Human Potential: 3 Deep Lessons to Change Your Life
I’m here to remind you that although you may have to work on Monday, pay your cable bill, and look presentable at that dinner party next weekend, you’re floating on a f*cking rock through space.
It took 13.8 billion years of supernovas exploding, galaxies colliding, clouds of gas cramming and condensing, compounds shifting and replicating, millions of generations of life on Earth, (and your parent’s special moment at that Lynyrd Skynyrd concert), to perfect the miraculous, powerful human spirit that is you – the inside of a star made aware of its own existence.
You won the impossible lottery of life – a prize-drawing with odds so small, the human mind can’t even comprehend the number (it’s 1 in 1 with 2.6 million zeros after it).
At the moment of conception, you receive a golden ticket for “One Admission to Life on Earth,” stamped with a simple tagline – “Enjoy the Ride”.
Your 9-month journey is arduous, and upon arrival, you’re promised a few basic amenities:
80-or-so-odd trips around the sun – or 29,000 Earth spins.
A functioning body with five sensations that perceive the states of matter around you.
Eyes to look at things – Sunsets, mountains, baby tigers, trees, naked humans, clouds, the indignant face of your mother-in-law – there is an endless amount of stuff to look at.
Beautiful weather and breathable air – Besides our planet, it’s really shitty for trillions of miles in every direction.
Endless amounts of time to think and ponder – the Spanish Inquisition, astronomy, 20th century English literature – there’s an endless amount of stuff to fill your brain with.
The power to create – art, film, sculptures, poetry, literature – the human mind is a blank canvas with unlimited potential to create and reflect upon its existence.
Oh, and you’re out of the food chain (which is nice).
And life is short.
You're animated for a brief time, a speck on the cosmic calendar, only to return to the impending void from which you came.
There are no rules for life on Earth, just ones us humans made up. With this golden ticket to life on Earth, you are created as a blank slate with unlimited possibilities and choices; a being whose actions produce measurable results in the universe.
Human life is truly amazing.
Yet, when casting an eye over our human condition, what do you see?
A huge disconnect between the spectacular nature of reality and how we act in our daily lives.
We fight with our friends and neighbors. We gossip. We spend 9-5 doing things we don’t like. We let our egos drive our decision-making.
We pay more attention to social media than people right in front of us. We judge people before we get to know them.
We complain. We limit ourselves and create artificial barriers.
Ultimately, we settle – for mediocre jobs, ordinary relationships, and uninspiring lives.
The question is, why?
Why is it so hard to break free from this trap and live up to our innate human potential?
It’s simple; we’re human: imperfect creatures with fundamental flaws in our programming. Although we live in modern times, we possess ancient evolutionary biology from a bygone era, hardwired into our machinery.
These instincts, coupled with our life experiences and agreed-upon social norms, limit what’s possible and reinforce our mediocrity.
Think about it.
Our fundamental disposition is to enjoy the comforts of security and certainty. We fear the unknown. Yet it's only this anxiety-inducing uncertainty and discomfort that pushes us out of our comfort zone and creates a life worth living.
I truly believe that a comfortable life creates an uncomfortable mind.
So what exactly limits our human potential? In this article, I've narrowed it down to three distinct flaws in our human nature.
Through understanding these flaws and fighting back against our evolutionary psychology, we can alter our human behavior, and live a more meaningful life.
Human Potential Flaw #1 – Our Fear
Picture your great-great-great-great-great^10,000 grandfather. Let’s name him Grook. Grook was a hairy, highly unpleasant homo sapien; a hunter-gatherer with very basic human needs.
He didn’t have time to worry about his long-term career goals, analyze his past Tinder relationships, or ponder which Netflix series to watch next.
He battled other tribes, hunted animals, and probably raped people. Oh, Grook… He was a social animal, developing his understanding of the world through other humans in his tribe.
Grook’s survival was dependent on fitting in and his human development brought specific tribal fears which helped him conform with the group.
This was logical at the time.
Grook was either accepted, and reaped the benefits of power in numbers, or exiled, which was a death sentence.
Because of this, Grook operated with three tribal fears:
- Judging. He constantly stayed on top of other members of his tribe, or they could potentially steal his food, rape his women, or kill him.
- Being right. Decisions were life or death. It was critical to be right; leading the tribe to a source of water, not a pack of hungry lions.
- Looking good. Grook passed on his DNA by being a strong, desirable member of the tribe.
Fast forward 200,000 years. We no longer need to fit in to survive. Decisions are usually not life or death. And being a social outcast is not a death sentence.
Yet our brains are still hardwired to experience the same emotions. We still judge, want to be right, and want to look good. We get the same gut reactions when things go wrong. Our primordial survival mechanisms and humanistic psychology play out in modern life.
We compare ourselves to others, worry, obsess over our appearance, care too much what other people think, instantly judge, and try to gain admiration and respect by fitting in – fitting into a tribe that no longer exists.
All social fears can be reduced to two simple motivations:
- To look good.
- To not look bad.
It’s really that simple.
We witness “looking good” everywhere, especially on social media. The “check out my amazing relationship” photos; the “I’m living quite the life” show-off posts; the cryptic “something bad is happening to me” cries for attention; the LinkedIn “my human work career is important” humblebrags.
They all highlight our desperate need for approval; our biological need to project a positive image of ourselves and look good to the tribe.
We also fear looking bad.
We think to ourselves, “What if I fail? What will they think of me?”
You might really want to go up to that lovely man or woman at the bar and introduce yourself, but a nervous feeling in your gut produces thoughts of:
What if they reject me? What if I'm not good enough?
And that is our ultimate fear: not being good enough.
The deep-rooted fear of not being good enough is the first flaw in our human nature.
So, in order to look good, be good enough, and do normal things that everyone agrees are normal things, we developed a system of a mass agreement called society.
Human Flaw #2 – Our Society
We live in a world of social agreements – a matrix of reality that shapes how we think. It’s the unquestioned backbone of reality that deems what is and isn’t normal. This is considered a “consensus reality,” or an agreed-upon reality based on a consensus view.
It’s an imaginary construction crafted by men and women who lived long before us and is perpetuated over generations.
For example, what you eat for breakfast is a consensus reality.
The length of a workday is a consensus reality.
In America, you may eat eggs and toast or cereal for breakfast and work 40 hours per week (with far too little vacation).
If you were born in Tokyo, Japan, you may eat steamed rice and miso soup for breakfast and feel guilty working anything less than 60 hours per week (1 in 4 Japanese companies requires 80 overtime hours per month).
The proper age to get married, family values, what it means to be a man, table manners, how we act in public – all consensus realities.
You can see it, I can see it, but we didn’t sign up for it.
It’s like a traffic jam – we’re all in it, but can’t change a damn thing about it.
And think of how much social agreements limit what’s possible:
“I can’t change jobs. No one will hire someone my age.”
“I can’t take my kids on vacation this summer; I’m only allowed two weeks off per year.“
“It’s okay that I’m bored at work because most people don't like their jobs.”
“I can barely afford my mortgage but I need to keep up because I should be a homeowner at this age.”
“I need to hurry up and get married by 35, or I'll be all alone.”
“Why should I take a risk and start my own business? Most fail within five years.“
Our societal pessimism and resignation construct a prison of our own creation; an artificial barrier to what’s possible.
The instant that we start labeling everything around us and creating clean, orderly rules is the moment we begin to lose grasp of the spectacular nature of consciousness.
Overall, the worst of our agreed-upon social norms is the idea of “busyness.”
“Hey! How have you been?”
“I’ve been sooo busy lately. Between my work schedule, taking little Timmy to his soccer games, and my time with the PTA, I've just been sooo busy!”
“Wow, that sounds like a lot to deal with. So would you like to get together this weekend?”
“I don't think so. This weekend I’m just too busy. I might be free for a few hours on Sunday, but I’ll let you know.”
Busyness is a brag disguised as a complaint.
It feels good to be busy. It makes us feel significant; like people rely on us; like we matter. “I’m an important human being! I have a full schedule and people that rely on me. Why aren’t you as productive as me?!”
Say, “I’m not doing anything today,” and you'll receive a glare of disapproval.
The social agreement of busyness keeps humanity in line.
It assures our heads are down in our work, and that civilized society marches on uninterrupted. We didn't create busyness, but it's a big part of the world we live in.
We're like worker ants, picking up sticks and moving them from point A to point B, over and over and over again. A production that feeds the machine or modern society, but leads to a lack of meaning and no time to think about what we truly want.
And what are we so busy doing?
Are we taking the time to design a life of our choosing? Or does most of our time benefit someone else?
We might be at a job writing emails, filling out proposals, creating spreadsheets, making phone calls, and sitting in meetings – staying busy for busyness’s sake – working day and night for someone else’s future.
On this rock in space, all the busyness – the forfeited lunch breaks, time away from family, work-induced stress, and late-night email checking – is completely and utterly meaningless.
Ask yourself: will any of it matter ten years from now?
It may pay the bills and fill up our schedules, but it’s not why we were put on Earth.
We all need to get comfortable with the idea that most of what we're doing does not matter.
So let's pause and recap up to this point:
- You’re floating on a rock in space at 67,000 miles per hour in a vast and incredible universe.
- Your body is made up of 93% stardust.
- Millions of generations of life had to combine at just the right time to create you at this very moment.
- And at this moment you’re sitting at work, staying busy, doing something you probably don't like.
Then, after a long day at work, you lay down in bed, checking Facebook and watching Netflix until you fall asleep, making sure to kill every idle second so there's no time left to sit quietly and think.
To be present, to sit comfortably with your mind, and to question the meaning behind all of this.
Remember the golden ticket we received at birth, with the tagline that reads “Enjoy the Ride”?
Society has its own tagline, and it reads:
Behave. Listen to your parents. Do your homework. Be a good student and get good grades. Do extracurricular activities to stay ahead.
Go to college. Get more good grades. Take out loans if you have to.
Land a good job at a high paying company. Work hard. Get promoted. Settle down. Take out a mortgage and buy a nice house.
Spend that money you earn. Have kids. Save for retirement. Pay your taxes.
Retire. Enjoy a little free time. Die.
This blueprint is a race to nowhere.
It leaves us stressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled. We plan and save and dream of “one day,” pushing happiness into the future.
We settle for tolerable jobs making just enough for a mortgage, a few vacations, and retirement. We put our heads down, work hard, and stay busy, missing many of life’s precious moments.
Our self-expression, our belief in what’s possible, and our very humanity are killed by society’s collective, self-limiting, perpetual cycle of mediocrity.
We experience a predictable, reasonable, ordinary life, and then we die.
Ultimately, we end up with a life we didn't ask for, because we let society choose one for us.
Henry David Thoreau, an American essayist, best known for his transcendentalist views and reflections on living a simple life in nature, wrote in his famed book Walden:
“I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me…”
This thought is in the same vein as this famous Benjamin Franklin quote:
“Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75.”
Life is meant to be lived and experienced with fearless abandon. An exceptional quality of life only comes in the experiential push to try new things.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow, the creator of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, said,
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization…
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”
To live up to our full potential, we all need to disregard society's rules and make personal growth a priority.
So how do we shake ourselves out of this timid, predictable, linear life path?
How do we escape this limited way of being that starts in our minds and is reinforced in society?
The first step is to break free from our past.
Human Nature Flaw #3 – Our Past
Your past is a movie: a dramatic narrative of every event in your life. In your story, there are heroes and villains, acts, sets, producers, screenwriters, and cameramen.
As the hero of your own story, your brain plays back all of your victories and your failures, everything that ever happened to you, in vivid HD.
As Aldous Huxley said, “Every man's memory is his private literature.”
You recall a single event – a bully picked on you when you were in 4th grade, your crush made fun of you in art class, you struck out in the 9th inning of the big game – and you attach dramatic meaning to it.
You tell yourself, “I never want to experience that feeling again.”
The truth is, life is a series of random events; particles moving through time and space. There is no story, complicated drama, or inherent meaning behind anything.
Think about it.
The universe simply exists – particles move from point A to point B, rivers flow, trees lightly sway in the wind, humans and animals move about on a rock in space.
There is no inherent meaning or story to any of it.
However, humans are meaning-making machines.
We attached stories to every random event in order to make sense of the world. But most of the time, our stories are untrue, especially in childhood.
Maybe your father ignored you one day, barked at you, or didn't show up to your football game. You make up the story that he doesn't care enough about you.
What you missed is that he just got off a rough shift at work, his boss called him out in front of his peers, he's having trouble connecting with your mom; he's overworked, overtired, and suffering from his own internal stories.
So now, coupled with your innate human fears and societal conformity, you make up narratives based on half-truths.
You create meaning with only one side of the story.
Think about it.
This universe of meaning occurs when human beings speak to each other. Words pass from one human to another – audio waves passing from a vocal box to an eardrum.
Once the human brain registers this audio wave, it takes the information, analyzes it, examines the speaker’s non-verbal cues, their tone, and remembers past experiences with them. We think we know what they mean.
Our brains are always analyzing and judging statements – good/bad, right/wrong – and it’s all based on the past.
This story is a hypothetical reinterpretation in your brain that no longer exists in reality. The past doesn’t contain matter; it doesn’t move around spacetime; it simply does not exist.
It’s a story in your head that no one on Earth remembers the same way you do.
But it controls you.
And in your stories, you are your own worst critic.
You think about your past and can often beat yourself up for things that happened days, months, years, or even decades ago.
You carry your past with you your whole life, defining your present and future based on what’s already occurred.
You think, “I have always been this way, so it must be who I am.”
The truth is since your past literally no longer exists in the universe and is a figment of your imagination, the only time that exists is now.
The future doesn't exist yet and the past is imaginary. Yet human evolution pushed our unconscious mind to focus on these past and future timelines more than the exact moments we actually live.
As you're reading this, how many times did your mind wander off? How many times did your unconscious mind create thoughts and take you to random places?
The enemy of living in the present moment is the idea that you are your thoughts.
You are not your thoughts.
Much like a heart pumps blood, and lungs fill with air, your brain is just another organ whose byproduct is an amalgamation of thoughts swirling through your head. They aren't you.
You are the awareness behind your thoughts.
Understanding this is the first step to living in the present. However, our unconscious, always-on mind constantly moves to the past and into the future.
Pretend your past is stored on a hard drive.
This hard drive is flowing with terabytes of memories, stored haphazardly in folders, with files opening every so often, pushing themselves into your conscious thought.
Your brain picks up a few files and examines them.
- You see that family trip to Disney World and your brother throwing up in the back of your rental car.
- You remember that time you got in a fight on the playground in 1st grade.
- Unpacking your dorm room at college and watching your parents drive away for the first time.
- Getting your first real job and anxiously walking in the door on that cold winter morning for the first time.
Memories are powerful.
You also have another hard drive – your future hard drive.
This is filled with what you expect to happen in the future.
- Driving to work tomorrow.
- Meeting your friend for lunch on Wednesday.
- Upgrading your kitchen cabinets.
- Moving into a bigger house.
Your future hard drive includes everything you imagine might happen.
However, like a lot of computer programs, there is a major glitch. Hackers snuck in and messed with your hard drives. They copied all of the files from your past hard drive and pasted them into your future hard drive.
This is how your states of consciousness operate.
Since your past is your only reference point, you view your future through the lens of your past.
You imagine going to the same job, the same meetings, having the same kind of relationships, the same level of success, and living a predictable, almost-certain future.
These assumptions, based on an imaginary past, restrict what you think is possible in your future. This leads to more self-limiting beliefs like:
- “I failed at my business, so I’ll probably fail again.”
- “My girlfriend broke up with me, so I must be unworthy of love.”
- “I’ve always had an office job, so there’s no way I can quit and travel the world.”
- “I’m extremely shy – I can’t be a public speaker.”
Ultimately, if you let the lens of your past dictate your future, it’s:
“My life has always been average, so it always will be.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your future is not determined by some imaginary past that's trapped in your mind. Your past does not define you.
Your future might be full of amazing and unimaginable things. It’s just harder to imagine because it hasn’t happened yet.
You are (as you have always been) untapped potential: a brain, a body, and the conscious choice to act and effect change in the world around you.
So what do you do?
To truly unleash your human potential, you must break free from your past, disregard society's rules, and confidently face your fears.
The Human Potential Movement
Up to this point, your life may have been held in check.
You’ve been controlled by evolutionary fears, limited by a mediocre society, and restrained by your imaginary view of life through the lens of your past.
This may sound bleak, but it's not.
In fact, this is the best news you can possibly hear.
As average people clasp desperately to their safe, comfortable existence, you have the opportunity to take massive action, to be courageous, to do things that scare the shit out of you, and create a life worth remembering.
While everyone else is asleep at the wheel, allowing their unconscious mind to drive their actions, you have the innate human potential to change your life – because 99.9% of people simply aren't doing it.
If you can see your fear as a challenge and not a life or death struggle, you can take action in spite of it.
If you can see society for what it is – a sea of ordinary people and rules that reinforce mediocrity – it doesn’t hold you back.
If you can understand that your past is an imaginary drama with no real significance, it loses its grip on you.
Understanding this is only a small part of the battle. And after reading this, you’ll still be on the sidelines – thinking, planning, figuring out what it all means in your head, analyzing the validity of the arguments, and judging the quality of the work.
I challenge you that there is nothing to figure out. All you have to do is take action.
To defeat fear, you must encounter it, over and over and over again.
Disregard your past, ignore society's rules, live in the present moment, and take action. Facing your fears is like building a muscle; the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more potentialities emerge.
Overcoming Society’s Rules
Society is not allowed to hold the human spirit in check.
To break free from mediocrity, you must be different. Only through being your true self, finding your unique voice, and taking the responsibility of life into your own hands will you find fulfillment.
As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change… The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”
So please, disregard society’s rules. Go against the grain and focus on your personal development. Don’t stay busy just because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Self-improvement and self-awareness come from comparing yourself to what you were yesterday.
Don’t get stressed about your job; money won’t make you happy anyway. Take an extended lunch break – or hell, a whole month off.
Speak your mind. Share your story with the world.
Eat pizza for breakfast. Join a gym at 85.
Don't let the consensus reality become your reality.
Overcoming your Past
Finally, put an imaginary wall behind you that blocks your past and lets you forge ahead fearlessly.
Stop carrying the burden of your past – a regret, a failed relationship, a feeling of guilt – a simple phone call can erase it all.
Apologize and move on.
Mend your broken fences and feel the weight lifted off your shoulders.
Live in the moment.
Hug your kids and tell them how amazing they are.
Laugh your ass off.
Stop caring what people think.
And don’t take life too seriously.
Oh and please remember, you’re only floating on a rock through space, all the rules are made up, and none of it matters.
So go invent your life.
What is the number one thing holding you back from living up to your potential? Comment below.