Human beings are amazing things. We create fantastic music, literature and art. We invented democracy, developed vaccines that saved millions of lives, sent people to the moon – and back, luckily for them. (We even invented a type of bread that’s good for the gut!). As a species, it seems like our potential knows no bounds.
On an individual level, though, things can feel a little different. Most of us have an idea of the things we’re good at, and a vague sense that we can achieve some cool stuff. But working out how to get anywhere near our personal potential isn’t easy. So here are eight strategies to help you release that inner genius.
1. Work out your goals
The first step on the road to unlocking your potential is to set some goals. And the best way to work out what your goals should be is to ask yourself some big questions: what do you want your average day to look like? If you could achieve just one more thing, what would it be? What things in life give you the most pleasure or fulfillment? (Dogs Who Look Like Famous People videos on YouTube don’t count, OK?) Your answers should help you determine what exactly it is you want from life and the goals you’ll need to aim for in order to achieve those things.
2. Dream big, start small
Whether you dream of founding a charity, building your own house, or inventing the next Macarena, big ambitions can be daunting. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away from them. You might decide that you want to make the world a better place – in fact, you probably should – but where do you start with that one?
It’s easy to be intimidated by big dreams like this, and fear can be a huge barrier to us achieving our potential. The best way to deal with this problem is to treat each dream like a nice, big meal, and break it down into bite-sized chunks. Work backwards from your ultimate goal and define the individual steps you’ll need to take in order to eventually achieve it. And if you build these steps into habits, you’ll be far more likely to achieve them.
3. Build good habits
Never underestimate the power of the habit. Bad ones (smoking, procrastinating, falling asleep during dinner with the in-laws) can stop us from living the life we want to live, and good ones are the key to unlocking our potential. Positive things done once in a blue moon – be it exercise, healthy eating or learning a new skill – aren’t particularly beneficial. If you want to be the next Jimi Hendrix, you’re going to have to play the guitar more than once or twice. But if we turn positive actions into habits, we supercharge them, and we’re far more likely to succeed. For more on this, go here.
4. Challenge how you see yourself
Most of us have a pretty strong idea of what kind of a person we are: what we’re good at, what we’re not so good at. Or at least we think we do. The fact is that just as our talents can be misunderstood by others – “hang on I’m brilliant at dancing!” – it’s possible for us to put unfair labels on ourselves, too.
A bad experience in math class could have us living the rest of our lives under the assumption that we’re lousy with numbers, when this may not be true. This kind of mislabelling can really hold us back and is worth challenging. One simple exercise is to pick something you think you’re bad at but would like to be good at (spelling, table tennis, singing) and devote 15 minutes each day to getting better at it. As your confidence builds, so should your ability. See where you get to over the course of a month – you might be in for a surprise.
5. Try new stuff
So there are the things you know you find fulfilling, and the things you know don’t fulfil you, and these of course are limited to the things you’ve actually tried. It’s an obvious one, but trying new stuff is a great way to make discoveries about yourself: your likes, dislikes and capabilities. It also makes life a lot more interesting. So why not make a pact with yourself to try something new this week. It could be something big (learn how to code) or something small (learn how to make kimchi), but either way, you might find it pushes open a doorway to a new path in life.
6. Love your gut
There’s now lots of evidence that healthier guts are linked to better immunity, energy levels and mood. And just think what you could achieve if you were even a tiny bit healthier, happier and more energetic, every single day. Would you take up white-water rafting? Start an avant-garde dance troupe? Learn to cook better roast potatoes than Mum? (Yeah, dream on.)
The reverse is true, of course. If you have an unhealthy gut, one where the unfriendly bacteria outnumber the friendly ones, chances are this is holding you back. The good news, though, is that improving your gut health is actually pretty easy.
7. Read books, lots of them
We live in a culture of ideas. They lie at the heart of every new work of art, every new piece of music, every new business. But creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In order to come up with the kind of ideas that are going to help release our inner genius, we need stimulation, inspiration and education – and there are few better places to get all three of these than a really good book. Best of all, great ideas can come from any kind of reading, it could be poetry, novels, non-fiction, manga cartoons, joke books… you name it.
So go with your gut and read the things that interest you.
8. Embrace failure
If you’re going to come anywhere close to achieving your potential, one thing is for sure: things are going to go wrong along the way (very sorry to have to break that to you). The important thing is how you deal with it. As the old saying goes: failure is a stepping stone to success. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. The first Harry Potter book was rejected time and time again and got a big thumbs down from pretty much every publishing house in the UK. Its author, JK Rowling, we’re sure you know became pretty successful (she’s now a billionaire). Failure is a vital part of success and one the best things we can do is to welcome it into our lives with open arms and give it a big fat hug.