The sad truth about life is that most people never even come close to reaching their maximum potential. Yes, it is true that some people are born with greater advantages and a higher potential, but does that really matter if we are unable to come close to reaching our own? Often, it is difficult for us to see the issues within ourselves that are holding us back. True self-reflection is not easy, but if you are able to do so, you are already way ahead of others on your self-improvement journey. There are 4 common issues that most people have that are killing their great potential – can you honestly look within yourself to see if any of these apply to you?As Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
1. Always Comparing Yourself to Others
Humans are social animals and as such we are highly influenced by the society around us. Because of this, comparing ourselves to others is inevitable. While we will never be able to entirely free ourselves from this, we can take steps to minimize it and even use it in our favor.
The problem with always comparing ourselves to others is this: success is personal. Success means something different from one person to another. So while you may be envious of a wealthy friend, your friend might be envious of your success with personal relationships!
Another problem is that making an apples-to-apples comparison can be damaging for your self-worth. If you just managed to muster the self-discipline to train for and complete a 5K run, comparing yourself to your friend who runs full marathons every 3 months might cause you to question whether what you are doing is ‘worth it’ or whether you are any good at all.
So what to do about it? The first step is to be clear in your goals and really think about what constitutes success to you. Don’t accept the standard definition. Secondly, when it comes to these apples-to-apples comparisons, use it as motivation instead. Tell yourself this: “Wow, if that person, who is human just like everybody else, can accomplish that, I can too!”
2. Lack of Self-Awareness
While this appears at number two on our list, in terms of importance, it really should be number one. You cannot begin to improve yourself if you don’t know what you need to improve upon in the first place.
The dilemma is this: how do you solve the problem of lacking self-awareness when you don’t realize that you lack self-awareness in the first place (because you lack self-awareness)? It’s an infinite loop.
Well, since you’re reading this article, begin right now by asking yourself: “What are the aspects of my actions and personality that need to change for me to get where I want to be?”
And if you really are unable to determine what those aspects are, get a trusted friend and ask him or her for honest and critical feedback on how others perceive you. Tell them not to hold back and don’t be surprised when the answer is not exactly what you want to hear, which leads us to the third problem…
3. Being Unable to Take Feedback
Fact: no one likes being criticized. Criticisms, more often than not, are a stinging blow to our egos and self-image. The most common reaction to being criticized is being defensive; we attempt to rationalize away our errors to soothe our bruised egos.
However, if we never learn to take objective feedback and improve ourselves, we will never reach our full potential. Honest feedback lets us know where we are lacking and how we can improve. It is a gift to be appreciated and not an insult to be scorned.
Here’s the rub: there is a difference between criticism and feedback. While the line is often blurry, in general criticism tends to devalue which is why it often feels so personal, while feedback focuses on how you can improve. Unfortunately, as we go through life, we will find ourselves receiving just as much (if not more) criticism than feedback.
There’s no way around this fact, all you can do when it comes to criticism is to look for the little nugget of objective feedback contained within it. Don’t get defensive, and don’t take it personally. Remember that harsh criticism often reveals more about the critic than you.
As Oscar Wilde says, “criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography.”
So the next time someone gives you criticism or feedback, ask yourself: “How can I use this to improve myself and bring myself closer to my goals?”
4. Fear of Failure
Have you heard of the term ‘loss aversion’? People would naturally prefer to avoid losses than to acquire gains. While this may have been a necessary trait back in our hunter-gatherer days, this no longer holds true today. Yet, this nature continues to prevent us from taking necessary action in our lives.
Shame is also strongly linked to the fear of failure. Psychologist Michael Lewis has called it ‘the quintessential human emotion’. When we fail, we feel shame: shame at letting others down, shame at letting ourselves down, shame at not being good enough. So how do we avoid this feeling? By avoiding taking action of course!
There is no question that our fear of failure holds us back. We fear the consequences of failure. However, more often than not, the consequences of failure are not as drastic as you imagine. The actual consequences are exaggerated by the expectation of shame. Remember the saying, FEAR is nothing but False Evidence Appearing Real.
This is a reason why entrepreneurs are so idolized in modern society; we see these people bravely face the fear (and reality) of failure over and over again and still come back swinging and wish we could be the same way.
The good news is, you can! I am not telling you to leap in blindly, but rather to do a proper cost-benefit analysis of an action to determine its validity. Ask yourself this question: “Am I avoiding this action because of real consequences, or is it just my fear?” “Are the consequences of failure really as drastic as I am imagining them to be?”
The issues identified here are simple to explain, but not easy to fix. Nonetheless, we hope that by bringing some of them to light you will be better able to recognize these issues within yourselves and begin the process of overcoming them.