How to Maximize Your Potential
Buckle up for some math lessons today. This should be fun. We just need to learn one super important equation. This simple yet profound equation summarizes all we need to know about Productivity and is the key to maximizing Potential. You can forget everything we have said so far about Productivity, and everything we have yet to say, as long as you keep this one relationship in mind.
Productivity, Potential, and Interference
Productivity = Potential – Interference
That’s it? Yes, that’s really it. Powerful concepts can often be distilled to simple mathematical models, and this is no different. In words, the algebra above means Productivity is what remains when you take Interference away from Potential, just like 2 is what remains when you take 3 away from 5.
Let’s say Potential is 10 and Interference is 10. Our model predicts the following answer:
Productivity = 10 (Potential) – 10 (Interference) = 0.
In other words, there is no Productivity when Interference is so high that it matches Potential.
If Potential is 10 and Interference is 0, then we have:
Productivity = 10 (Potential) – 0 (Interference) = 10.
See, math is easy! This means, given no Interference, Productivity reaches its Potential.
Reality is between these two extremes. For instance, if Interference is a 7, we have:
Productivity = 10 – 7 = 3.
Math lesson is over. You did good. Now, on to its application.
To Maximize Potential, Minimize Interference
Potential is something we are born with. The journey to maturity is a progressive march toward limiting opposing forces to growth. To spur growth, remove the factors that hinder it. This is what we mean when we say one should maximize their potential, or reach their full potential. It means that one should minimize things that interfere with potential. Potential is a fixed threshold; you can’t increase your potential. So to improve Productivity, all you can work on is decreasing Interference. Always ask yourself: What’s stopping me? What’s limiting me? What is preventing me from reaching this place that I desire?
Potential is a fixed threshold; you can’t increase your potential. So to improve Productivity, all you can work on is decreasing Interference.
Productivity Techniques and Potential
All Productivity techniques work, not by increasing Potential, an unchanging trait, but by decreasing Interference. Take Pomodoro for instance. The technique calls for blocking a set time (usually 25 mins but can be as long as 45 mins) to focus on a task. The key to success is “block.” You cannot allow anything, no matter how important or urgent, to disturb your session. In short, it works by temporarily reducing Interference to zero in 25 minute bursts. If you can do 10 Pomodoros in a day, you would have produced for 250 minutes, distraction-free. Notice how Pomodoro addresses Interference, not Potential.
Another favorite tool of mine is “Write down tomorrow’s Most Important Tasks today.” This works because when you wake up in the morning, you already know what to do. You are not spending mental energy deciding what’s important or what to do. You are not allowing any interfering thoughts. You can go about your day because Interference is reduced. No Productivity tool will add an ounce to your inborn store of Potential, but the best ones are excellent at cutting Interference down to size.
You say, what about education? Going to school surely increases our potential. No, it doesn’t. Ignorance is a source of Interference. If you simply don’t know, you cannot perform. How can I be expected to play Beethoven if I have not been taught the piano? So you can argue that the chief aim of education is to reduce ignorance-induced Interference. An enlightened mind has less clutter to deal with. Below are two common sources of Interference.
Two Common Sources of Interference and How to Overcome Them
If Interference is what we need to reduce, if not eliminate, then it’s helpful to know where it usually comes from. In my experience, the following two sources of Interference prevent people from living the lives they were meant to:
1. Incorrect beliefs (the greatest source of Interference!): I like Toyota’s slogan: Good Thinking, Good Product. Inaccurate beliefs about the way the world works, about people, about money, about work, etc., lead to bad actions, which brings poor results, and which further reinforces misinformed beliefs. Just like misaligned wheels cannot keep straight on a road, a misinformed mind cannot reach its Potential.
To overcome this: Take an honest look at your life. What aspects of it do you not like? Could part of the problem be that you have the wrong thoughts about this aspect? If you don’t have enough money, for instance, can you articulate how you view money? Can you then compare your view with those who seem to have lots of it?
2. Lack of Self-control: Indulgence is another common source of Interference. Solomon said, “A person without self-control is like a city without walls.” A city without walls can have anyone invade it and interfere with its workings. That’s what indulging in a vice does.
To overcome this: Practice delayed gratification more. Learn to let go. Discipline is like a muscle—the more you exercise it, the tougher it becomes. Being in charge of your life is a worthy fight.
We have not scratched the surface of what interferes with performance. To the two mentioned above, you can add fear, sloth, ill health, enemies, and a slew of negative emotions*. The aim of this article is to show that Interference is what we need to eradicate for Productivity to meet its Potential.
*Exception: Anger. Anger is, perhaps, the only negative emotion that can be directed toward productive ends. When you are dog-mad about something, you are motivated to address the situation. Anger can be a potent fuel. Like fire, it has to be properly channeled to be useful—or else it can burn its beholder.
Productivity = Potential – Interference. Your job is to limit Interference to zero.