You will never reach your full potential… and that’s OK.
I am an ambitious person. In my mind, whenever I do something (I’m refraining myself to use the word accomplish because I’m never truly satisfied), I always have this Batman Begins scene in my head: Rachel sees Bruce Wayne running out with two models after buying out a hotel; Bruce Wayne poses and says: “Rachel, all- all this, it- it’s not me, inside, I am, I am more.”. For some reason, mostly because I am a Batman nerd, this scene resonates so much. The funny thing is that I sometimes forget Rachel’s response: “Bruce, deep down you may still be that great kid you used to be, but it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you *do* that defines you.”. Here it is: if you think you are more, then show that you can do more. I was actually reminded of Rachel’s wisdom this week by a friend/mentor of mine who enlightened a path for me to do more and get better at my job. Looking back on it, I realized that I managed to have an unconscious belief that I reached a finite knowledge/expertise about my job which could not be any further from the truth. That’s why in this blog post, I’d like to give you what really helps me going: You are never done. You don’t get to finish the game. And that’s pretty awesome.
The hinder nature of achievement
The first thing to acknowledge is the fact that the belief of achieving a certain potential is crippling. As mentioned in my very recent life experience, my unconscious belief of having reached a certain expertise in my job prevented me to get to the next steps of my career. But this is true for a lot of other things. To give you another personal example, being a fairly dedicated runner, you get to assume a few paces at which you run a certain type of races, e.g. this pace is my 5K pace, and it’s very hard to re-teach your brain to think that you can go faster than your “5K pace” when racing. It’s when you have no pre-conceived notion of what you are capable of that you can improve. But here is the secret: when you do the best race of your life, you did the best race of your life… so far! And in a similar manner that the best way to combat cognitive biases is to deliberately scrutinize them when trying to form a fallacy-free thought, you should look for your unconscious beliefs of potential and strip them of their crippling nature.
The value of consistency
The fun thing when you realize that all of your preconceived beliefs about your current potential are ill-informed, is that you get to contemplate the abyss of the work that needs to be done in every aspect of your life if you want not to get schackled by them. If you ask me, staring into the abyss is always fun. All kidding asides, it raises a very difficult question: if I can always improve, how do I get better? I think that this plays very nicely with one of the most important core belief I and many share: consistency. Let me take an example from the fitness realm again, in this case evaluating the benefits of muscle confusion versus progressive overload (spoiler, the title of this article: ‘Muscle Confusion’ Is Mostly a Myth). Too often we are confronted with miracle fitness solutions, founded on the idea that dramatically shaking things up will enable you to unlock your maximum potential. As debunked here, the only method with tangible results is consistent incremental improvement. I think we can draw a fairly straight forward corollary to the selection of our method of improvement. A muscle confusion-like does not work for improving the skills that we are trying to improve here: you are trying to improve something at which you are already proficient, which implies that you have already done a lot of work in figuring out what works best and what doesn’t. The only way to get better is to slowly augment the resistance. Look at what you have done so far. If you’re comfortable with it add more until you get comfortable. Repeat.
Coping with never being done
Now if you agree with me that you will never reach a finite potential and that the only way to improve is consistent slow incremental changes, this can be a little overwhelming. Since I agree with myself, at least for the next 10 minutes, I am a little overwhelmed. The way that I found I could cope with this incessant work that will eventually lead to my death is three fold. First, I plan things out. I set actionable, trackable short-term goals. For instance, I wanted to get better at writing and communicating so I set myself a goal of writing a blog post every week. I have done that so far, even if I missed one week over that past few months. Secondly, I prioritize. I acknowledge for instance that I don’t want to sacrifice some of the time I am spending working or running playing Magic, and that therefore I will not get to play the pro-tour any time soon or ever for that matter. Understanding what you decide not to not improve is crucial. Finally, I allow myself to enjoy the present. Granted, I’m not super good at it as of today, but I haven’t reached my full potential yet!