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

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

    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 October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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