Living up to your potential sounds pretty fancy. It's something we all want, right? Live up to your potential. Maximize your potential. Be all that you can be.
But how, exactly, do you do it? How does an intangible life objective become manifest into your daily routine? For Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%: How to unlock your vast untapped potential for leadership and life, accessing our own hidden intelligence and achieving our potential lies in better understanding neuroscience and trusting our brains in order to unlock our full capacity.
What did you do last week?
What did you do last week? What did you do yesterday?
A friend of mine was chatting with me recently, and he confessed that he'd get to the end of his day and he would forget what it was that he had done during the day. He'd look at his to-do list and realize, "Oh, right—I did some account desk settings, some client help, answered emails, built my next list..."—but when prompted with a question, he couldn't remember. Nothing stood out.
Our brains are designed to help keep us safe and warm—comfortable and secure. Cooper describes how this part of our brain works:
"A powerful part of the brain, the amygdala, wants the world to run on routine, not change. Located within the limbic system, an ancient area of the mind that deals with the way you perceive and respond to the world, the amygdala relentlessly urges us to favor the familiar and routine. It craves control and safety, which at times can be vital."
The amygdala serves as the center of our brain to keep us safe and secure. When deciding between doing something new and something familiar, we'll be steered to the familiar. This is helpful in many ways—but in terms of growing beyond your comfort zone, not so much.
"The amygdala's instincts, which have evolved over thousands of years, tend to spill over into every aspect of life and promote a perpetual reluctance to embrace anything that involves risk, change, or growth."
And here's the kicker:
After understanding how our brains operate to keep us safe, he devised a simple mechanism to "overcome our natural resistance to growth." By regularly asking two questions—whether it's by taping them to our bathroom mirror; scheduling a meeting with ourselves weekly, or having a journaling practice—we can begin to override the amygdala's tendency to keep us safe and secure.
He recommends asking yourself two questions:
Exceptional might be loving more; it might a tender moment. It might be resting more, or doing less. What is exceptional for you—taking your child to school and holding his hand and listening to his stories—might be different for the next person.
For me, this week, I'll follow up with my clients and prospects and touch base with people just to let them know I'm thinking of. This week, I'll plan a brand-new webinar and teach myself a new software program to run more online classes. And this week, I'll do week 6 of The Artist's Way, a project still in fruition for me. Those are the exceptions to my week. Those are the pieces that are somehow difficult for me, and that will make this week above and beyond last week.
Breaking down 'exceptional' into weekly increments—noticing what's different from one week to the next; understanding how a little bit more, or a little bit different this week can be the work that matters—is both tangible and do-able, and keeps you on track.
That way, when fifty-two weeks add up to a year as they always seem to do, you can look back and think, wow. That year was great.