7 Habits That Keep Otherwise Smart People From Reaching Their Full Potential

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By Bonnie Marcus

READ MORE: Productivity, Career advice, Career goals, Career development, Women in the workplace, Professional development

Do you believe you have reached your full potential? Do you even know what that looks like?

If you haven’t reached your potential, chances are you don’t feel successful or completely satisfied with your career. Yet, you may be holding yourself back from stepping into your professional power. You have the ability to change the trajectory of your careers. The first step is to make this happen is to understand what you may be doing that is preventing you from realizing your potential.

Here are 7 things that can prevent you from reaching your full potential:

1. You’ve become complacent.

Perhaps you’re in the same position and company for a while and although there may be changes in leadership and office politics, the responsibilities of the job remain the same. You get to the point where you can do the job on auto pilot, and you find comfort in that. But maybe you get too comfortable and that holds you back from moving your career forward. Your complacency can keep you from learning new skills. You stop looking for new opportunities and responsibilities that will help you reach your full potential.

Create at least one stretch goal per quarter and hold yourself accountable to focus on that goal.

2. You don’t believe in yourself.

If you don’t believe that you have the talent and ability to achieve more in your career, then you most certainly won’t have the motivation to move forward. While the lack of self-confidence can be somewhat influenced by external factors, more likely than not it originates in your own mind. As a result, you make assumptions about your future and your ability to reach your goals which sabotages your success.

Keeping a success journal helps you stay connected to your talent and builds up self-confidence with a regular practice. Enter at least one accomplishment a day and then review your entries at the end of the week. Ask yourself, what does this say about me? Consistent journaling of your achievements builds new neural pathways in your brain that support your self-esteem and confidence to sustain your ambition.

3. You need to be perfect

Many of us strive to be perfect and this not only leads to an increase in anxiety and depression, but also a fear of failure. If you believe that you need to be perfect all the time, you are less likely to take risks that contribute to your professional growth and development. You are denying yourself the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

Reframe all situations you consider to be failures and write out the lessons you’ve learned from each.

4. You listen to your negative self-talk

We all have those annoying voices in our head suggesting that we aren’t smart enough, good enough, or qualified enough for a bigger career. It’s impossible to completely quiet these voices but we can learn to let them go and override their message with daily positive affirmations.

Write out your affirmations and post them somewhere on your computer or in your office where they are visible all day. Your affirmations serve as a constant reminder that these beliefs are sabotaging your efforts to realize your potential.  

5. You don’t take a break

Most of us are so busy juggling our work and family obligations that we never take the time to unplug, recharge, and think. Every day we focus on our to-list and what it takes to get through the day. What happens is that you never take the time to think more strategically about your work and career.

Schedule an hour each week where you unplug and review your work. Would other people benefit from knowing the results of your good work? Think about how to leverage and communicate your successes. Think about your long term career goals.

6. You don’t have a plan

Without a plan, without goals, you can’t realize your full potential.

Write out a five year plan. What kind of work would you like to do? Make a plan about how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Get input from your manager and/or HR.

7. You don’t work in a company that supports your ambition

Nothing squashes your ambition more than a company that doesn’t provide the opportunity for you to showcase your skills and grow professionally. Before you take a position with a new company make sure you do your homework about whether or not there is a cultural fit. If you’ve been with an organization for a while and seem stuck, be willing to let go and move on to a better situation.

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Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

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