How to Maximize Your Potential
Are you maximizing your potential?
According to Merriam Webster, potential means “existing in possibility” or being “capable of development into actuality” (“Potential”). This means potential refers to something in a person, a part of them that can develop into something else.
"Am I doing enough?"
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably wondered at least once in your life if what you’re doing is enough. With social media, it’s so easy to see other people’s glitzy lives and begin comparing what we think they have to what we have. We often forget that what we see are only images people want us to see. This leads to insecurity and self-doubt.
It’s normal to doubt yourself once in a while. What with the current events in the world, it’s unsurprising for one to find him/herself questioning who s/he really is and what s/he can do. Anyone trapped in a situation they find unsatisfactory for long enough can begin to doubt their abilities.
I’m no stranger to self-doubt myself. As an overthinker, I always find myself up till the wee hours of the morning worrying over matters I cannot do much about. I question my choice of school, my choice of degree in college… and those happened years ago. Every once in a while, I question my career; I also find myself questioning every single choice I make throughout the day from my choice of beverage to when I should change my sheets.
You see, worrying is a normal part of living, and worrying and doubting have a fine line between them. I can tell you not to worry about things you can’t control but that would be hypocritical because I know that actively trying not to think of something can only backfire.
On the other hand, I found that doing something not only allows me to take my mind off worrying, it actually makes me better if what I’m doing is proactive. So far, the best remedy I have to self-doubt is by taking action. Today, I’ll be listing some things you can do right now to help you maximize your potential and help make sure you're doing something to improve yourself so you can start feeling better about yourself and loving yourself more.
How to Maximize Your Potential
In discussing potential, something naturally in a person, there isn’t much control over what one is born with. So I’d like to emphasize what one has control over which is nurture. While it’s true that how you were nurtured when you were young is not something you’re responsible for, but as you grow older, you have more agency in determining the environment you have. It can be as simple as choosing who you befriend and where you spend your time.
For students as young as 3 or 4, they can already determine which people they like to be friends with. As an adult, you should be more selective with whom you spend time and share your thoughts with.
You see, everyone is impressionable to some degree. If you want to be good, then surround yourself with people whom you perceive to be good. Befriend people who exude the traits you admire, and spend time with people whose values align with yours.
This allows you to control who influences you. A common mistake I see people do is indiscriminately asking people for advice. But if I was sick, and I wanted to get better, I wouldn’t go to just anyone to get advice. I would ask a doctor who specializes in my condition because not just anyone knows the right answer. It’s the same for everything else. You want to be picky and listen only to the people whose opinions matter to you. This way, you could easily avoid falling into the pleasing everybody trap which anyone can easily fall into.
As people, we are always in the process of becoming; so, by being selective of the people you allow to influence you, you’re controlling who you become on a daily basis.
On that note, don’t be shy or afraid to cut off people who are negative influences in your life. Although Asian culture demands you to be polite and have utang na loob, there’s a line you should draw between politeness and unnecessary sacrifice. We all have one life to live, don’t waste time pleasing people who are harming your well-being; and yes, that is what toxic people do. Don’t think “It’s just a comment” or “they’re family” because if it hurts you, it’s probably bad. And while a bad thing happening every once in a while might seem fine, these things definitely do add up. Do yourself a favor and stay away from people who suck the energy out of you.
When you do this, observe how much lighter you feel. This frees you up to make choices that would benefit you, that would help you grow and maximize your potential.
According to the American Psychological Association, perfectionism has increased significantly among young people since the 1980s (MacCann et al.). This does not bode well for our mental health because you have more people wanting to do things in the best way possible when there are so over 7 billion people in the world to compete with. If you’ve even been in a competition and felt like your heart is gonna jump out of your chest, then you know it’s not fun to experience that all the time. That is what perfectionists experience in different doses every day. It’s very unhealthy and it’s harming them.
If you’re a perfectionist, or if you’ve ever felt like you’re becoming one, take a step back and reflect. A lot of the time, one’s perfectionist tendencies derive from an insecurity brought about by a slew of other factors found in the environment, not only in the one you have now but those you had in the past as well.
Given this, discern whether your need to do things in the best way possible in the shortest time possible is actually doing you good. You see, every person is unique. There are environments that allow some people to thrive which can break other individuals; as they say, the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. So know whether being competitive is doing you good or harming you. A quick step back and reflection session can help with this.
Another alternative is talking to someone close to you, someone you trust, because a lot of the time, they see what you don’t. Getting their opinion on whether the pressure you’re in is doing you good or bad might open your eyes to something you’ve been overlooking.
But most of the time, if your perfectionism pushes you to overwork and you start wanting out, that’s a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard, and you’re probably burning out.
For the longest time in University, I felt like I was always competing with time. I tried to do as much as I could while having only 24 hours in a day. I worked myself sick and had to learn things the hard way. Overworking and putting too much pressure on yourself is not the key to maximizing your potential. As a matter of fact, when you overwork and stress yourself out too much, you’re making yourself blunt; you think and react slower and you also tend to make mistakes which only serves to hamper your potential. So take a breather, set a goal that is reasonable for yourself, and go at it slowly. This doesn’t mean you’re slacking, you’re just setting yourself up for the marathon because life is a marathon, not a sprint.
One of the most underestimated processes of growth is rest. There’s this false sense of growth when one keeps working and pushing oneself. Feeling confident about burning that midnight oil? That’s a placebo for insecurity. A lot of the time, people who end up working all night are cramming because they put off work till the last minute. Sure, sometimes this is due to irresponsible time management, but a lot of the time, it’s because you’re anxious.
According to research, there’s an association between certain anxiety disorders and procrastination; although the nature of the relationship has yet to be conclusive, it appears that “individuals who frequently procrastinate may become sensitive to the anxiety caused by procrastination (Penney, Crompton & Hutchison)”.
An implication of this is one’s tendency to increase one’s anxiety levels due to repetitive procrastination. So don’t be proud of all the all-nighters you’re pulling because if you look within, you’re probably making yourself a nervous wreck.
By neglecting to rest, you’re not only making yourself more anxious, you’re also stunting your growth because rest is a key part of growth! Muscle needs time to repair. The brain needs time to encode short term memory into long term memory. You are not a machine, you also need to rest!
How well one performs is determined by how well they recover. When one is burnt out and exhausted, then one cannot perform at their peak state. Did you know, research shows that lack of sleep and drinking alcohol produce the same cognitive impairment? (Williamson & Feyer) This means that when you go to work without sleep, it’s like working while drunk. You’re going to be slow, reckless, and irritable.
This is the very opposite of maximizing your potential. So the next time you feel like putting in those extra hours, ask yourself, will your performance be just as good when you work exhausted, or are you better off resting and working then?
This is nothing new and you’ve probably heard people say this a lot, but if you want to maximize your potential then you have to do something you have never done before. Just think of a muscle, to grow a muscle and make it stronger, one cannot just do the same exercise with the same intensity and duration forever. One has to do progressions so that the muscle will always be pushed, and when the muscle fibers tear up, that’s when you work on recovery so that it can heal up stronger than before.
A person is the same. If you keep doing the things you’re doing now, then you’re not going to get anywhere. If you want to maximize your potential, you want to push your boundaries daily similar to progressions in strength training. You have to constantly do things that would allow you to discover your abilities and talents. Remember, when you were a child, you did not know how to talk, how to walk, or how to feed yourself. You grew and developed into this talking, walking and self feeding human being you are today because you had to talk, walk and feed yourself and make mistakes along the way as you learn to do them.
You have to do the same even now. Put yourself out there. Try something you’ve never tried before; only then can you discover something you like doing or a talent waiting for you to discover. For some people, learning a subject in school terrifies them because they don’t do well in it and probably have always told themselves they can’t do it. That is called learned helplessness -- when people “come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available” (Legg).
Scrap that “I can’t do this” or “This is not for me” mentality! How you try to give it an honest shot. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not everyone learns in the same way so learning from afterschool programs or tutoring isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, doing is laudable because one makes effort to discover their potential. Not to mention, with technology, getting a tutor and learning after class has never been easier. Online tutoring and short courses are readily available to help bridge the gap between formal schooling and your learning. If you think you’re terrible in Math, maybe you’ve just been approaching the subject in the wrong way for you.
Meanwhile, if you’ve always stayed in your comfort zone, another way to easily break out of your shell is to learn a new language and start communicating with people you never have before. Not only will this expose you to new individuals carrying with them different stories and experiences, it also allows you to learn about a different culture which nurtures your appreciation for your own cultural heritage.
Some people choose to learn martial or learn how to play a musical instrument; to learn either, it takes a lot of repetition. This allows you to meditate, improve your discipline, and hone your motor skills. In the process, you can discover whether you’ve a knack for kinesthetic learning. You see, a lot of learners find that they prefer to try things out and do rather than sit and watch. Maybe you’re the same. You’ll only know when you try it!
Lastly, always have a learning mindset. One of the biggest mistakes a person can do in his/her life is thinking s/he already knows everything. This thinking process sabotages any growth you can experience regardless of what venture you try, be it studying subjects in school or learning a new skill like martial arts, speaking a new language, or playing an instrument. You see, when a cup is full, then there is no more room to collect water. So if a person thinks s/he knows something already, then there’s nothing more to be gained, no more learning and no more growth.
This is very important to keep in mind when trying anything out. Especially when you try something for the first time, you’re bound to make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes; that is what will allow you to grow and realize your potential.
A lot of the time, what limits us is less what we do than what we think. That’s why, you want to always open up your mind to possible learnings and possible growth. Because the world is always moving, everyone is in the process of becoming; either they become better or they become worse. The choice is up to you.
From my experience, the biggest challenge to maintaining a learning attitude is pride. Note that younger people find it easier to make mistakes, whereas the older people get, the harder it seems to admit when one makes a mistake. This has a lot of factors contributing to it, but I’d like to focus on the ego of a person. The older one gets and the more experiences one has, the bigger his or her ego becomes. In trying to protect this ego, a person may go out of their way to avoid situations where this ego might be hurt. A person can avoid trying new things where one naturally makes mistakes because their egos can’t bear to be embarrassed like that.
Luckily, a person can consciously go against this tendency by choosing to try new things and learning from their mistakes. You see, the people who are scared of making mistakes underestimate the power of making mistakes. I’m not saying that it’s alright to make mistakes in every situation, no, but don’t let fear of making mistakes guide your life. Embrace mistakes, and learn from mistakes. If possible, laugh at yourself. I find that this allows me to enjoy the learning process better. The next time you trip in public, laugh at it. It’s not a big deal. You’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes. Perhaps, remember where you tripped and walk more carefully next time.
Maximize your potential so you can love yourself more.
Ultimately, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to stay the way they are permanently, not when the world is moving so fast and pulling us here and there. In such volatile times, what you can do is to cling to yourself and believe in yourself. Take steps to make sure you’re doing something for you on a daily basis. But don’t forget to be kind to yourself and rest. Remember, taking one step daily is easier than taking 50 steps, exhausting yourself and stopping altogether. This, I think, is the core of maximizing your potential. It’s less about using an economic lens to quantify the worth of an individual but more of a means to cope with society’s highly capitalistic demands. It’s about what you think of yourself and doing something to improve yourself so you can love and accept yourself more and more each day.
Legg, Timothy J. “Learned Helplessness: Examples, Symptoms, and Treatment.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 31 May 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325355.
MacCann, Carolyn, et al. “Students Do Better in School When They Can Understand, Manage Emotions.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 12 Dec. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191212095906.htm.
Penney, Alexander M., et al. “Procrastination and Anxiety: Exploring the Contributions of Multiple Anxiety-Related Disorders: Request PDF.” ResearchGate, Mar. 2018, www.researchgate.net/publication/325203554_Procrastination_and_anxiety_Exploring_the_contributions_of_multiple_anxiety-related_disorders.
“Potential.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potential.
Williamson, A M, and A M Feyer. “Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine, BMJ Group, Oct. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/.
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