3 insights about realizing your potential.

  • career advice
  • April 30, 2020
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We're all familiar with the old adages from childhood: "The sky’s the limit," “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to" and so on. But how many people do you know who are actually embodying those sayings and practicing them every day?

It's unfortunate, but many of us are probably overwhelmed by work or too caught up with other responsibilities to keep our eyes fixed on what's truly important. But change is possible, and there's a way out of the familiar rut. Here's how to get started — and transform your potential.

1. roadmap your potential

Where are you right now in the journey to transforming your potential? Still more broadly, how should success — and living up to your potential — even be defined? There's no one answer, of course. But to help you find your path, these five questions may come in handy.

  • Are you intentional in your actions? Being intentional in your actions means making purpose-based decisions — because if you don’t make decisions for yourself, someone else is bound to make them for you. Being thoughtful and deliberate in what you spend your time on is crucial to realizing your potential.
  • When was the last time you took a risk? We aren't talking about reckless behavior, like gambling away your savings. Think: "calculated risks" instead — strategic risks with potentially big rewards in the long run.
  • Do you feel generally constricted or free in daily life? Don’t ignore your gut feeling here. Your instincts can act like a gauge for whether you’re satisfied with the direction your life is headed.
  • Try to imagine your life a decade from now. Do you feel proud of your future self? Answering this question requires some time spent on genuine self-reflection, but it's a key diagnostic — it should reveal a lot about your overall sense of your current direction. And if you're not sure or somewhat on the fence, well, that's an answer in itself.
  • How do you “show up”? This question might seem disarming, but the reality is that how we present ourselves to the world is sometimes a reflection of how we're feeling inside. Compared to someone who isn't feeling so hot, for example, confident people tend to be more “open” — shoulders back, back straight and so on. So if you're in the former camp, we've got some work to do.

These five questions might not be easy to answer, but they'll help you understand where you are in the journey to transforming your potential.

Finally, one more thing to remember: What realizing your potential looks like and how you define success are both ultimately up to you. Only you know your true potential, so you have to be the judge of whether you're living up to it or not.

2. recognize that success = your responsibility

Ready to commit to change? Good! Just don't forget that achieving your goals — and living up to your potential — is no one's responsibility but your own. At the end of the day, nobody else can do this for you.

With that in mind, here are three tips to help you get started on the road to transformation.

  • Write down your goals: And as you do, try to be forward-thinking. Don't dwell too much on the past. Think of success like breathing — while your last breath was important, your next breath is what matters now. Another pointer: Aim for things that seem attainable, but just out of reach.
  • Strive to make big, bold and decisive changes: This is key — because eventually, what seems new or unusual right now will become just another routine. Big change requires big actions. That's the only way to truly reach your full potential.
  • Be persistent: Rome wasn’t built in a day. The ability to remain persistent on your path — regardless of setbacks, unexpected turns of events or resistance — is a common strength among those who are able to live up to their potential. So hang in there! Stick with it! You got this.

Going forward, you should also be sure to set aside time to continually review and assess your progress. Not moving the needle the way you wanted? That's natural. Just course correct as needed — and always aspire to make even bolder change.

3. leverage the practical value of pressure

In the hit song by Queen, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury define being "under pressure" as "the terror of knowing what the world is about." In the arena of psychology, however, being under pressure can have different, and in this case far more positive, implications. Enter the Yerkes–Dodson law. Coined by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, the law documents an empirical relationship between pressure — or what Yerkes and Dodson called "arousal" — and performance. In the context of personal and professional goals, the Yerkes–Dodson law offers a useful model for thinking about pressure, performance and potential as clearly interlocking parts.

(Interesting sidebar: In the original study conducted by Yerkes and Dodson, "pressure" took the form of electric shocks, which they administered to rats to see if it compelled them to complete tasks faster or more efficiently. It did.)

But perhaps the most important takeaway from Yerkes–Dodson is the fact that the relationship between pressure and performance is an inverted parabola — in other words, peak performance happens when a specific, ideal level of pressure is applied. When you're under too much or too little pressure, on the other hand, performance falls off. Turn the electric current up too high, or don't apply it at all, and performance falls off dramatically.

So don't start pulling your hair out just because some goals seem beyond your reach for the moment. But you do need to apply a little bit of pressure. Setting finite deadlines for yourself, and continually checking in to ensure that you’re on target, is probably a healthy place to start.

key takeaways

The journey to transforming your potential isn't an easy one — but the end goal is absolutely attainable for us all. Start with the diagnostic questions we've outlined in this article, own your own unique vision of success and then dial up the pressure (within reason). Voila! You'll likely find that a lot of the barriers to big-picture change can be overcome by breaking down the long-term goal into actionable pieces — but doing so requires this kind of mental preparation.

You have all of the ingredients you need to meaningfully transform and live up to your potential. The only question that remains is whether or not you're going to get started today.