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“You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don't. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.”― Rumi
Your full potential isn’t a destination; it’s a path. It’s a journey of liberation — from your own limitations and the limitations that others (often with good intentions) put upon you. Reaching your full potential takes patience, courage, self-awareness, and a whole lot of grit.
If you were at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England, at 6:10 pm on May 6, 1954, you would have been among the few lucky spectators to witness a great moment of human potential.
It was a chilly spring evening with a crosswind blowing across the track. Earlier, it had rained, and the ground was still wet. At 6:10 pm, the gun fired, and what happened next is history.
Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student who went against conventional training methods and developed his own training regimen. He then ran a mile in less than four minutes (three minutes 59.4 seconds).
Not only did he fulfill his personal dream, but in that moment, he also proved that it was possible for humans to break the contested barrier of the four-minute mile.
What Bannister accomplished wasn’t a result of lucky coincidence, nor was it raw talent. In fact, early in his running career, he had had an ungainly walk and barely made Oxford’s third track team. What he did have was a formula for success.
What follows are the building blocks for your own winning strategy. You, too, can make the impossible possible.
Build your foundation to reach your full potential
In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation", in the journal Psychological Review. In this paper, he described his popular “hierarchy of needs model.”
According to Maslow, if you want to get to the top of the pyramid and fulfill our full potential, you’ve got to build a solid base first. Below is a look at the building blocks of your foundation.
The first two blocks relate to physical security. It’s pretty difficult to consider running a sub-4 minute mile if you haven’t got enough food to eat or are struggling with poor health.
The third block in the pyramid relates to emotional security. A need to belong is a critical survival mechanism that keeps us safe and integrated into the family unit as a child.
As an adult, we no longer need the physical safety that family offers. But we are still social animals, and the feeling of belonging is critical to our mental wellbeing.
An environment that is rich in resources is another key factor. Roger Bannister was a medical student with access to information on human physiology and friends/colleagues he was able to share his ideas with.
Having access to information and resources that help us fulfill our full potential is a critical component for success.
The final two blocks of Maslow’s pyramid relate to mindset.
Mindset is often the highest mountain to climb when it comes to reaching our full potential. When Bannister cracked the four-minute mile, he also broke through a psychological barrier, providing a vision of possibility that allowed other runners to follow in his footsteps.
What are your internal obstacles to reaching your full potential?
Ways to reach your full potential
Below, you’ll find 10 methods to unlock your full potential.
1. Develop a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset
American psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck’s research shows that embracing challenges, focusing on effort over outcome, and having a belief that you can grow and improve are critical components to reaching your full potential.
You can grow a growth mindset. Start by recording and celebrating your small wins. Work with a coach and/or therapist to accelerate this shift.
2. Combine reflection and action
Action and reflection, combined, build momentum. Turbo-charge this process by working with a coach or an accountability partner.
3. Focus on the big picture
What are the primary questions that drive your life? Unhappy with where you’re at? The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions.
Make it a habit to step back and reassess.
4. Time management
Are you a time-master or a time-slave?
“Not enough time” is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching your full potential. Good news, though, time mastery can be learned. This is good, because time management is one of the most important elements of self-management.
Check out David Crenshaw’s course on the fundamentals of time management.
5. Develop goals
In addition to your “To do” list, create a “To be” list.
Imagine you’ve already achieved your goal; in what way would it change you? Which of your strengths would you have had to leverage to get there? Visualize yourself as this new, improved version of yourself. Let this image guide your actions in the present moment.
6. Big Dreams and take small steps to fulfill your potential
James Clear, in his book “Atomic Habits”, outlines the powerful one percent changes that accumulate over time. Ultimately, allowing you to fulfill your potential.
Take an inventory of your micro-habits (things you do each day that take 30 seconds or less). Which ones support your goals? Which are working against you? If you were to take a small step toward your big dream, what micro-habit could you create?
7. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Has someone already done what you want to do? If so, make it your business to learn their blueprint for success. Being willing to learn from the mistakes of others takes humility and an open mind, but the payoff can be exponential.
8. Practice discipline
In Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit,” her research shows that persistence and discipline trump raw talent.
Block off time in your calendar to work toward your goals. Taking time for reflection also allows you to strategize the best way forward.
9. Accept failure with self-compassion
No matter how we try to frame it, failure isn’t fun.
Failures are an inevitable part of the journey toward your full potential. When they happen, try speaking to yourself as you would a close friend. Not only will you be able to pick yourself up and continue the journey sooner, but you will also be more likely to take brave steps that will move you forward faster. Remember that self-compassion strengthens resilience.
10. Take time to recharge
A journey toward your full potential is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it’s something you’ll be working toward your whole life. That means the finish line of life isn’t something to rush toward.
Speaking of extending your life expectancy, if living a long life is part of your peak-potential plan, don’t neglect sleep.
Research shows that sleep is critical for memory function, learning, reproductive health, and avoiding cognitive decline with age. If you want to scare yourself into sleeping more, check out Matthew Walker’s nightmare-inducing TED talk “Sleep is your Superpower”.
What skills do I need to reach my full potential?
Imagine you are setting out on a long journey. You have a great map and an operational compass. But what supplies would you need to bring with you?
The following is a list of skills (all learnable and growable) that will sustain you on that road.
While Roger Bannister was considered a ‘lone wolf’ due to his unconventional training methods and lack of a traditional coach, he was far from alone.
His friends, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, aided him and acted as pace-makers. If you are interested in learning more about the power of collaboration and how it can super-charge your own path to success, check out Sean Achor’s book “Big Potential”.
As you enter the dizzying heights of your personal ionosphere, you will find yourself wandering down paths less traveled.
Just as Bannister created his own strategic plan and rallied people to his cause, you, too, will need to leverage your leadership skills to share your vision and bring people along for the ride.
Every great leader has a leadership development plan. What’s yours?
Work with a coach and/or do a leadership skills assessment to take stock of your current leadership strengths and areas of development. Map out a plan for continuous improvement.
What’s your silver bullet? The Pareto principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of activities.
Can you skew this even further in your favor? Tim Ferriss has made it his life’s ambition to master the Pareto principle. If he’s done it, so can you.
For extra inspiration, pop over to his podcast or check out his book “The 4 hour work week”.
It’s a common myth that mindfulness requires you to sit down in the lotus position and stop thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mindfulness simply requires you to be present in the moment. Mindfulness does not require that you stop thinking but that you observe your thoughts with patience, openness, and non-judgement.
Mindfulness training makes us more present and focused so we can better see and take advantage of opportunities.
The Scientific Method
Develop a scientific rigor as you reach for your full potential. Take yourself seriously, and log your progress.
What are your markers of success? What you measure, you can improve.
Last but not least, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously.
Remember, this is a lifelong journey, so make it fun. Find a question that inspires you along your path, such as “what would make this more awesome?” or “how could this be more fun?”
Ask yourself these questions (or one of your own making) on a regular basis. Someone once said that laughs are like wild mushrooms, you need to hunt for them, but they are well worth the effort. Make it your practice to hunt out those things that make you laugh. Enjoy life’s wonderful adventure.
As Bannister headed for the starting block, he was following his own path. There was a crosswind blowing that day, but he was walking into a headwind of cultural disbelief.
Despite this, he dared to believe he could win. With courage and determination, he stepped up to the starting block, ready to change the world. What do you dare to believe? How will you reach your full potential?
BetterUp Fellow Coach