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How to take steady steps towards fulfilling your potential

How to take steady steps towards fulfilling your potential
Stairs

Three steps cover most of what is needed to discover and then make full use of your potential:

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  • Exploration of options, strengths, and weaknesses, in depth and without haste.
  • Patient removal of blockages.
  • Long-term, continuous development and learning.

The first step increases your self-awareness and gets beyond superficial judgments about strengths and weaknesses. You mustn’t simply jog along and let your automatic habits take the strain, or you’ll become narrow and parochial, priding yourself on knowledge in some limited area and ignoring your ignorance of the rest of the world. If you look at yourself dispassionately, and listen without judgment and defensiveness to what others say, you’ll see quickly what is presently in the way of further progress. Then you can work to broaden your mind and increase the range and breadth of your options. Potential is always open, expansive, and inclusive. Narrow opinions that disdain the wider context will never lead to potential. Usually they lead to foolishness.

Before you start, check though these basic assumptions behind the work you need to do to realize your potential:

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  • In nearly all situations, something works. Don’t waste time wishing things were different. Where you are is where you start. Build on what works already.
  • Whatever you focus on expands and grows. Focusing on gifts expands them. Focusing on weaknesses makes you weaker, more miserable, and less able to cope.
  • Your choices, whether they are made consciously or not, always affect your future. Making choices consciously is common sense.
  • Potential is always based on adding to options, broadening viewpoints, and increasing competence. Realizing your potential always demands learning. Make learning a lifetime activity.
  • Automatic habits are constrictive. They close you down, narrow your options, and limit your perspectives. They encourage you to repeat the past, whether or not it still works for you. If you carry parts of yourself into the future, they should only be the best parts.
  • Potential is not fixed. It arises where present and future possibilities intersect with the willingness and skill to choose between them. Forget the nonsense about “you either have it or you don’t.”
  • Improvising is the surest sign of potential on the move. It isn’t indicative of some lack of basic ability. Not knowing is a better place to begin than assuming you know and then being proven wrong.

Along the way, you should take careful note of any habits that appear to block your progress or throw you off course. Blockages like these shouldn’t make you feel guilty or self-critical. Simply note each blockage carefully and let it go. Drop it. Step past it and move on. You may have to do this a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand times, but in the end the habit will go away for good. That will be a famous victory.

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Don’t waste time and effort on trying to deal with weaknesses that are not blockages to potential. Do not worry about areas where there is little strength on which to build. It takes great energy and determination to improve from completely awful to solidly mediocre; maybe three or four times—even ten times—what it would take to go from good to great. Do you really want to work hard at becoming mediocre? Forget struggling to improve your natural weaknesses—beyond doing just enough to stop them spoiling your strengths. Forget trying to be perfect in every way. It’s impossible. Work to be the best possible version of yourself, even if that isn’t what you expected or the folks around you ordered. Anything else will condemn you to a lifetime of wasted effort and unsatisfied dreams.

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Potential is in the how, not in the what. It is the how that determines whether you can do the what to the standard required. It is the how that you can take to different fields of work, if you decide to move on and explore other fields of work. And as for satisfaction, the what may be the external measure of success, but it is the how that got you there and provided your internal satisfaction and enjoyment.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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