This is the Best Way to Realize Your Full Potential, Backed by Research

realize-your-full-potentialSwimmer Michael Phelps is a living legend.

He’s the most decorated Olympian athlete of all time with a total of 28 medals, and also holds the record for Olympic gold medals 1.

In his book, No Limits: The Will to Succeed 2, Phelps tells a story about when he was training as a little kid.

His coach, Bob Bowman, would push Phelps until he was completely exhausted and then give him a new series of exercises to do.

When little Michael looked at his coach with wide eyes exclaiming “I can’t!”, Bowman gave him some of the most important advice of his life.

“There’s a Big Difference Between I Can’t And I Won’t”

Bowman explained: Can’t — that’s a tough word. Let’s preserve our power and quit throwing around can’t when we really mean won’t.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in this advice. To realize your full potential, you have to remove the boundaries you’ve put up for yourself.

If Phelps had continue to think in terms of “I can’t” instead of “I won’t”, he would’ve had a completely different mindset.

And if he still got to publish a book, a more accurate title would’ve been something like “Some Limits: The Will to Be Okay”. Not a very compelling title.

Still, most of us live our lives like it’s this book we have been reading.

The Science of Mindsets

Within research, a “mindset” is defined as “a mental frame or lens that selectively organizes and encodes information, thereby orienting an individual toward a unique way of understanding an experience and guiding one toward corresponding actions and responses”. 3

In other words, your mindsets are the lenses through which you perceive the world.

These lenses are colored by your beliefs and attitudes and they help determine your response in any given situation.

And these mindsets have some fascinating implications. For example, research has shown that:

  • Students who believe they can change their intelligence through hard work do better academically compared to students who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait 4.
  • Merely believing that your work provides a good amount of exercise is enough to lose weight, drop BMI and decrease blood pressure 5.
  • Your beliefs about how much calories a drink contains affect how much hunger hormone is released in your body after drinking it 6.
  • If you believe stress is harmful, you’ll experience more stress than people who don’t 3.
  • Mindsets even affect your life expectancy. This is because people with a negative aging mindset are less likely to proactively engage in healthy behaviors such as eating healthy, exercising and visiting the doctor 7.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
— Epictetus (Tweet that)

Your Mindsets Determine Your Outcomes

As we go through life, we pick up beliefs that help us navigate the world. And as the research above suggests, these beliefs have very real consequences for our psychology, physiology, behavior, and performance.

One mindset can flood your system with stress hormones and make you anxious. Another can boost your testosterone levels and make you feel confident.

It’s up to you to choose which one of these responses we want. And this is why I suggest the following:

Believe what is helpful to believe.

Don’t believe something just because your thoughts are telling you something. Your mind is nothing more than a suggestion box.

It’s up to you to choose what to believe, so why not pick the most empowering beliefs you can possibly find?

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
— Viktor Frankl (Tweet that)

5 Ways to Change Your Lenses & Realize Your Full Potential

Here are the most powerful ways I’ve come across for changing your lenses:

1. Put your thoughts in perspective. Realize that you are not your thoughts. You are the one that’s observing your thoughts. Whenever a limiting belief shows up, listen to it but don’t necessarily believe it. A thought is not an accurate representation of reality, it’s just a thought. So treat it accordingly.

2. Use empowering language. Ban victim speech from your vocabulary. Instead of saying “I can’t”, say “I won’t”. Instead of “I have to”, say “I’m going to”. Instead of “I don’t know”, say “I’ll figure it out”. Pay attention to the language you use and get rid of any phrases that imply helplessness.

3. Change your feelings. Copy the body language of the person you want to become. Strike a powerful posture and smile. Doing this for just a couple of minutes will make you feel less stressed and more in charge 8.

4. Surround yourself with the right people. The people around us have a huge influence on how we feel 9, what goals we pursue 10, and even on our BMI 11. You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose your social circles wisely.

5. Take control of your behavior. Run daily habits that help you realize your full potential. Build your fundamentals. Master your craft. Fill your mind with ideas from great books. Journal about what you learn. And focus on the process rather than your results.

How to Realize Your Full Potential, In Summary

  • To realize your full potential, you need to remove the barriers you’ve put up for yourself. There’s a big difference between “I can’t” and I “won’t”.
  • A mindset is “a mental frame or lens that selectively organizes and encodes information, thereby orienting an individual toward a unique way of understanding an experience and guiding one toward corresponding actions and responses“.
  • These lenses affect your psychology, physiology, behavior, and performance. So, choose ones that are helpful.
  • To change your lenses — put your thoughts in perspective, use empowering language, change your feelings, surround yourself with the right people, and take control of your behavior.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust (Tweet that)


  1. Michael Phelps
  2. No Limits: The Will to Succeed
  3. Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response
  4. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention
  5. Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect
  6. Mind Over Milkshakes: Mindsets, Not Just Nutrients, Determine Ghrelin Response
  7. Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging
  8. Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance
  9. Emotional Contagion
  10. Goal Contagion: Perceiving Is for Pursuing
  11. The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years

Image courtesy of Joel Lindmark (Society6).

Improve Your Life in 5 Minutes a Week

Get my free One Percent Better newsletter.

It’s short, actionable, and loved by 7,000+ subscribers.

Enter your email address below now and join us:

I’ll never share your information, and you can unsubscribe easily anytime.