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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 April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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