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What Stops us from Exploring, Developing and Maximising our Potential?

What Stops us from Exploring, Developing and Maximising our Potential?
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    cc by M0les
    “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky)

    I’m not particularly gifted (sigh) but I am pretty driven. I choose to be proactive, focused and disciplined (mostly) because I’m fascinated by what we human beings can achieve when we commit to exploring our potential and when we don’t allow our thinking or emotions to get in the way of our possibilities. In some ways, I guess my drive and determination come (in part) from my lack of inherent ability.

    Who knew that being not-very-talented would have an upside?

    Growing up, I wasn’t a great athlete, student, musician or a great anything for that matter. I was good at a few things (okay, eating), average at a few more and pretty crap at a whole bunch of things. For all the money my parents spent on years of guitar lessons, I should be frickin’ Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix and Slash all rolled into one. If only there had been some musical ability in the mix, I could have been anything.

    Based on what I still remember (and can still play), I think my parents invested somewhere in the vicinity of four thousand dollars per chord. Having said that, if you ever need somebody to belt out a horrible acoustic rendition of House of the Rising Sun at your next party, I’m your guy.

    What do you mean – “no thanks”?

    That hurts.

    And if, per chance, something is in need of repair at your house, whatever you do, don’t ask me to fix it. Sure, I may look handy but don’t be fooled; as a repairman, I’m about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Combine my total lack of technical and mechanical aptitude with my enormous-for-no-good-reason ego, my enthusiasm, my unwarranted optimism (about my potential to fix things) and my ineptitude with tools – and I’m sure to create more havoc than harmony at your place.  

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    The strange thing is, part of me always thinks I’m going to be able to fix whatever it is I’m taking apart – despite my abysmal track record. It’s the one area that I don’t seem to learn in. Maybe it’s my over-developed optimism-gene kicking in. Fortunately, I’ve always had girlfriends with great mechanical aptitude. And large forearms.

    Stop it.

    Enough about me.

    Your Best Life

    When it comes to the matter of creating and sustaining our best life (whatever that means to each of us personally), the question we should ask ourselves is not, “how much potential do I have?” but rather, “how much of that potential am I currently using?”

    Earlier this year, I published a fantastic letter I received from Mel – one of our readers and part of our community. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you take a peek. Her achievement of creating and maintaining such a significant change in her world is inspirational. She lost 56 kgs (123 lbs) and has kept it off for a year and a half. But more important than the weight-loss (in my opinion), is the fact that she has also created and maintained amazing change on many levels beyond the physical.

    Go Mel.

    After years of stopping and starting. Of wasting time. Of not reaching her goal. Of living in a body which embarrassed her. Of feeling self-conscious. Of hiding in her house. Of crying. Of avoiding people. Of pretending to be happy. Of shortness of breath. Of poor health. Of chaffing. And of walking to the letterbox in the dark… Mel changed. Massively.  She transformed her body, her thinking, her habits, her behaviours and her life.

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    Her entire reality.

    Now, we could spend hours debating and discussing why it took her so long (to change once and for all) but the pertinent question for this chat is:

    Did she always have the potential to create amazing change?

    Of course, the answer is yes. She didn’t wake up one day and miraculously possess more potential. No, she woke up one day and started using what had always been there. And to keep using it no matter what. What she didn’t always have was the mindset, the awareness, the discipline or the momentum – but she always had the potential for incredible transformation.

    For a range of reasons, there was a time when she was not (genuinely) ready. Not prepared to pay the price. Not willing to get that uncomfortable. Not willing to face her fears. The potential was there but it wasn’t being exploited – kind of like the guy who buys the amazing car and then leaves it in the garage because he’s too scared somebody might scratch it. Or resent his success. Or steal it when he’s not looking.

    And when Mel created the right internal environment – when she got to that point – she opened the door to something that was always there: her own personal world of amazing. Her potential.

    You and Me?

    The amount of inherent potential you and I have is finite but how much of that potential we use is completely optional. Isn’t that great news? Of course, there’s no way of knowing, measuring or quantifying exactly how much potential we each have – or how much of that potential we will typically use in a lifetime (various figures like three percent get thrown around)  – but it’s my belief, observation and experience that most of us don’t use most of what we have.

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    So the next obvious question is…

    What Stops us from Exploring, Developing and Maximising our Potential?

    A bunch of things but mostly, it’s a fear thing.

    Fear of failure. Of embarrassment. Of being judged. Of the unknown. Of being ridiculed. Of the commitment required. Of the potential pain, discomfort and risk. The day we decide that we’re prepared to deal with those inevitable realities of the human experience, and the day we stop trying to keep everybody except ourselves happy, is the day the transformation begins.

    Personally, I’ve spent years making mistakes. Taking risks. Being criticised. Embarrassed. Judged. Labelled. Liked. Disliked. I’m okay with all of it because where there’s discomfort, there’s growth. There’s learning. And in the middle of it all, I found me. Despite many protests, I went to university (for the first time) at thirty-six. After being told that I wouldn’t get a book published, I wrote my first book at thirty-seven. I did my first (regular) TV gig at forty-two. I didn’t know what a blog was at forty-one. I’ve had two failed businesses. In order to build my speaking skills, I did hundreds of presentations for little or no money. For years. Some of them were horrible. I was horrible. My ‘apprenticeship’ into the world of professional speaking was a ten-year journey. I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you. Needless to say, my failures lessons far outweigh my triumphs.

    In some ways, the ‘safest’ thing for me to do would be to not share my thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs in such a public way. Some people don’t like it. Doing what I do – sharing my philosophies with a large audience – means that I will be criticised, disliked and uncomfortable on a regular basis. That’s okay, I’ll simply choose to live, laugh, love and learn. Because I can.

    One of my favourite mentors at university (Dr. Paul Callery) once told me:

    “If you don’t want to offend anyone, then say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.”

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    Smart man.

    I’ll finish today’s post with a message I often share with my charges:

    I don’t care how young, old, fat, fit, tall, small, genetically gifted, intelligent, qualified, skilled, experienced or inherently talented you are (or aren’t), all I care about (in terms of you creating lasting change in your world), is what you do with what you’ve been given. You can’t change your genetics but you can change how you use them. You can’t change your chronological age but you can change what you do (choices, behaviours, habits) at your age. And in the process, you can lower your biological age. You can’t change other people but you can change how you behave and react around them. You can’t alter your level of natural ability (potential), but you can determine how much of that ability you tap into, exploit and develop. You can’t change your past but you can change the way you let it influence and impact on your present and your future. That is, you don’t need to be limited by, defined by or determined by your history (as many people are). Your history doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about your potential and is often a poor indicator of what’s possible for your future. If you’re like many, then your achievements – or perhaps lack of achievements – are more a reflection of your fear (to take a chance and get uncomfortable) than they are a reflection of your potential.

    And finally, don’t allow your self-limiting, over-thinking, fear-influenced mind to stand between you and happiness. You are good enough, talented enough, courageous enough and definitely worth it.

    Enjoy your journey.

    And your potential.

    More by this author

    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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