I’m super excited to be talking about potential this week because it’s at the heart of what I do and represents what I stand for as a coach. As someone whose original expectations in life were simply to grow up, get a job and to be able to pay the rent without being evicted – I’m hyper aware of the existence of ‘potential’, of the infinite capacity to develop beyond expectations, of the power to grow and evolve. I’ve strived for many years (and will never stop striving) to fulfil my own potential – and am passionate about helping others to do the same. As I see it – “to be, or not to be?” is indeed, the question – and I’d love to help you answer it.
But what is potential and how do you measure this intangible force? How do you know if you are fulfilling yours – and if you’re comfortable with the status quo, why does it even matter?
The dictionary definition of potential is ‘having the capacity to develop into something in the future’. And it’s this idea of the future that is key. Potential represents possibility in our futures. The laws of nature suggest that the world and its inhabitants are ever-changing, evolving and adapting to become ‘better’ for the future – and I believe we should view our individual lives in this way. If we don’t allow room in our lives for possibility, we effectively become stuck in the past. We may feel comfortable for a while when we get to a point when we know what we’re doing, and we can do it easily and well – but that comfort can soon turn to boredom, stagnation and frustration. We have it in our genes to keep evolving and I believe that moving forward, trying, learning and developing to become better versions of ourselves for our futures is what makes us truly alive. If we don’t tap into this idea of living up to our potential, if we give in to certainty over possibility – we will never know our future ‘better’ selves.
The problem with potential is that we all too often seem blind to our own. Potential is something that we always recognise in others – our children, junior colleagues at work, mentees. Other people’s underused skills and abilities and their potential to develop seem blindingly obvious to us, so why do we fail to recognise our own?
The truth is that although as humans, we are destined to evolve, we are also hardwired to avoid the novel, the different, the unknown. This primitive fight or flight reaction stems from our early days and primitive humans’ daily fight for survival in often hostile environments. It remains with us, even in modern times when we have conquered (rightly or wrongly!) our environments and live in relative comfort and safety. But this inherent fear of the unknown leads us to embrace limiting behaviours. We like to stick to what we know, do what we know we can do, be what we know we can be. I think we need to challenge this. If we can see potential in so many others, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that we have it too – in spades.
Here’s how to make the most of yours:
- Be curious.
If you’re comfortable, if you’ve convinced yourself you don’t want that promotion, or that you don’t need to take advantage of that scary public speaking course, i’d like to invite you to be curious. Instead of just accepting the status quo and getting on with your life as it is, always be curious. Ask yourself these questions when anything new comes your way – “Who could I be in the future? Do I really want to stay as I am now? What could I achieve? What’s possible?”
- Embrace positivity.
Understand the power of positive beliefs and how they impact and influence your experience. Renowned social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s ground-breaking work on Positivity studies the broaden and build theory of positive emotions. Her findings suggest that positive thinking broadens and expands your mind and sense of possibility, which in turn leads to more adventurous behaviour. Over time, more exploratory and adventurous actions lead to the growth of meaningful, long-term abilities, which in turn foster more positive emotions. In other words, positivity leads to potential-fulfilling skills and behaviours.
- Set goals.
You may find it daunting, or even a bit ridiculous at an early stage in your life or career – but try to set some big audacious goals for yourself – and make sure they are based on your true values (have a look at my blog on finding your ‘why’ here). Make them specific, make them positive – and write them down. Research shows that the action of setting goals in itself helps people to achieve. Revisit them regularly and reflect every day how your actions are contributing to the achievement of your goals – consider every opportunity that arises with your ultimate goals in mind. Having these defined goals will mean that you can’t so easily give in to the status quo – they will be a constant reminder to you of your potential to achieve. Break down your big goals into smaller goals too – achieving smaller, short-tern goals can really help you stay positive and motivated towards reaching your potential.
- Overcome the fear of failure.
The most successful people in life have experienced the most failures. Failures and setbacks are normal – they are what shows us what works, they teach us, they make us stronger. The more we are prepared to experience failure, the less power the potential-sapping ‘fear of failure’ has over us. Fear of failure is one of the biggest limiting beliefs we can hold – overcoming it is the cornerstone to achieving our potential.
To sum up then, your potential isn’t what you can do, it’s what you have the capacity to learn. Your capacity to learn is limited only by the effort you are prepared to put in. Be willing to learn, to take risks, to try new things, even to get things wrong, and you’ll blow your own mind. Fulfilling your potential is investing in moving your life forward so you can experience life at a deeper level. Your future (higher, happier, more successful self) is out there. You just have to step up to meet her.
To hear more of my thoughts on fulfilling your potential – tune in to this week’s podcast.