The term "unlocking your potential" is thrown around a lot in the self-help and personal development world, but what does it actually mean? Everyone seems to have their own definition and idea of what it entails, but when you ask people to be precise, most aren't able to give a clear answer.
Courses and workshops promising to help you unlock your potential are a dime a dozen, but do they really deliver on their promises? Some say it's about setting and achieving goals, while others say it's about tapping into your inner strengths and abilities. But what is the truth?
After delving deeply into the topic, I've come to understand that unlocking your potential is about aligning your unique capabilities, your Multiple Intelligences and Multiple Natures (your "tigers") with the work and activities you do in your life.
Many people believe that unlocking their potential means expanding the power or range of their abilities— i.e., increasing the size of their "tigers". And to that end, they aim to improve their language competence, their mathematical prowess, their business acumen, creativity or other qualities. However, the strategy of trying to stretch your talents will inevitably fail.
The reason for this is that by time time you reach early adulthood, your tigers have reached their peak size. It doesn’t mean they can’t evolve, but the degree that they can be expanded is a fraction of what it was during your early childhood and adolescence.
This is not necessarily bad news.
That’s because the key to unlocking your potential has to do with aligning those tigers with activities, not expanding them.
Let me give you an example.
Consider Ashish, a software engineer who has a high Naturalistic Intelligence but is currently working in a desk job in a corporate environment. Despite his love for nature and outdoor activities, he spends most of his day sitting in front of a computer, staring at code.
As a result, he feels disconnected from his passion and unfulfilled in his job. He often daydreams about quitting his job and working as a park ranger or a farmer. This disconnection and lack of fulfillment leads to high stress levels and low productivity. He also has trouble sleeping and his health is suffering, due to lack of nature and physical movement.
No amount of coding courses, soft-skills training, or hard(er) work is going to result in Ashish become a more competent and joyful professional. That’s because his Nature is not aligned with his work. The returns on any further investment will diminish. In fact at a certain point they will start to drop off. The more he tries, the more he suffers.
Now take Caitlyn, a healthcare administrator, who has a high Administrative Intelligence and Educative Nature. She works as a hospital administrator, where she is responsible for the efficient running of the center, the education and development of staff and the overall administration of the hospital.
She is able to use her innate ability for organization and administration to improve the hospital's performance and make it run more smoothly. She also takes on the role of educating and mentoring the new staff and even the patients in how to navigate the healthcare system. As a result, she feels a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment in her job, she is able to help many people and she is able to manage her stress levels well. The reason is because her Nature is aligned with her work.
The deeper she goes, the more intense her satisfaction is—and the less energy it takes her to get better and better results.
For her, the curve is the opposite of Ashish’s. It’s an exponentially increasing curve where she achieves more and more with less and less exertion.
When you align your potential with your actions, a number of positive changes occur in your life. First, you experience a reduction in effort, also known as "wu wei" or “non-forcing action”.
Aligning your potential with your actions also leads to an increase in impact or productivity. As you are working in line with your tigers, you are able to accomplish more in less time. This increased productivity can lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Another benefit of aligning your potential with your actions is the release of “happy chemicals” in the brain. When you are engaged in activities that align with your tigers, your brain releases chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, which contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being.
It also leads to a reduction in stress levels. When you are engaged in activities that align with your tigers, the level of cortisol in your body decreases, which can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
And when you are in such a state, you are less likely to turn to food, sugar, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, which can lead to a reduction in toxins in your body.
The virtuous cycle continues: you’ll do better work, which will yield better results. This leads to more value creation for others, which in turn leads to recognition and rewards, such as raises, promotions, or increased status.
And it goes on! With increased status, the level of serotonin increases, which will lead to more people wanting to be around you, leading to an increase in the level of oxytocin, which leads to better relationships. And eventually you become less likely to want more stuff to make you happy. Your work and relationships are what bring you joy.
It's important to note that the process of aligning your potential with your actions is not linear. It is more cyclical. You gain some understanding of your tigers, align them better with your actions, and then seek out situations to engage them more effectively. If things don't go as planned, you reflect on what went wrong and try again, gradually making progress over time. The more you understand about your tigers, the faster you can make progress in aligning them with your actions.
Ultimately, unlocking your potential is about recognizing and embracing your tigers, aligning them with your actions, and practicing non-forcing. By staying aware of this dynamic and working to align your potential with your actions over time, you can achieve a state of "swastha," or enduring well-being. In this state, your potential is constantly aligned and in a state of constant unlocking.
How about you? Are you aware of your tigers? Are they aligned for the most part with your work and daily activities? To what degree do you feel like you’re leading life of “swastha”?
I’d love to hear from you!