A few years ago I got an email from a reader — let’s call him Arnie — seeking advice on how to grow his (written) blog. In his email he mentioned that he wasn’t good at writing and didn’t enjoy it. A sentence or two later, he mentioned how much he loved talking and creating videos.
Being distant enough from his own stories, it was clear to me — and probably to you — that he was asking the wrong question and fundamentally pursuing his goals in the wrong way. He didn’t need to grow his written blog; he needed to start a podcast or video blog.
What was so striking to me from his email was that the answer was right in front of him, but he just couldn’t see it. While this may be an extreme anecdote, it’s far from an isolated incident of the common counterproductive pattern of choosing harder-than-necessary ways to accomplish goals. If you’re being honest with yourself, I bet you can come up with something you’ve done over the last couple of weeks that could have been done a lot easier if you had based it upon your advantages.
Playing to Your Strengths
Rather than start your project on hard mode, why not take the upper hand by playing to your strengths? Playing to your strengths makes the project easier to do, and you’ll find flow more often when you’re using your strengths. The days of thriving Creative Giants are different precisely because they’re in flow while doing their best work.
Strengths come in different varieties, though, and the acronym GATES is a handy way to consider what you should base your projects on. GATES stands for:
- Genius. What seems to be an expression of an inner creative force.
- Affinities. What you’re drawn to do.
- Talents. What seems to be your native skills or capabilities.
- Expertise. What you’ve learned through experience and practice.
- Strengths. What seems to come easy for you.
For our present discussion, it’s not important to dive into how we acquire and hone each element of our GATES, since positive feedback and continuous practice cultivates all of them.
Once you have your GATES in play, you can start to build out how to overcome your tendency to make projects harder than they need to be.
Stop for a moment and list some of your GATES; don’t stop until you have about fifteen.
If you struggled to come up with fifteen, it’s probably because you followed the common pattern of only putting recognized professional skills on the list, but those are just a small subset of GATES. Consider the following as GATES:
- Curating music, paintings, or art
- Organizing data in spreadsheets
- Interacting with kids or pets
- Knowing Greek mythology
- Making cobblers
- Coming up with catchy names
- Performing improv
- Throwing parties
- Building workflows
- Deep reading
I could go on, but you get the gist. Your list of GATES is unique to you, and while it’s true that not all of them are relevant for your project, asking “Which of my GATES can I leverage to complete this project?” is a great place to start.
Putting Your GATES to Work on Your Project
Consider the graph below that has a column for GATES, methods, and goals. Methods is the only new category here, and I mean for it to be broad enough to cover actions, strategies, tactics, or techniques, since they all relate to how you’ll go about achieving a particular goal.
Most people find it easiest to work backward from the goal, but we’re not going to move right into listing methods, since doing so divorces the methods from your GATES. Rather, we start with GATES on the left side, then fill out the methods in between.
Let’s return to Arnie. Let’s assume his goals were to build an audience and increase his business revenue. That would go in the right-hand column. What Arnie did, though, was put “writing” in his method column. He mistook the method for the goal.
But consider what it would look like if he started with his GATES and then filled in the method. In the left-hand column, he would put “talking” and “creating videos.” It would then be clear that the pathway between his GATES and his goals would be podcasting and video blogging, and only doing as much writing as he absolutely had to do.
It’s true that Arnie may have eventually brute-forced his way to success, but damn if that wouldn’t be the hard way. Think about how much discipline and courage he’d have to muster to continue to improve his writing, as well as how much head trash he’d have to work through to get there. A fraction of that energy spent using what he was already good at would have gone much, much further.
Using Your GATES to Avoid Head Trash
You may have noticed that Arnie discounted his GATES. That’s also a common pattern. This is where your success pack comes in, as they can and will often reflect your GATES back to you. And if you seed it, they may also help you see how to weave your GATES into the methods to use to reach your goals.
While we’ve discussed the GATES framework in the context of a project, consistent use of your GATES across your life and work helps overcome head trash and having too few resources from the air sandwich. If you’re playing from your weaknesses, it’s much easier for shame and struggle stories to win out, and whatever resources you have don’t go nearly as far.
And it’s much more fun to be working on projects that light you up, in ways that light you up. GATES can buoy your efforts in moving that idea to project to done.