We talk a lot about living life to our fullest potential, about being our best self. For many of us, it’s the primary goal and focus of our life, to be the absolute best we can be, right here, right now. The most intriguing part of the process to me is that it is a moving target. As good as I am right now, and in fact, I am the best I’ve ever been, I know I can continue to evolve and be even better.
Sometimes in the journey, we get stuck at a particular place. Here are 10 signals you’re not living to your fullest potential right now and some ideas for moving out of these ’stuck’ places.
1. You find yourself using phrases such as ‘I wish I could’, ‘If only’, ‘I really ought to’, ‘I should do’, ‘As soon as (I lose weight, find another job, find a mate)’ If thoughts control who we are, then words are the primary tool we have to redefine ourselves. The more you repeat the phrases above, the less energetic and more powerless you feel.
Antidote: Find new, powerful words to replace the ones that are bringing you down. A very powerful phrase is ‘For whatever reason, I am currently choosing to (or not to) xxx’. No matter what the action you are doing or not doing, the moment you acknowledge it’s a choice, you put yourself in a position of power. You also put yourself in a position to make a new choice.
2. You feel overwhelmed, overworked, undervalued and under-appreciated. In fact, you feel like a victim. It seems like things are being done ‘to’ you (or a group of people you belong to) and nobody appreciates you.
Antidote: These feelings springs from a sense of scarcity, so the best antidote is to start feeling grateful. Once you begin to feel truly, sincerely grateful for all the gifts you do have in your life (and everything in your life is a gift), your energy levels increase and you start enjoying your life again. Don’t forget to feel grateful for yourself, your strengths and abilities, what makes you uniquely you.
3. You need to buy a new bookshelf just for your self -help books. I smile as I write this, since I probably have one of the best collections around. It’s not so much that you have a large library, but that you are constantly seeking for a magic answer, for the one single piece of information that is going to lift you up and put you back on the road to being your best self.
Antidote: Go within. Use meditation, journal work and prayer to seek the answers that are already within you. Use the writings of others as starting points if you will, but recognize that their writings are the answers they came up with when they went inside themselves. Start with 5 minutes twice a day if that’s all you have, but the peace you are looking for already exists within you. Become friends with it once again. The easiest tool I can recommend for this is the 3-Breath Miracle. Engage your mind in following your breath for 3 long, deep, slow breaths, holding them as long as possible and expelling air when you exhale. Pay attention to how you feel once you do this completely. This is the energy you are going for.
4. The only reason you go to work is to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. This has nothing to do with the nature of the work you do, but with how you feel about how you are using your gifts and talents, and whether or not you feel you are doing the best job you possibly can. Do you feel respected at work? Do you respect the work that others do around you?
Antidote: Remember that people around you primarily serve as mirrors for how you feel about yourself. When you start giving 100% of yourself at work, when you strive for excellence in all you do, and when you value your contribution to the team/effort, others will start reflecting that back. You cannot find work that you love if you can’t find the joy in the work that you currently do. Again, it starts from within.
5. You don’t have a clear sense of who you are or what you stand for. You find it difficult to make choices and you feel like you are drifting from one life situation to another. What seems important one day seems inconsequential the next.
Antidote: Identify your values. When you know what you truly hold important in this life and allow yourself to make choices in alignment with those values, you gain tremendous freedom in your life. Being true to what you believe in is very liberating. A simple way to get some clarity is to ask yourself ‘What do I want to role-model for others?’
If this confuses you because you thought you were clear about your values and what is important to you, you may be in a transitional mode where the priorities of your values are shifting. This happens at different times in our lives as we mature, get older and experience different life events. For example, having children is a time that many of us experience a shift in our priorities, as is getting older and experiencing health problems. As a rule, allowing yourself to be ‘in the present’ and seeing that you are not giving up on a value, but reassigning it a number will do much to let go of the confusion.
6.You are more worried about being right than about being happy. This is an easy game to get caught up in. We often look for life experiences that vindicate our opinions, and not the other way around. The lure of being ‘right’ is very seductive and it is very easy to sabotage yourself with this game.
Antidote: Ask yourself ‘Where in my life am I letting my need to be right to take over? Am I willing to let go of being right? Am I willing to be happy? What would it look like to be happy instead of being right?’ The key point here is being willing to choose being happy over being right. Once you make that choice, you will start to notice where your need to be right is getting in the way.
7. Before you go to sleep at night, you find yourself wishing you had spent your day doing something other than what you did. If you find yourself doing this on a consistent basis, it’s time to look at the choices you are making. Also, this is different from not getting to something you meant to do because something else required your attention. This is about doing non-productive things on a regular basis, then wishing we’d done something else.
Antidote: There are two suggestions for this item. The first is to not wait until you go to bed to review how you spent your time. Look at what you are doing on an hourly basis. The other suggestion is, once you are looking at this hour, make a conscious choice about what you want to be doing. You can choose to watch TV or play on the computer, but at the end of the day you will be able to honestly say you did what you wanted to do. You can also try to spend 5 or 10 minutes of each hour doing something that will make you feel good to get done. Allow yourself to build on small successes.
8. You spend a lot of time doing things that keep your mind occupied (so you don’t have to think about you). While related to number 7, this is the actual activity that keeps you from producing your best effort. When we are really determined to sit on our greatness, we usually don’t get to the point of wishing we’d done something different. The primary focus of this activity is to not think about you or your life. Therefore, it must engage our mind and keep it occupied. It might be TV, the computer, the news, what the neighbor’s are doing, anything that can grab us and keep us.
Antidote: Many of these activities are designed to deaden the thoughts that make you uncomfortable (see number 1). Often, when we get tired of the negative messages, our first response is to try to stop thinking. The more we don’t think, the more energy we need to spend on not thinking. Some down-time is good, even essential. The key here is when big chunks of time are lost to these activities. The first thing to do is to give yourself permission to do the activity you are doing. Again, it’s bringing it into the realm of choice. Then, let yourself make different choices from time to time.
9. You feel an underlying sense of sadness (when you let yourself feel). Part of the reason we don’t want to let ourselves think or feel is that we are afraid we will be overwhelmed by the sadness. We are petrified to go down that road.
Antidote: If you feel sadness, something is going on and it is critical to release the tears. Give yourself an opportunity to cry in a safe environment. For example, although we may not be able to give ourselves permission to cry about what we need to cry about, we can cry while watching a sad movie. One of my favorite movies to use for this purpose is ‘Pay it Forward’, but you probably have your own favorite. It’s really important to free yourself from this emotion, and allowing it out is actually the way to not being overwhelmed by it. Once you allow the tears, don’t be surprised if you have a real burst of energy.
10. You keep all conversations at a superficial level. Safe topics are the weather, the news, TV and movies. If you find yourself steering all conversations away from you, you may be in emotional hiding.
Antidote: Find an outlet so that you can allow yourself to go inwards safely. Try journal writing, writing a letter to God, or some other format for getting in touch with what’s going on.
(*) Related Quotes (*)
“This represents one of the great tragedies and wastes in life, because so much potential remains untapped — completely undeveloped and unused. Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential.” — Stephen R. Covey
“It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.” — Philip Adams
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
“The secret of all power is – save your force. If you want high pressure you must choke off waste.” — Joseph Farrell
“‘Know thyself,’ said the old philosopher, ‘improve thyself,’ saith the new. Our great object in time is not to waste our passions and gifts on the things external that we must leave behind, but that we cultivate within us all that we can carry into the eternal progress beyond.” — Edward Bulwer-Lytton