We don’t know how much potential we have, but we all have much more potential than we develop and use. So act as though your potential is unlimited, just largely untapped.

How do we release our potential? Let me answer by telling a story. One time Diane and I were flying from London to Seattle, a 10-hour flight. Not wanting to waste the time, we talked about what we wanted to do in the next year and set some goals. I wrote my list, and Diane wrote her list. We looked at each other’s list, and realized that it was basically the same list we had last year. Our lists indicated that we hadn’t grown much on the inside during the year.

You don’t make bigger goals than what you think you can accomplish. Your goals reflect your efficacy appraisal; they are accurate indicators of your growth, your skills, your knowledge, your causative power, your relationships. Have you grown in recent months? As you grow on the inside, your goals get bigger. If you don’t grow, your goals remain the same.

So Diane said, “Let’s not set any goals for a while. We’ll spend the next six months developing our efficacy, and then we’ll set goals. If we set goals now, they would be too small for us.”

Inner strength creates outer reality. If you develop on the inside, you won’t just wait for somebody to throw a party for you, promote you, or discover you. You won’t just wait for good fortune; instead, you will cause it.

There’s a direct relationship between the way your life is going and the way you think, talk, and walk. Some time ago, a friend of mine was involved in a float plane crash and almost died. As she started her recovery, she was depressed, thinking “Nothing in life matters now.” Gradually, she gained more strength and stopped feeling sorry for herself. Her smart talk became, “Look, you’re here to enjoy life. You could die any time. So enjoy it all.”

unlock your hidden potential

At every age and stage in life, we can come up with reasons or rationalizations why we can’t do something. Or, we can come up with reasons why we can do something. For example, in Ireland, I once met an impressive young man, age 25, who was attending an executive program. Most participants were 40 to 60 years old. I observed, “You seem to feel that you belong here.” He said, “Why not? Alexander the Great was 17 when he took over command of his country’s army.” Another example: at age 89, Ruth Stafford Peale took over the management of The Peale Center, a major business and ministry, following the death of her famous husband, Norman Vincent Peale. She said, ”Oh, I feel younger than ever. I’m excited. This is a new job for me. But I’m ready for it.” I’m impressed by such people because they don’t feel that they are too young or too old to do what they want to do. They reject the rationalizations common to their age.

On to Bigger and Better Things

If you blame your lack of growth on the people and events outside of you, you don’t grow. Part of efficacy is knowing that you can know, that you can learn, that you can do, that you can unfold options and create a new reality.

As you increase your efficacy, you’ll turn and face challenges, even dangers, in your community and your workplace. You’ll have the strength to go toward the problem, to turn toward bigger challenges when you feel that it’s the right thing to do and you’re capable of doing it. Your there will get bigger than your family, your neighborhood, your school, your home town. Sure, you start there, but then you ask, “What could I do for all the kids around me? What could I do for the community?” And the spiral gets bigger. “Now, what do I want for China?” Your wants just get bigger.

Now, as you try to take other people with you to go where you need to go in a competitive world, you may frighten some of them to death. To a point, this anxiety arousal is okay; but if you let it go unchecked, then you not only get uptight, but you also get negative ideas and avoidant behavior. Inefficacious anxiety arousal by you or your people is the root cause of avoidant behavior. You talk yourself out of what you’re capable of doing. And to you they’re not excuses, they’re good reasons. If you won’t quit on one good reason, your subconscious gives you two; and if you won’t quit on two, it gives you 200.

To get from here to there, you will need to release your potential. You stretch your internal comfort zone first using visualization and imagination. It’s a deliberate process of seeing yourself into the next level socially, financially, environmentally. When you do it properly, you change the picture in your mind. As you visualize the new, you become dissatisfied with the old. And that causes you to automatically move, to motivate, to get creative, to go to the next level.

reach your potential

If you’re in a team effort and expect to bring your team with you, they need to change their internal image too, or all they do is drag you back. They’re not bad people they’re just uncomfortable with your growth. So they keep pulling you back. They find reasons why “it won’t work.” They subtly sabotage your growth, because they’re fighting for sanity.

I know what a struggle it is to transcend your culture and to operate on a more global level. And so I praise people who transcend the culture inside their own organization or community, people who are fighting the battle on the street. The constant challenge is to help change the culture that we are in now, whether it be a home, a high school, or a major corporation. It is the same problem, the same challenge, and it takes the same courage for the second grader as it does the “big time” executive. The big time is where you are at the present moment. It is some child in the second grade standing up against oppression; it is some kid taking a lead inside a community against drugs or crime it has nothing to do with whether you happen to be in the big time.

The big time is where you are at the present moment. It takes courage for a high school teacher to take a stand against the injustice going on at the school. It takes courage to challenge injustice wherever you are. Transcending a culture is just going against the way things presently are in the environment. It isn’t some grand thing reserved for those people “out there.”

Some big-salary entertainers, athletes, executives, and celebrities who allegedly affect millions of people aren’t doing as much good as some “small people” are doing by helping the homeless get food and shelter or by helping sexually abused children. That, too, is making a difference. Whether you make a difference with two or two million, who’s to say which is better? Is more always better? Is bigger always better?

Who are the truly great people? Those who act most courageous, most giving, most loving. The best leaders honestly don’t believe that they are more important than anyone else in the organization. They’re fighting the same problems. And in the process, they grow, progress, improve, increase their causative power, and prepare for the future. In seeking a new opportunity, a new world, a new life, they often transcend their childhood culture. They leave the homes and towns and professions of their parents and go where they can make a major contribution with their talents.

By contrast, if you put inefficacious people into a new culture or environment where they can’t go back, they tend to recreate their old environment.

How do you grow beyond the image that you hold in your mind of how the old country was or how the old way was? What allows you to break free from entrapment and from past history?

As you change your internal picture of where you belong, you’ll encounter attitudes, beliefs, forces, and habits that hold you back. You may find that some of your cherished beliefs are false: “This is all that man can do.” “The world is flat.” If you hold on to false beliefs, you remain a prisoner. You must free yourself from the fears, the ignorance, the ambivalence. Believe you can change, want to change, decide where you want to go and grow, and create some deep emotion about it. Identify one or two areas to start with and start building efficacy in that one area.

That’s the way I did it. I started only wanting to win more football games. I was just trying to improve the way I coached. And I said, “But it will work here, and it will work there.” Before long I talked myself right out of coaching football. And yet now, I coach other coaches and players. My life is very different from the way I thought it would be.

Your success may not come the way you thought it would either. But if you stop and reflect back, you may say with me, “Well, what do you know, I am a coach.” So, be careful that you don’t map the way to some of your big ideals. Don’t lock on to some method or means. Keep the end in mind, but be flexible about ways and means.