The Truth About Ability and Potential


What really is the truth about potential or ability? Is it fixed or limitless? Can it be realized? What are the strategies?

Carol Dweck of Stanford University really got me thinking about my understanding of human potential and abilities in her incredible book, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success.

Of recent, I have gotten more interested in books that help me understand on a scientific and rational basis, the science behind motivation, human potential and abilities.

I’m seriously seeing the need to work on my own belief systems. I find that we all at some point in time need to examine the way we think and how some beliefs might be limiting us from fulfilling our potential.

Let me share some transformational ideas I have been learning about potential and ability.

1. Potential is not fixed

Ultimately, whether we achieve our best or not boils down to what we believe about potential. For some, you either have what it takes or not. The idea that abilities can be developed over time is not valid.

Is it not interesting that some notable geniuses were considered not having a potential for the areas the world now acclaims them as geniuses. Should this not get us thinking about how we see ourselves?

Imagine that someone told Elvis Presley he had no talent. Imagine that someone once declared Albert Einstein as slow to learn. Obviously, he didn’t finish first in class but Einstein went on to become one of the best physicist of all time.

The question is what have you considered impossible for you? Are you judging your abilities by your past results? Have you considered that what you believe about your own potential might not be true?

I can’t agree more with Thomas Edison, “Success is one-percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.” If you are in awe of the potential of this man who even had hearing difficulties, kept trying after about 10000 failed experiments in perfecting the incandescent bulb, rebuilt a company after a fire incident at the age of 65.

What does that tell you? GRIT- the ability to persist in the face of difficulties might be more helpful to the fulfilment of your potential. So before you give up and considered yourself having little potential for what you have decided to do, ask yourself if you have given it the effort it takes.

Genius is overrated. You never hear about the perseverance, hours of difficult and rigorous practice that turned potential to ability.

2. What we use becomes better

I understand that we are wired differently and some people have more interest vested in some activities than others. Our preferences are what makes us unique.

When it comes to our ability, Ralph Waldo Emerson makes a valid point, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

What does that indicate? Ability can increase. What we use becomes better. An analysis of Einstein’s brain showed that the areas of the brain used for mathematical reasoning was more large than normal. This is simply because he tasked and used it more than many of us do. Save for that, he had a normal brain like everyone else.

The point here is that we can increase in ability. The brain is plastic (neuroplasticity). It can change. The brain was wired to grow and be better. God didn’t create junk. The more you learn, the more you can learn. You can be smarter. It all comes with use.

3. Mindset Matters

Carol Dweck’s book is based on how two kinds of mindset can influence our potential in the long run. There is the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset measures life in terms of outcomes. The growth mindset measures life in terms of process. How does this play out?

People with a growth mindset don’t believe that failure is final. They do not let the outcome of one event colour their outlook and determine their life in the long run. They interpret failure simply as feedback, an opportunity to do things differently.

Failure is not a sign that they are not built for this or they are not good enough. They focus more on the process of achieving mastery and are likely to persevere in the face of difficulties. They believe they can get better with time and effort.

According to Carol Dweck, people with growth mindset would interpret potential as the capacity to develop their skill with effort over time. Mind the word, EFFORT not effortless ease.

For people with a fixed mindset, their belief in themselves is based on the outcome of an event. If they fail, they consider themselves lacking ability and hence a failure. They do not understand the learning curve and can’t tolerate the arduous process of moving from inability to ability.

Failure is a sign for Give Up! You are not meant for this.
Which mindset is more empowering? You judge!

Let’s Have A Conversation

In what ways are you allowing your mindset to limit you? Do you not think it is time to begin to doubt your doubts about yourself? What if it is not true that you have no ability? What if it is not true that you are dumb? What if the negative assertion of your parent, teacher, coach or manager about your potential isn’t a true measure of reality or what is possible for you?

Begin to doubt your doubt. Other people’s opinion of you doesn’t have to be your reality. There might be more to you than you have chosen to explore. It will take effort and time. But determine to be more than this. God wired you for increase and to be better. You are not in your final state yet. Stop limiting yourself. Determine not to know the best of you yet.


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