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Changing Perspective

How to Realize Your Maximum Potential and Steps to Get There

What stories do you tell yourself? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Do you believe that you aren’t good at math or writing? Are you “set in your ways?” Maybe you feel like you have one foot moving forward, and the other firmly rooted in your past.

To some extent, we all do this. These statements can either be our greatest asset or our biggest detriment, because the stories we tell ourselves inevitably become true. Call it labelling theory, self-fulfilling prophecy, or stereotyping. Whatever you call it, when you attach a thought or label to yourself, you become that label.

Gerald Ford reportedly once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.” This idea is better explained in the book, Personality Isn’t Permanent, by Dr. Benjamin Hardy. One passage reads,

“Labels create tunnel vision. Assuming a label can lead you to being ‘mindless,’ stopping you from seeing all of the times the label isn’t true. As Harvard psychologist and mindfulness expert Dr. Ellen Langer has said, ‘If something is presented as an accepted truth, alternative ways of thinking do not even come up for consideration,’” (p 29).

Hardy continues,

“When you allow yourself to stop defining yourself as a certain ‘type,’ such as ‘introvert’ or ‘extrovert,’ you become far more open. Your possibilities and choices expand. Your responsibility and agency increase. You can do what you want to do, regardless of how you currently see yourself,” (p 30).

Who you are and who you want to be are limited only by your personal narrative. Many veterans, who have struggled with transition and the resulting loss of identity, have learned this truth the hard way (including this author). Here are four tips to realize your maximum potential and actively shape your future:

  1. Act on behalf of your future self.

    If you could instantly become the best version of yourself, what would that person look like? Would you be incredibly fit? Maybe you would be more outgoing, kinder, or have a solid plan for retirement. Regardless of what this future self looks like, use them as the gatekeeper in everything you do. Before you eat that donut or make that impulsive purchase, ask yourself, “Would my future self do this?” If the answer is “no,” don’t do it.

  2. Change the stories you tell yourself.

    We all have the tendency to “know” what it is we like and dislike and how we usually behave in certain situations. How self-limiting is that? How effective am I going to be in the corporate world if I’m still telling myself that I’m a soldier? How successful are you going to be at networking if you keep telling yourself, “I’m not a people person?” If the stories you tell yourself are holding you back, change them! Three years ago, I was an extreme introvert with a crippling fear of public speaking, but now I’ve shared stories of my service in dozens of public settings, and I’m actively pursuing a career on the stage. Who you are is not written in stone. Almost every aspect of who you are is malleable. You aren’t “set in your ways,” you are simply unwilling to change. You can be whatever you want, regardless of your past, as long as you are willing to change the stories you tell yourself.

  3. Train.

    Ask any neurologist and they will tell you that the synapses in your brain that fire together will wire together. It’s not enough to simply tell yourself, “I’m an extrovert now,” you have to actually put in the work. If you are normally shy and reserved but you want to be more outgoing, you have to actually do it. It feels awkward at first and even a little terrifying, but if you truly want to become the person you have always wanted to be, you have to take risks in the name of your future self. Before long, you will start to see significant change and it will become much easier.

  4. Don’t beat yourself up.

    Listen, it sounds easy on paper, but it can be difficult to change who you are, especially if you have acted a certain way for most of your life. Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon or lifted weights can tell you that growth only happens through struggle. You are going to fail. You are going to be uncomfortable. Your past self is going to rear its head. Just be kind to yourself and remember that this is a process, and at least you are trying to move in the right direction. No one ever started a diet and stuck with it 100% of the time. There’s never been an athlete in history that didn’t skip a workout. So, don’t put a ton of pressure on yourself to get it right every single time. Ask anyone that is in ridiculously good shape and they will tell you that a cheat meal is not going to derail you from a fitness goal. But, if you let it turn into a cheat week, that’s a problem. Just do your best to get back on track as soon as possible.