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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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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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