Have you ever seen a cartoon with a snowball perched on top of a hill? You know what happens: It starts rolling, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, growing with each revolution, flattening all in its path (or gobbling up bystanders, their arms and legs sticking out at impossible angles).
Basic physics describes two kinds of energy at play in this situation: potential and kinetic. Potential energy refers to the energy that an object could have as it sits at the top of the hill. Because of forces like gravity, the snowball has the potential to move down the hill.
As the snowball rolls, it exerts kinetic energy. This is the energy of motion. All it takes is a little push, and the object starts rolling. There may be resistance along the way, but usually the momentum is enough to keep it moving.
Do you see where I’m going with this? I meet people all the time who are like that snowball at the top of the hill. They are filled with extraordinary potential but all too often they just sit there. They won’t give themselves that little push to get started, and all of that potential energy inside goes to waste.
Every person has the seed of potential inside, but few people ever fully grow it.
Why? People tend to make four basic mistakes that stall their progress. Let’s explore these mistakes so you can avoid them and unleash your personal momentum.
1. Stop stalling and decide!
The more choices we have, the harder it is to choose any particular one. Call it paralysis by analysis. When some people face multiple options, they freeze, become overwhelmed and are unable to make a choice. In this situation, I think about the words of Socrates. “To move the world, we must first move ourselves.”
Each of us has an inner voice that guides our decisions. Listen to it. Trust it. Taking a first step is like the nudge that gets the snowball rolling.
Will your choice be perfect? No. But you’ll get a lot further in life moving imperfectly than you will by sitting around charting out the ideal course. Remember, you can always adjust and change your direction.
2. Quit wasting time.
All of us are allotted the same 1,440 minutes in a day. Sounds like a lot, right? But we know how quickly those minutes zip by and how easy it is to lose five here, 10 there and 20 somewhere else. If we all have the same limited amount of time each day to reach our potential, why do some people succeed and others don’t?
It comes down to planning. Projects usually are more difficult, take longer and cost more than we anticipate. You have to be deliberate in the way you spend your time and stay realistic about what you can accomplish.
When you excel at managing time, you can maximize your potential and minimize your frustration. One of my favorite time-management strategies is to ask myself before taking on a task: Will doing this help me fulfill my potential? You’d be surprised how much I eliminate when I realize the answer is no.
3. Know the costs.
For everything you gain, you must give up something. This is important to remember. Each choice you make will require the sacrifice of something else. I always try to say no to the good so I can say yes to the best.
To reach your full potential in any facet of your life—friendships, marriage, parenting, career, hobbies—you must be willing to pay a price. Define the things you want most and then determine what you are willing to sacrifice in time, money, opportunities and relationships in order to achieve them. You’ll be more at peace with your decisions if you have this frank conversation with yourself in advance.
4. Sharpen your problem-solving.
Make no mistake, problems will find you! The way you handle them will either limit or enhance your potential. You can see problems as opportunities for wisdom and growth that spark kinetic energy or as obstacles that prevent momentum.
Face problems creatively. Don’t allow them to put the brakes on your progress. Search out the things you can gain from your problems. I have learned much more from failing than I have from succeeding!
Let’s get rolling!
The wonderful thing about potential is that it can build upon itself. If you can just get the snowball rolling, the energy of motion will take over.
Think for a moment about the people you respect. Why do you admire them? You are probably drawn to them because they are full of realized potential. When we see people exerting this kind of energy, it compels us to draw ourselves closer to them and become a part of what they are doing.
So today you have a choice. Will you sit at the top of the hill merely contemplating your capabilities? Or will you give yourself a little shove and barrel down that hill, knocking over obstacles standing in your way?
Ready… set… push!
This article appears in the November 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.