How to Reach Your Hidden Potential

March 24, 2024 Eric Hinkle

“People overestimate what can be done in one year, and underestimate what can be done in ten.”
– Bill Gates

My favorite quote is, “Happiness is the joy you feel while striving to reach your potential.” by Shaun Achor. But how, exactly, do we reach our potential? 👉 Adam Grant explored that in his book, Hidden Potential. 

Our culture tends to idolize a few uber-talented superstars, but Grant studied those among the rest of us who have achieved the most with the least. He found that the true measure of your success is not the heights you reach, but how far you climbed to get there. Early failure followed by later success is a mark of hidden potential.

Values vs Instincts

Grant defines "character" as our ability to prioritize our values over our instincts. Fortunately, character is a skill that can be developed. In one study, 1,500 middle-aged entrepreneurs were divided into 3 groups. One was taught technical skills like finance, marketing, etc.; one group learned character skills such as proactivity, discipline, and determination; and one was a control group. Over the next 2 years, the technical skills group grew their business by 10%. The character skills group grew theirs by 30%. Three times as much!

Personality only influences our tendencies, not our potential. If personality is how you show up on a typical day, character is how you respond to a hard day. Embracing discomfort is a character skill that can unlock your hidden potential. Learning isn't always easy. Practicing is hard. But you have to practice before you can get comfortable using a new skill. As the great philosopher Ted Lasso said… “If you’re comfortable, you’re doing it wrong.”

Growth Mindset Isn’t Enough

We need a growth mindset (belief in our ability to improve), but the psychologist behind this idea, Carol Dweck, recently demonstrated that a growth mindset alone isn’t enough. We also need scaffolding to support it. In construction, scaffolding is a temporary structure that enables work crews to scale heights beyond their reach. When the building can stand on its own, the scaffolding is removed. Same principle applies to the support and guidance you get from a parent, teacher, or coach while learning something new.

Collaborate More

Successful business owners assemble a team of experts to help them. Attorneys, accountants, etc. But experts may not know (or remember) what it's like to be in your shoes. Einstein was a genius. And a terrible teacher. Experts can leave you feeling frustrated and incompetent if you try to follow their path.

To reach our potential more effectively, we also need guides (people who have done what you're trying to do) to keep us moving in the right direction. Like a compass. The point of engaging guides isn’t to blindly follow their lead. It’s to explore possible paths together. No one knows your exact journey, but you can learn from theirs. Directions from multiple guides can help you piece together a route that works uniquely well for you. Your route will be different, but collaborating with your guides will help you find your way faster.

If you want to learn something even better, teach it to others. Known as the "tutor effect", teaching is a surprisingly powerful way to increase your own competence. The "coach effect", on the other hand, is a powerful way to build your confidence. As the coach, you will feel more motivated and able to overcome the challenges you help others navigate. Mastermind groups of like-minded people facing similar challenges are an effective way to coach and be coached simultaneously.

It's a Marathon, Not a SprintHP-learning

Straight lines are faster in the short run, but loops and detours lead to the highest peaks over the long run. We don’t need to be laser focused 100% of the time. Breaks are not a distraction. They’re a chance to incubate fresh new ideas, renew your passion and refuel your energy for the next climb on your journey. Hobbies can also build your confidence and help you avoid burnout.

Reaching a plateau doesn’t mean you’ve peaked. It’s only a sign that it may be time to turn around and find a new route. When you’re stuck, it’s usually because you’re heading in the wrong direction, you’re on the wrong path, or you’re running out of fuel. Replacing the plan that got you “here” with a new plan to get you “there” will likely cause a temporary decline in your competence and confidence. It takes time to learn a new plan. But don’t be afraid to go backward. Think long-term. The alternative is to stay where you are. Steady but stuck. Remember... If nothing changes, nothing changes.

HP-pathIt’s easy to feel stuck when you only focus on the challenges you're facing today. Don't be too hard on yourself. Zoom out to see your trajectory over the long haul and appreciate how far you’ve traveled.

Beat Your Best

Be competitive, with yourself. When we only compare ourselves to others, it's possible to "win" without getting better. Or feel like we're losing, even when we're winning. Strive to be better, not perfect.


👉 Inspired by Adam Grant's book, Hidden Potential



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