Potential has a shelf life. – Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
I’m sure you heard it as a kid when you brought home a “C” on a math test.
“You’re not living up to your potential.”
Or maybe you were more of the athletic type and were often praised for how much potential you have on the field or court.
As you’ve become a little bit older you may even say it to yourself.
- This business idea has so much potential
- This relationship has so much potential
- This _________ has so much potential
Have you ever really sat down and thought about what living up to your potential actually means? The idea of living up to your potential automatically places you in a mindset where limits are established. If you believe there is only so much you are capable of or can achieve than you will only work so hard, you’re creating a ceiling for yourself. But if you perceive your potential to be limitless and yourself to be capable of achieving anything; then your efforts, thoughts, and desires will reflect that.
Penelope Trunk articulated the idea of living up to your potential beautifully
“…The idea that we somehow have a certain amount of potential that we must live up to is a complete crock. People who say they are not living up to their potential do not understand what living means…”
Instead of trying to define your potential and chasing a standard for yourself that has a ceiling what other steps can you take to make sure that you are constantly improving, developing, and achieving?
The solution: Make sure you’re being true to yourself, get clear on what you want, and focus on making progress each day and evaluating constantly.
STOP LOOKING FOR POTENTIAL AND START LIVING IT
I don’t know about you but trying to quantify your potential should be a shame, a mockery, a shamockery.
Every day you wake up you’re embracing your potential, you have the ability to create, do, and be anything you want that day.
Recently a long distance swimmer by the name of Diana Nyad became the first swimmer to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys without a shark cage. A 103 mile swim that includes jelly fish stings, the risk of shark attacks, and the power of the gulf winds.
Oh yeah, and she’s 64 years old.
Diana had failed on previous attempts at accomplishing the feat. In 2011, she swam for 41 hours but was forced to stop as the stings from the jelly fish compromised her health and safety. In 2012, Diana attempted the swim again but this time armored with a special suit to combat the viscous jelly fish stings. However, after 51 hours and 5 minutes in the water she was forced to stop again as the jelly fish repeatedly struck her lips where the suit had an opening.
On September 2nd, 2013 at 1:53PM and after 110 miles, 52 hours, 54 minutes, and 18 seconds in the water Diana accomplished this goal of hers.
Training, nutrition, and physical preparation for something like this is mandatory but just as important is mental preparation and the belief that our abilities are limitless.
You and I can accomplish anything but in order to do so we have to truly believe we are worthy and capable of such a feat.
In his book Psychology of Winning, Denis Waitley tells us that we can make ourselves happy or miserable by changing the contents of consciousness (or your interpretation) of an event. I believe that we can make ourselves achieve some extraordinary things simply my changing our beliefs about what we are capable of.
“…It was not just about the physical, but the mental,” Diane told NBC News. “I am sure there are faster swimmers out there and stronger swimmers out there…”
Diana tested her potential through her experiences.
She had previously attempted the swim and failed due to constant stings from jelly fish. Diana assessed her first attempt, made adjustments to her wet suite to combat the jelly fish and gave it another go. She failed again has the winds and jelly fish stings kept her from her goal. But she didn’t give up, she evaluated the circumstances again. She knew she was prepared physically but knew she needed to step up her mental game.
“…Bonnie and my crew couldn’t find anything to eat or drink that I could keep down.” Nyad had said “I was vomiting constantly, almost throughout the whole 53 hours. You don’t have strength any more. I wasn’t out there just kind of swimming and daydreaming like usual. I was dealing with a crisis…”
The more you try the more mistakes you’ll make
Unfortunately so many of us are terrified of making mistakes that we never even try.
- I’m not good enough
- I’m not deserving
- People will laugh at me
- I’ll make a fool out of myself
- It will be embarrassing
The very definition of potential discusses having or showcasing the ability but you’ll never know if you have the ability if you don’t even try. Diana here had no guarantee if she could accomplish the feat but she was confident that she could and decided to just get started.
In order to grow and change in the present you have to remove the obstacles that stand in your way by experimenting.
- You will fail
- You will make mistakes
- It will be embarrassing
- And people may laugh at you
The difference between those that reach their dreams and ambitions and those that don’t is the perseverance to push through these factors and do the work anyway.
GET CLEAR SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE WORKING TOWARDS
It’s hard to see improvements or find motivation to keep working hard if you don’t know what you’re working towards.
What do you want in some of the key aspects of life?
- Fun and recreation
One way to get clear about what it is you actually want is to identify where you currently are?
The start of happiness has a wonderful resource know as the Wheel of life that I have used many times before to help get some clarity. Print out the wheel yourself and get to work.
- Create your own sections of the wheel and evaluate how satisfied you are within in area of your life.
- In which areas do you really want to create change and excel?
- List all obstacles (environment, people, mindset, health, etc…)
- Assess-create-implement: You’ve assessed where you’re at, now create one small step you can take tomorrow that will get you closer to where you want to be in one area of your life. For example, if you want to get healthier tomorrow you can perform a kitchen makeover, or maybe commit to drinking only zero calorie beverages.
JUST GIVE ME PROGRESS
In her book The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile discusses how we actually just want to see progress towards our goals and the actual achievement of them is often less rewarding. Small wins that we can experience each day release dopamine in our brains which helps to stimulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
But the progress you make has to be meaningful to you.
“…When we talk about meaningful work, we do not necessarily mean lofty goals like curing cancer, only that the work be of value to the person doing it. In fact, meaningful work can be as ordinary as providing customers with a useful service or a quality product. But for the progress principle to take effect, the work must be meaningful in some way to the person…”
Teresa suggests blocking out a minimum of 20 minutes each day to making progress towards something meaningful to you. First thing in the morning is an ideal time to do so in order to avoid your willpower being depleted through various activities during the day.
Personal setbacks are one of the biggest obstacles you will face as you strive for progress. It has been shown that setbacks are actually have a 2-3 times stronger effect on us than positive effects.
“…Setbacks have a negative effect on inner work life that’s 2-3 times stronger than the positive effect of progress. When we checked into whether other researchers had found something similar, we learned that it’s a general psychological effect; “bad is stronger than good.” The reason could be evolutionary. Maybe we pay more attention to negatives, and are more affected by them, out of self-preservation. So – because positive inner work life is so important for top performance, leaders should do whatever they can to root out negative forces…”
And this bad is stronger than good effect is even seen in our personal relationships.
“…The implication for all of us in long-term relationships is both instructive and daunting: If you have a bad interaction with your partner, following up with a positive one (or apparently two, three, or four) won’t be enough to dig out of that hole. Average five or more and you might stay in his or her good graces….” –HBR.org
It’s going to be impossible to avoid setbacks but striving for small wins each day instead of dramatic changes makes it much more likely for you to avoid some of the mistakes that could lead to this setback effect.
Making progress isn’t enough, you have to measure it as well. Make lists of past experiences or accomplishments in which you had to overcome obstacles, take body measurements if you have some fitness goals you are striving for, write down workouts to see if you are getting stronger or faster, keep a log of ways in which you were able to contribute positively at work or make dents in a project, etc…
WHAT ABOUT SOME OF THESE CRAZIES?
I recently read a great article about 5 successful men that broke all the rules and I’m one to agree that in order to go places where most are not you’re going to have to be a bit different and to not be afraid to shake things up a bit.
What can we learn from a few of these crazies?
1. Have the audacity to break the rules: The willingness to take bold risks is often whats sets the have’s apart from the have-nots. Conventional wisdom is for the birds. Your nutrition, exercise plan, career, relationships, and beliefs are not required to fit any particular mold in order to get results. Take a look at those around you that you consider successful in a particular area of their life. What bold outside-the-box move did they make to catapult them there?
2. People skills: It’s a safe bet to say that you’re going to need a strong team in you corner if you want to maximize your life. There are even a few steps you can instantly take to help you become more likeable, approachable, and trustworthy (1)
- Make eye contact
- Touch/Physical contact (when appropriate)
- Master of conversation (get people to talk about themselves)
- Having empathy
- Displaying gratefulness and appreciation
- See the sunny side of everything and become an optimist
- Give more than you receive
3. Feel with your heart, think with your head, but trust your gut: If you’re a heart thinker you make most decisions based on your emotions and if you are not in control of them this is when things can get rough as you most often ignore the logical side of things. As for you head thinkers logical reasoning usually comes into play but your emotions can be pushed to the side and at certain times you make come off as lacking empathy. But by trusting your gut you can’t go wrong.
Your brain actually stores and recalls information based on past experiences, something you read, a conversation you had, or a host of other things. It builds a library of sorts to pull from when you have to make certain decisions. To tap into the power of your gut instinct there are a few things you can begin to try.
- Ask yourself questions: What is your reason for acting? Is it to impress others? Is this what I really want?
- Meditate: Let that brain clear up and allow thoughts to pass.
- Journal: Write down thoughts, feelings, anything really. It will allow for a mind and heart dump.
- Get creative: Intuition comes from the right side, often associated with our creative side. Strengthen this side by allowing yourself to embrace creativity through dance, art, music, or visualization.
YOUR PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
Your life is your personal pursuit of excellence and your excellence has no limits, your potential is infinite. As you continue to grow you will undoubtedly make improvements and constantly be pushing the envelope to what you originally thought was possible.
Any apprehensions you feel along the way are normal and should be embraced, this is positive tensions at its best. Think of it as a rubber band and as you pull it back the tensions gets tighter and tighter, almost as if it will snap but as it is released a tremendous force is seen and amazing results can be experienced.
See how far you can pull that rubber band back.
Where do you want to see personal growth and what steps do you plan on taking to help get you there today?
Photo – Todd Quackenbush