Have you ever heard the phrase “He had so much potential, it’s a shame he wasted it.” In our culture, not living up to your full potential is frowned upon, but why?
In this article, we will look into the factors that influence a person’s potential and the ways to help you live up to your full potential for a successful life.
Table of Contents
What Determines a Person’s Potential?
A person’s potential is determined by several factors: Physical Security, Emotional Security, Environment and Mindset.
Before we can even strive to fulfill our potential, our basic physical needs must be met. Without adequate food, water and shelter, our days must be spent acquiring these basic needs in order to survive.
You can think of it this way, the person with the potential to become the most brilliant computer programmer ever could be living right now with a nomadic tribe in sub-Saharan Africa. But because they must spend their days meeting these basic physical needs, that potential will remain untapped.
Humans are social animals, we don’t do well in isolation. Studies have shown that forming intimate bonds with others is incredibly important for our mental health. These bonds start to develop in infancy, babies rely on this bond with a parent or caretaker to fulfill their needs, and if the bond is missing for some reason it can have lifelong psychological consequences.
Your environment is another important factor that shapes how you achieve your full potential.
Just like the computer programmer in the previous example. You could have the potential to be the greatest composer since Beethoven, but if you had no access to music or you came from a family that didn’t value that skill set, it’s unlikely that you would fulfill your potential in that area.
For most of us, we don’t have to worry about getting enough food, water or shelter. Both our physical and emotional needs have been met (to a large extent anyway). And any limits that our environment has imposed are minimal (especially with the availability of the internet).
So for most of us, the main thing that is limiting us from reaching our full potential is our mindset. Our mindset is the story we carry around with us in our head. It starts to develop in childhood and can be with us our entire life.
The Key to Reaching Your Full Potential: Your Mindset
The problem with most people’s mindset is that it’s negative and limiting. The good news is that you can change your mindset. Author Carol Dweck in her best selling book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success points out that there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth.
A Fixed Mindset
A fixed mindset is one where you have concrete beliefs about yourself. Someone with a fixed mindset came up with “their story” in childhood and it hasn’t changes much over the years. They may believe that they aren’t good at public speaking, math or writing just because they struggled with those subjects in school.
So when something goes wrong, a common thought for someone with a fixed mindset is “What an idiot, I knew I wasn’t any good at that.” Or “Well that just confirmed what I already knew, I won’t be doing that again”. Having a fixed mindset just reinforces negative thoughts and attitudes, making it harder to reach your full potential.
A Growth Mindset
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. With a growth mindset, you believe anything is possible (but don’t confuse this with being delusional! As a 5’10” 54 year old I’m not going to play in the NBA!). It’s more of the way you think about and approach problems.
Let’s go back to the issue of not being good at public speaking, when things go wrong, instead of telling yourself that you have never been good at public speaking and never will be. A person with a growth mindset will analyze what went wrong and come up with solutions to make it better next time.
For instance, they may take a class on public speaking at their local community college, or join the Toastmaster’s organization. Whatever it is, they don’t look at failure as an insurmountable roadblock, rather a minor detour on the road to their destination.
You can learn more about how to develop a growth mindset in this article: 5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement
How to Live up to Your Full Potential and Succeed in Life
1. Develop a Goal
When setting goals, it’s important to keep in mind three things:
First, they should be specific and not vague. So instead of saying “I want to live up to my full potential in life”, a more specific goal would be “I want to become the best (salesman, artist, internet marketer) that I can be.” This is a much more specific goal.
Second, your goal should be measurable. In other words, you should be able to measure your progress towards the goal. Again, it’s much easier to measure your progress to becoming the best artist you can be than it is trying to measure your progress at living up to your “full potential”.
Finally, a goal must be written down. This takes the goal out of the realm of wishful thinking and makes it more real. It also can serve as motivation if you post your goal where you will see it. Put it on your desk, or next to your computer just to remind yourself to keep moving forward. In short, a goal that isn’t written down is just a wish.
This article can help you about setting personal goals to become a great achiever: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life
2. Understand That Achieving Your Goal Is Often Times a By-Product of What You Are Doing
Let’s say that your goal is to become the best writer you can be. You may want to measure your success by your ability to get published or in the case of blogging, how widely read your articles are.
Instead of constantly worrying about reaching your goal to be the best, your time is much better spent just writing. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
It’s the same with any goal, it’s important to set them, but achieving your goal of becoming the best salesperson is really just the by-product of you getting out there and selling!
3. Don’t Let Popular Opinion Dissuade You
Have you ever heard of the Bannister Effect? For years, it was considered a law of nature that the human body was incapable of running a mile in less than 4 minutes. That was until May 6, 1954 when Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He did what was long considered impossible, but it turned out that it was only impossible because people believed it was impossible.
Roger Bannister didn’t let popular opinion stand in his way, and after he proved that the 4 minute mile was only a psychological barrier, others have continued to break records. Today the current record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj with a time of 3 minutes 43.13 seconds!
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Push the Envelope
Almost by definition, living up to your full potential requires you to step outside your comfort zone and expand your boundaries.
Average people do average things, get average results and live average lives. Extraordinary people do extraordinary things, get extraordinary results and live extraordinary lives.
You’ll only live your best life once you step out. Here’s how.
5. Practice Discipline
Admittedly, this comes easier for some people than others, but it’s a skill that you can develop and will serve you well in all aspects of your life.
Another way of thinking about discipline is just delayed gratification. How many times have you been on a diet, but there’s a piece of cheese cake in the refrigerator calling out your name!
Having discipline is not a matter of not wanting the cheese cake, discipline is acknowledging your desire for the cheese cake but realizing that this craving is only temporary, and once it passes, you will be much happier that we didn’t succumb to a temporary urge.
The bottom line here is that while you may want to stop working at 5pm sharp, or watch the game on Saturday, but by developing the discipline to delay satisfaction you will be pushing your boundaries and reaping the rewards that come from that extra effort.
6. Be Confident
Have you ever dealt with someone who was new at their job and lacked confidence? Maybe it was a salesperson who couldn’t answer basic questions about a product or just gave you flat out wrong information. Did you end up buying from that salesperson?
My guess is no, I sure wouldn’t.
Confidence comes with knowledge, discipline and experience. But how do you develop confidence if you are just starting out like our intrepid salesperson? While experience comes with time, knowledge can be acquired fairly quickly, especially if you have already mastered the art of self discipline!
A good rule of thumb is to always start with knowledge. Learn as much as you can, take classes, get a mentor or just do research. If you are disciplined enough to develop the knowledge it will make getting the experience much easier.
Want more tips on boosting confidence? Take a look at this guide: How to Be More Confident: 10 Powerful Ways to Boost Confidence
7. Accept That You Will Fail
There is no such thing as an overnight success. Failure is a part of life and it happens to everyone. In fact, there is a whole body of thinking that failure is actually better than success: 6 Reasons It’s Okay To Fail
While most of us would agree that success is better than failure, when it does happen, here are some thing to keep in mind:
Don’t take it personally. A failure in a job, career, business or marriage is just that. It is not reflection on you as a person. I had a friend who lost his entire fortune (over 20 million dollars) in a business deal. I called him shortly after and as expected he was very depressed. My only advice to him was to:
“Never confuse your self worth with your net worth”.
Move on, failures can be heartbreaking, embarrassing and demoralizing. Take the time needed to go through those feelings and process the emotions. Then, let it go, holding on to negative emotions keeps you stuck in a fixed mindset. Remember that your goal here is to live up to your full potential and succeed in life. Dwelling on past mistakes and failures is the surest way to derail your progress.
Let failure be a learning opportunity. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason, it’s true! When I first started internet marketing, I started using Facebook ads for practically everything I did. Pretty soon I found that I was spending about $1,000 on ads that were generating about $200 in income, not a very good business model! I took that failure and redesigned my marketing efforts. I was able to both reduced my costs and increased my sales so that now for every $1,000 in advertising I am generating around $5,000 in income.
8. Learn to Embrace Uncomfortable Situations
Succeeding in life by living up to your full potential means embracing uncomfortable situations. Chris and Heidi Powell, well known personal trainers and hosts of the show Extreme Weight Loss use this technique with their clients. It works like this:
They set a goal for their client that the client thinks is just out of reach. Then through encouragement and motivation, they help the client work though the uncomfortableness and pain to achieve the goal.
This technique works for both physical and psychological challenges. Both our bodies and minds are capable of much more that we think they are.
9. Set Small Goals to Achieve Big Results
When you are first setting goals, don’t be afraid to make them big! “I want to be the #1 salesperson in the company” or “I want to be a successful artist”. But once you have those goals set, you then need an action plan to get there. It’s in this action plan that you should set many small, easily attainable goals.
For the salesperson, it might be to increase the number of sales they make by one a week in the next quarter, two a week for the 2nd quarter etc… For the artist, it might be to master a technique before the next art show, or produce X number of works to sell at the art show.
Whatever the goals are, they need to get you closer to your ultimate goal while at the same time be attainable. Success builds on success, so achieving these small goals helps to motivate you to continue on to your bigger goals.
10. Take Time to Recharge
Everyone needs “down time”, trying to do everything yourself, all at once is a recipe for disaster.
We talked a lot about being motivated and disciplined in this article; while they are essential to living up to your full potential and succeeding in life, having adequate down time is just as important.
Any personal trainer will tell you that to get the most out of your workouts, you need to take 1 to 2 days off a week. This gives your body a chance to recover and actually get stronger.
The same is true when we are trying to expand our boundaries and fulfill our potential. Making sure we have adequate down time prevents fatigue anxiety and poor decision making.
The success you’ll find from living life to your full potential is its own reward. One day, we all will look back on our lives and and think “I wish I would have done …”, “I had a chance to to be a … but I was to scared”, “I could have been a great … if I had put the time in.”
I hope that in this article, we have given you both the motivation and tools to push yourself to your full potential in life, so that when you look back one day your regrets will be few.
More About Reaching Your Full Potential
- 9 Self Limiting Beliefs That Are Holding You Back from Success
- Need a Breakthrough from the Limitations Holding you Back?
- What Holds Us Back from Living the Life We Want
Featured photo credit: Robson Hatsukami Morgan via unsplash.com