Recently I came across a book by Dr. Farrell Silverberg, Make the Leap: A Practical Guide to Breaking the Patterns That Hold You Back (Marlowe & Company), in which he asserts that the biggest factor keeping us from reaching our potential is the repetitive patterns that dictate our lives.
While repeating a pattern creates a familiar feeling that lends sensations of hopefulness and confidence, Silverberg believes that patterns are often responsible for our underachievement. A pattern’s addictively optimistic feeling can blind us to all the ways the pattern doesn’t allow us to fully achieve what we truly feel is important, meaningful, and valuable. Instead of deliberately choosing to create who we are and how we want to live, the repetitive default activation of an (often) unconscious mechanism can become the driving force that creates a life while also limiting it. At the center of Silverberg’s theory for how to reach potential lies a healthy dose of self-awareness, which can be used to break those patterns.
“Potential” is defined as “developing into something.” Thinking about how self-awareness can shape our potential helped me begin to refine my own attitude toward fully developing into something.
Creating a Pattern of Self-Knowledge
Truly and deeply knowing yourself takes time, quiet, and enough mental and physical space in which to process a complex and multilayered portrait. In today’s fast-paced, techno-driven world, it’s tough to engage in a lengthy self-knowledge program. It would help to have a streamlined way to identify, embrace, and embody a distilled essence of who we are in day-to-day living—a sort of Know Yourself Lite process that would link the past, present, and future in a single snapshot of self-awareness that opens ideas about potential.
One way to practice this sort of on-the-go self-exploration is to ask three simple questions:
What did I love about myself that got buried in the past? Patterns offer security and a way to feel mastery in any situation. In the case of patterns holding us back, this can often mean gaining mastery over fear, a process that stomps out desire, passion, creativity, and vision. If we are driven by the need to be safe and in control (of ourselves, others, and the world), things we love about ourselves (that don’t immediately translate into self-protection) easily get trampled. Making time to recognize, name, and explore specific innate traits, attitudes, wishes, and aspirations—those things that naturally occur in us and are clues to unique gifts—puts us back in touch with authentic strengths, the foundation for potential.
What do I love about myself that’s not being fully expressed in the present? The brain loves patterns. One of its greatest assets is the ability to create and entrench neural tracts that connect one part of your nervous system to another in ways that allow you to think and act more effectively and efficiently. In a world of global deadlines, streaming news, and expectations for instant gratification, it’s easy to understand why we often default to the quick-and-easy pattern. Taking the longer route to achievement (the one that often involves doubt and uncertainty), however, frequently offers more opportunities to express deeply meaningful aspects of who we are. Slowing down to notice an absence of expression—in particular, the feeling of lack attached to it—is a quick way to identify a meaningful area of underachievement.
What opportunities do I have for being more of myself in the future? Being clear on which valued self-characteristics have been lost in the past and are being squelched in the present is like standing at a buffet of the future: Suddenly you’re faced with a vast array of enticing experiences. All you have to do is choose which upcoming experiences allow you to engage in and express those underused core aspects of self. With this as a new focus, it becomes easy to spot opportunities that offer instances of “potential activation”—my phrase for deliberately making a choice and taking an action that allows you to more fully express the whole of who you are.
The logical brain functions on analysis, explanation, and decision making, but these aren’t the sole assets necessary for changing patterns: Emotions also play a crucial role, as they motivate you toward what you feel is important. Successfully achieving potential (and changing those pesky patterns that hold you back) means integrating both the rational and the feeling aspects of mind. Answering the questions above puts you in touch with the dual mechanisms that drive choices. The resulting information folds into a powerful process for deliberately knowing, choosing, and aligning with who you are and advancing the potential of who you wish to be