General thoughts

6 Signs You're Missing Out On Your Full Potential

Have you ever met someone who seems really content with his or her life? Not just relatively happy but annoyingly happy? Happy to a point where you start wishing you could live with such a level of contentment in achieving your full potential – before reality forces you back down to the ground and your boss calls to arrange the next tedious meeting.

If this resonates with you, fear not, you’re not alone. Actually, it is extremely common to feel as if you may be missing out on being all you could be. People at any stage of life can feel held back by circumstance, commitments or fears. Here are 6 signs that you may be missing out on your full potential, and some straightforward techniques you can put in place to make a difference that, hopefully, will enable you to move toward achieving more in life.

1. You feel as if you’re missing out on something but you don’t know what it is

The journey towards reaching full potential is a bit like having a satellite navigation system within us. Just as you would map with any other navigation, the starting point on the path to reaching our full potential is to plot in the coordinates of where we’d like to go. However, because we may not know precisely what our ultimate point is, the coordinates are unlikely to be the final destination but more of a general direction of travel. This is a fairly comfortable situation, yet it is far more common for us not to even know the general direction of travel, and instead set our systems to auto-pilot and put up with what we’ve got. This can be comfortable too, unless you feel as if you’re missing out on something that isn’t definable. This state is a middle-ground where we feel as if we’re living ‘in limbo’.

There are numerous techniques to address this, most of which fall under the category of ‘finding inner purpose’, but the one I’ve found most useful involves drawing three circles. In the first circle, write down the things you are really passionate about doing – activities in your life that make you feel alive and very happy. In the second circle, write down the things you are really good at doing – competencies that you have a natural ability to excel at. In the third circle, write down the things you do that would, or could, provide extreme value to others – offerings that other people would greatly benefit from. The final task is to find what elements in the three circles overlap in the centre. I have found that in the two contexts of business and personal life, adding extreme value is the key to financial and emotional upside.

2. You feel uncomfortable that things are changing

Change is rarely easy to handle. It shakes what we know and puts into question our accepted view of things. Also, change is the enemy of the competent. If we’re good at something we’re unlikely to want things to change in ways that may mean we’re not so good at things after all. However, there is one over-arching reality that we can’t avoid: Change happens. Actually, change doesn’t just happen, it gets faster as time goes on. Even if we feel more things changed last year, the year ahead will hold more changes and the year after will hold even more still. Our lack of comfort with change is therefore a significantly limiting factor in our ability to realise our full potential, because we spend more time battling the change than using the change as a fuel to make things happen.

One technique that I have found very effective in becoming more comfortable with change, is to change the way we see change itself. For example, the next time you find out that something has changed, instead of feeling concern, confusion or contempt, try and replace the first feeling with that of acceptance. This technique is practised by the most fulfilled people on earth for very good reason. Your personal fulfilment can become more real and achievable, provided that your initial mindset is one where the changes that you are experiencing are acceptable, and seen as the most powerful fuel for reaching your full potential.

3. You constantly rely on the same sources of information

As creatures of habit we tend to return to the things we’ve found valuable. Places, brands and food are obvious examples, but our reliance on where we receive information from is something that is rarely addressed. It may be that we read content from the same authors regularly, watch the same news services, or listen to the same experts. These sources are potentially more important than we give them credit for because they shape our opinion and decisions. Our decisions instruct our actions, therefore, our success is directly linked to our sources of information. It can be strange to think that the few sources of information are so powerful, especially considering the vast amount of information available that could direct our future in a totally different way.

To keep reliance in check, I’ve found a constant questioning is effective. For example, the next time you read the same author of a piece of content, add on a totally new author’s piece to balance the mix. The next time you’re watching your favourite news service, try out a competitor just to see whether your scope of information is broadened. The next expert you listen to, enjoy the moment but then seek an alternative expert to see whether you are further inspired. This technique is unlikely to produce more of the same thinking, but instead enable a wider view of information to influence your decisions and therefore, your actions and success in reaching your full potential.

4. You base future decisions on what has worked in the past

Humans are actually not that good at making decisions. This is because our instinct, or gut feeling, is auditioned by our rational mind that acts as a defence attorney to whatever enters the courtroom of our minds. Our defence attorney will stop at nothing to adjust our instinct into a palatable opinion. This is also why market research is riddled with incorrect steers from panellists who made a choice based on logical reason rather than feeling… and the primary culprit of this? Past choice. We’re hardwired to base future decisions on what has worked before. Our past choices are the single greatest evidence our courtroom could ever hear. After all, who could argue with absolute fact. The problem is, that fact isn’t linked to the future contexts necessarily. If anything, the past choices produced where we are today, and only today, rather than our future potential.

Despite being hardwired to fall into this trap, a technique I’ve applied to break the pattern is to constantly rate my choices in terms of how they’re made. For example, if I’m planning on buying a car, I’m conscious of the fact that my in-built preference may be the make I already use, so I must log that bias and check my decisions against it, just to make sure I’m not steering my choice unfairly. The next time you’re making a career choice or a relationship choice, try to remain conscious of the biases you may have in place. Even if you end up making the same decision as you did in the past, at least you will have auditioned the options with equal weighting. This technique is a manual override of your natural biases and reduces the limitations that stand in the way of reaching your full potential.

5. You feel you are being held back by something you cannot change

From personal experience, I relate to those who feel trapped within a holding pattern that is seemingly impossible to break. This could be in a relationship or in business, but the feeling is one where your potential is unreachable due to circumstances outside of your control. It may be that you’re able to see what good could look like, or what happiness should include, but it is the other side of a pane of glass that you are not able to move. Sometimes we are not conscious of this, so the outcome is that we only achieve what we already have, happily without the frustration of feeling unable to explore. Other times we are conscious of this, so the outcome is frustration at feeling that what we have, is all we’ll ever have. In reality there are two design flaws that need to be addressed: 1. Our belief in what it is that is holding us back 2. Our belief in what it is that we can change.

I have found that it is in challenging these two beliefs that provides a really effective technique in addressing this issue. The first thing to do is to quantify precisely what it is that we think is holding us back. What is the detail? Who is involved? What is the timeframe? I’ve found that when we analyse what it is that we think is holding us back, it is actually the first time we’ve properly worked out what it really is. The second thing to do is to qualify precisely what it is that we cannot change. We need to test our assumptions, as I’ve found that very often we are able to address things in different and imaginative ways. One surprisingly effective way is to try thinking about doing the absolute opposite of what you’ve tried before. Another way is to look at what parts of our life could be even slightly altered to move in a more desirable direction. Things don’t happen overnight, and sometimes a slight shift can have a larger impact over time. This technique is to adjust your present reality to allow you to travel the path to reaching your full potential.

6. You justify failure as quickly as possible

Many of us are raised in cultures where there are winners and losers. From the games we play in the playground to the ‘talent’ shows on television, we are surrounded by success and failure – one of which is great and the other is not. This binary view forces us to rebel against failure as best we can, especially if we actually fail. In fact, failing to cover up our failings is super failure. The challenge is that success almost always comes from trying very hard, and trying very hard almost always includes failing very hard first. You didn’t sit at a piano and suddenly play like a virtuoso. You didn’t pick up a pen and write a letter. No, the first time you did both were painfully inadequate but because of the effort to try again, you gradually improved to a point where you reach a level of success. In this common context, failure is actually just a result – a reading of the circumstance that can be built upon. If we managed to accept failure as a learning rather than a negative outcome, we would assert even more effort into reaching our full potential.

As someone who has failed many times, I’ve had to adjust my view as to whether these things are all for nothing, or instead the reason I can now enjoy success. My primary technique of doing this is to itemise results in an agnostic way, rather than just think about how badly I did. For example, the next time you’re trying to learn something new, write down what you tried, what happened and what you learned. This last part is the key. Most of us stop at what happened rather than to conclude what was learned. The learning is the main thing with effort, not whether the outcome was positive or negative. If we assume that positives come from many negatives, you can be safe in the knowledge you’re going to have more negatives first. Now you’ve established that, the learning should be the focus. This technique is the secret behind many successful people and companies, and increases the ability to reach your full potential.

In closing I’d like to refer to a conversation I had with an audience member, after delivering a keynote to a group of senior executives. I was asked the question, “Can courage be learned, or do you have to be born with it?” My answer was, “I think the challenge is less about learning courage and more about addressing the fears that create obstacles to what we desire to achieve.” The point I was making is directly linked to the 6 signs you have just read. These signs are addressing our mindset, examining what we fear and what we believe. It is because so much of our destiny is based upon these constructs that I felt compelled to compile these signs in one place, and if one person can propel forward along their path towards greater success, it will have been worth it.