in. Control, or our sense of control, will often be the difference between being stressed and not. A vicious circle can easily develop in which feeling stressed affects our coping abilities and then we feel that we have less control. Our sense of control goes down and down.

Similarly, control is a factor in anxiety. People who are feeling anxious much of the time will generally have concerns about control – feeling very uneasy about either what they can’t control (what is often referred to as ‘worry’, emotional energy going into things we can do little or nothing about) or what they can control (often referred to as Angst or anguish – anxiety about making the wrong choice or getting a decision wrong). Worry and anguish can be very different, with different causes and different consequences. However, what they have in common is our sense of control (or lack of it). Feeling anxious can make us feel even less in control, and so another vicious circle around control develops – anxiety begets anxiety.

Furthermore, control can be seen as an important factor in depression. Often depression arises from a sense of powerlessness that can overwhelm us in certain circumstances – we feel overtaken by a sense of having no control: nothing works, nothing makes a difference, and so we retreat. That retreat, the withdrawal (for our own safety and security) gives us less control over our situation, reinforcing our sense of powerlessness. And there we have it, another vicious circle.

To cap it all, being involved in a vicious circle can in itself undermine our sense of control, our sense of ‘personal efficacy’, to use the technical term. We feel disempowered by it.

Of course, no one has complete control over their circumstances; there will always be things that we can do nothing about. The philosophical term for this is ‘facticity’. If you are cut, you will bleed. You have no choice in the matter. However, it is also true to say that there is never a situation that we have no control over – there is always some way we can (and have to) react to the situation. What that means is that, in all circumstances, we are always somewhere along the continuum between complete control and no control. Or, to put it another way, in every situation there we will be things we can’t control, but there will also be things we can control.

However, having strong sense of having little or no control (because we are stressed, anxious, depressed or for whatever other reason) can mean that we focus too much on what we can’t control, and what we can control becomes blurred, out of focus and unclear to us. What can then happen is a process known as ‘self-disempowerment’. We develop an unbalanced perspective on the situation, with the issues that constrain us brightly illuminated and the factors that empower us hidden in the shadows.

So, one important thing for us to do (and perhaps help others to do at times) is to try and develop a more balanced picture of the circumstances we are in, avoiding the unhelpful extremes of (i) the ‘nothing is impossible’ naivety of overoptimism; and (ii) the destructive defeatism and cynicism of a ‘there’s nothing I can do about it’ attitude. The first step is to be crystal clear about what you can control and get busy controlling it as best you can.

Think laterally

It is Edward de Bono’s name that is most closely associated with the notion of lateral thinking, although the basic idea behind it (the importance of thinking creatively and not getting stuck in tramlines) long predates his work. What de Bono did was to put the ideas across clearly and effectively.

In our day-to-day lives we generally rely on established ways of thinking and behaving. Life would be intolerable if, at every step of the way, we had to think consciously about what we are going to do next or how we are going to do it. Established patterns are needed for dealing with mundane, routine matters. However, the price we pay for this convenience is that there is a danger that we will get stuck in those routines (‘tramlines’, as they are often called) when we need to be thinking more reflectively about the situation we find ourselves in. This is where lateral thinking comes in.

From time to time we will come across situations where our usual ways of operating, our usual problem-solving strategies, are not working – they just don’t fit the situation we are in. We are then faced with two main options:

  1. We can carry on doing what we normally do, even though this is clearly not working (or would be clear if we thought about the situation); or
  2. We can start to think laterally – that is, explore other ways of tackling the situation by thinking creatively and not following our usual tramlines.

It does not take much to work out that Option 2 is likely to be much more fruitful and therefore a much wiser course of action. However, despite this, it is amazing how often people will stick with Option 1. This is no doubt partly because, in a situation where things are not working out, we can become anxious. That anxiety can then lower confidence and discourage us from trying anything new – with the result that we stay within our (now largely ineffective) tramlines. In some situations like this the consequences can be relatively minor. However, in many circumstances the consequences can be quite serious – for example, where someone becomes dependent on alcohol or drugs or engages in other self-destructive behaviours. Their reluctance to go beyond their tramlines can then prove to be highly detrimental over time.

So, how do we break out of those tramlines? A key part of the answer to this is being prepared to try new things – nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the cliché has it. Try the following:

  • Brainstorming This involves writing a list of as many ways forward as you can think of, however crazy, zany or impracticable they may initially seem. Most of them, when you subsequently review the list, will be unworkable. But, having let your creative juices flow, you may well find that there are some gems among the not-so-helpful ideas that give you a fresh insight and some potential ways forward. Many people misunderstand brainstorming; they see it as a straightforward process of making a rational list of possibilities. In this way the creative element and the value it offers are lost.
  • Learning from others How do other people tackle the issues you now face? Is there anything you can learn from them? Different people will often have different problem-solving styles or strategies, and so looking at the diverse range of options available can give you some good ideas at times.
  • Changing perspectives This involves trying to move away from your own preconceptions. It involves imagining that you are approaching the situation from a different perspective, wearing somebody else’s hat, as it were. Think of someone who occupies a different role from yourself. How might they view the situation differently? Does that open up doors to approaching your problem form a different angle? A variation on this theme is to give yourself advice. Imagine someone coming to you with the problem that you now face. What advice might you give them? This technique does not work for everyone, but it can be very effective in some circumstances as it involves moving away from our usual viewpoint.

Lateral thinking can take some time to get used to, but the positive results it can bring make it a very worthwhile investment of time and effort.

Turn weaknesses into strengths

Many years ago, a trusted mentor said to me: ‘Neil, you have a lot of strengths, and you keep playing to them. How will you develop new strengths if you are constantly focusing on what you are already good at?’.  He went on to explain that what I was doing was very common, but it was also a very common way of standing in the way of my own development. What he encouraged me to do was to be clear about what areas I was not so strong in and look at how I could improve in those areas. From this discussion emerged the idea of turning weaknesses into strengths.

It is easy to feel embarrassed about what we are not very good at. The fear of being looked down upon, or even mocked is a strong and understandable one. So, it is not at all surprising that we have a strong attraction to sticking to what we are good at. Our self-esteem can suffer if we stray too far into the territory of ‘I’m not very good at this’. But, if we take it step by step, keep the process manageable and not overwhelming, then we can have a lot of success in ironing out weaknesses and, where possible, actually building them up into strengths.

One useful tool for doing this is a SWOT analysis. This involves identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This can be done in a helpful and straightforward way by taking a sheet of paper and dividing it into four sections, with Strengths and Weaknesses across the top and Opportunities and Threats across the bottom. Begin with the positives (Strengths and Opportunities), then balance this out with the negatives (Weaknesses and Threats). Once you have completed this your next step can be to look at how you can use elements of the positives to address elements of the weaknesses. For example, if you are good at communicating in writing, but tend to get nervous and tongue tied when communicating face to face, you can start to think about what it is that makes you good at communicating in writing (for example, being clear about what point you are trying to put across) and seeing whether you can adapt that to how you communicate in person.

This is just one example of what can be achieved through a SWOT analysis; there are, of course, many more. It is a case of seeing what works for you. If a SWOT analysis does not appeal to you, then there is no need to use it. You can simply identify what areas you feel you could improve on and see what steps you feel you could take to develop your abilities.

Whether or not you use a SWOT analysis, what can also be helpful is to learn from others. Who do you know who is good at something you struggle with? Watch them carefully. What is it they do that makes them so good? Is there anything you can learn from that? If you know them well enough, and trust them, why not talk to them about what it is they do so well? See if they have any tips or suggestions that may be of value to you.

But, an important rider is that you should not simply copy what they do. What works for them will not necessarily work for you. So, unthinkingly just aping their behaviour may cause you some difficulties. But, if you look more reflectively at what it is they are doing and how they are doing it, there may well be some very important lessons you can learn.

Turning weaknesses into strengths is not compulsory, of course, but it can give you new opportunities, new avenues for making progress and a real sense of achievement.

For more information about SWOT analysis and other useful ‘tools’, see Thompson, N. (2012) The People Solutions Sourcebook, 2nd edn, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.