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To boost your potential, try saying “Yes” more often

To boost your potential, try saying “Yes” more often

Have you ever noticed how often you say “No?” Not just to things that merit refusal, but to fresh ideas, new possibilities and the chance to make unexpected discoveries? Whenever you say “No” to life, you miss an opportunity: to discover something new, to try something you haven’t tried before, to learn and grow, to find some aspect of yourself or others that you missed before. To start afresh with an interest, a project or maybe your life’s true calling.

Okay, it’s impossible to say “Yes” to everything, but you could almost certainly say “Yes” to more than you do. Listen to yourself. When someone invites you to join them in something they love—and that you haven’t ever tried—what do you say? Do you take the chance to try it? Or do you politely turn them down because your time is too precious to waste on anything that you are not sure you’ll like in advance?

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Learning and living are the same. When you stop learning, you start to die a little every day. There’s scientific evidence links between brain cells can re-grow at any age if you give them some exercise. Your brain is a case of “use it or lose it.”

When I wrote my book on potential, one of the most important ideas I wanted to share was the real nature of potential. It isn’t intelligence, or wealth, or power. Potential is possibility. The more choices and possibilities you have before you, the more potential you have. That’s why everyone has potential—and so little of it gets used.

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Consider two people. Martin is intelligent, but likes to stick with what he knows. Manuela is full of curiosity and likes to try new things and learn about them for herself.

Run forward a few years. Martin is doing what he always does. He has a sound position but he hasn’t advanced. Manuela has tried scores of new ideas and is still eager to learn. The world never stands still, so Martin is in danger of being left behind. His carefully built security can be overturned any day by some unexpected event. If it is, he’ll find he’s lost most of his confidence and ease in learning. Change will be forced on him and he probably won’t cope well. For Manuela, change is normal. She could still face upsets and setbacks, but she’s learned how to learn and cope positively with change. Whenever she needs it, learning will come easily from so much practice.

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Potential is possibility. Few possibilities in your life? You have little potential. To increase it, add new choices. Learning is the only way. It’s a basic law of nature. The species most tightly tied to a single niche environment are the ones most likely to become extinct. The most adaptable species—not the fastest, biggest or cleverest—survive and prosper whatever happens. Want proof? Look around you at all the pigeons and sparrows. Not much danger they’ll die out any time soon, is there? But they aren’t powerful birds like eagles, or even clever ones like parrots. What they are is supremely adaptable.

So try it. Say “Yes” to something you would normally turn down. Try different food, different music, going to a movie you’d normally avoid. Try behaving differently. If you’re usually shy, try making the first move to speak to someone interesting. If you’re noisy and extroverted, try standing back quietly and watching while others take the limelight. Whatever happens, you’ll learn something. You may even discover something unexpectedly good. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic. What matters is that you open yourself to more of what life has to offer, instead of hanging back and staying with what you already know.

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So many people go through life and work convinced that there is only one path open to them. That makes it true, because they never try anything else. But the world is a huge, glorious experiment, not a set of rules to be followed and boxes to the checked. How much you are willing to join in that experiment is up to you. The closer that you stick to the same script, the less you will discover about what might be even better. What holds most people back is fear of losing what they already have, however imperfect it might be. Just remember that you are in control of the experiment. You can try a little change as easily as a huge one. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go back and try again. Saying “No” is the real risk, because it closes the door forever on anything different.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

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

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

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”.

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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The power of habit

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 six 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.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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