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Awareness: Remove the Caps from Your Capacity Know thyself.
—SOCRATES I think self-knowledge is the rarest trait in a human being.
—ELIZABETH EDWARDS

I’m passionate about this book because I’m passionate about you ! For fifty years I’ve worked to improve my life and to help improve the lives of others. Nothing brings me greater joy than helping others grow and get better.

I’ve written this book specifically to lift you up and to help you increase your capacity. How did I come to write this book ? The idea came to me while I was enjoying one of my favorite things: great conversation over a meal with friends.

While we were talking, one friend began to express the importance of potential and how people could reach it. It led to a great discussion that lasted two hours.

As we got ready to get up from the table, somebody said, “I’ve never read a book about capacity and how to reach it.” Nobody else had either. That conversation really stimulated me.

And it stayed with me for two years. After revisiting the topic of capacity in my mind repeatedly, I began asking questions, listening to others, and learning about it. Eventually that led me to create the Capacity Challenge:

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The Capacity Challenge If you grow in your awareness, develop your abilities, and make the right choices, you can reach your capacity.

In other words, AWARENESS + ABILITY + CHOICES = CAPACITY
That is the challenge I’m presenting to you in this book. If you’re willing to accept it and follow the process I outline, your life will change !

The Capacity Challenge begins with awareness.
Becoming aware was the first big step I took in blowing the cap off my capacity. And it happened early in my career. The model for pastors in those days was that of a shepherd who cared for the sheep. It was about maintaining and caring for the flock.

It included doing a lot of counseling.
So that was the model I thought I was supposed to follow. But then I read a book titled America’s Fastest Growing Churches by Elmer Towns. It was about reaching more people and leading a church with excellence. I couldn’t put that book down. The stories were so inspiring.

After reading it, I wanted to visit every church in the book and meet their pastors. But how could I do this ? These pastors didn’t know me. And why would they take time to meet with me ? Then I got an idea. I would contact them and offer to pay them $100 for thirty minutes of their time.

That was in 1971, when I made only $4,200 in an entire year. But I was desperate to find out what made these pastors become so successful. I was overjoyed when two of the ten pastors said yes to my request.

As soon as I knew I would get to meet with these leaders, I began writing down the questions I would ask them. I came up with a lot. Five pages full! Anticipation filled me as I sat down with these leaders and asked them questions as fast as I could.

Obviously I didn’t get through all the questions I had written down, but I did have a breakthrough in my personal and professional lives. My greatest discovery was that these pastors spent no time on counseling people. Instead, they spent all of their time equipping people. At first, I didn’t get it. I had to get them to explain it to me.

Counseling helps people work through their weaknesses. Equipping helps people work on their strengths. The lights were starting to turn on! Counseling helps people work through their weaknesses.

Equipping helps people work on their strengths. Then they explained that people will more readily reach their potential when they work on their strengths rather than working on their weaknesses. That was when it hit me.

These leaders were not shepherds, content to just look after a flock. They were ranchers. They had vision. They had the spirit of the pioneers who created something on the frontier. They were building and developing people, inviting people to become part of something greater than themselves.

And together they were growing their churches, reaching more people, and making a difference. That was the first day I realized how essential awareness is to reaching capacity.

The only way I could help the people I was leading to do much better in their lives was to help them focus on their strengths more than their weaknesses.

And—drumroll, please—the only way I could reach my capacity as a person and a leader was to practice and develop my strengths.

It changed the way I did everything, and I soon discovered that I was a much better equipper than I was a counselor. Before my awareness discovery, I saw myself as a shepherd taking care of the needs of my people.

After that, I started to see myself and my role differently. I became a rancher leading and growing the people of my congregation. For years I shared this story at conferences. Often during a Q & A someone will ask, “What was the most important thing you received from those two leaders you interviewed ?”

My answer is “awareness.”
I have often wondered, How long would I have counseled people instead of equipping them if I had not met those two leaders ? I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: we all need the help of someone else to become aware of how to become better at reaching our capacity.

I want to be someone who helps you become more self-aware. That’s what this first section of the book is about. You’ve probably heard the saying “If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always gotten.” I want to help you do something new—and get somewhere new.

As we embark on this journey, I want to give you two thoughts:
1. Change doesn’t always have to be drastic to be effective. Counseling people and equipping people have similarities. They both require caring for another person and spending time with them giving guidance and advice.

All I had to do was change my focus from their weaknesses to their strengths. As you read through this book, and especially while reading this first part on awareness, be on the lookout for where you need to change your focus to become more aware of your potential.

2. Change is necessary for you to reach your capacity.
As you read through the other two parts, you will find a greater emphasis on change. In part two on ability, you will be asked to work on some things that may not be natural strengths. You will find that difficult. Growth in skill areas, if they are not natural, is often slow and small.

That’s okay. Every little bit of positive change helps. It increases your capacity. However, when you get to part three, which is about choices, you will find it to be easier. In matters of choice, your changes can be achieved much more quickly. All of these changes, whether difficult or easy, are needed if you desire to increase your capacity and reach your potential.

Get ready to dive in. It’s going to be an exciting journey.
Developing awareness is going to allow you to recognize the changes that will help you blow the cap off your capacity. My hope is that by the time you’re finished with the book, your capacity will be much greater than you ever imagined and you will be well on your way to living a no-limits life. Let’s take this journey together.

1 Do You Know What’s Limiting You ? All of my life I’ve been intrigued by capacity, though when I was young I would not have known to call it that. My favorite childhood story was The Little Engine That Could. When I was little, my mother read it to me often. When I could read on my own, I pulled it from the shelf again and again. I’d act it out for my family.

I loved that the little engine believed in herself and was successful in getting over the hill because of that belief. Her capacity increased because she pushed herself to her limits. I remember an illustration my dad used when speaking.

An old-timer saw a boy fishing and went over to see how he was doing. The boy had already caught two small fish, but as the old man was walking over, the boy landed a huge bass. “That’s a beauty,” the old man said as the boy unhooked the fish. But then the boy tossed the fish back into the water.
“What are you doing ?” the old man cried out.

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“That was a whopper.” “Yeah,” replied the boy, “but my frying pan is only nine inches wide.” That one always made me laugh, and it made me aware of how a person’s thinking can limit him.

I also vividly remember one of my teachers telling the story of three young boys whose route to school went alongside a high wall. Every day as the boys walked to school, they wondered what was on the other side of the wall. Finally one day, their curiosity grew so strong that one of the boys said, “Let’s find out,” and threw his cap over the wall.

“Now I have to climb the wall to see what’s on the other side,” he declared. The other two boys gawked at him in disbelief. But then as they watched him begin to climb, they threw their caps over the wall and joined him.

They didn’t want to be left behind. They wanted to experience the discovery themselves, not just hear about it secondhand. I still remember thinking, I would have thrown my cap over the wall, too. I wanted to go new places, make new discoveries, push myself to do more than I thought I could do.

I still do. Sometimes achieving those desires requires bold commitment. Many times since the day I first heard that story, I’ve mentally thrown my cap over the wall to commit myself to growth discoveries. Today, I’m asking you to throw your cap over the wall.

Awareness Assets
My goal in writing this book is to help you be the little engine who could.
I want to inspire you to blow off the caps that hold you down and limit your potential. I want to help you get outside of the nine-inch–frying pan mentality and expand your thinking and your ability.

I want you to throw your cap over the wall.
I want you to accept the capacity challenge and change your life. Are you willing to do that ? If so, the process begins with awareness, with learning… 1.

Your Capacity Isn’t Set If you’re like most people, I bet you’d like more out of life than you are currently experiencing. Maybe you’re not succeeding in all the ways you desire to in life. Perhaps you’re less than fully satisfied with your progress. Are you getting done all that you want to do ?

Or do you want to see more, do more, be more ? If you’re like me, you want to achieve more. Even at nearly age seventy, I’m not satisfied. I want to keep growing and making a difference. What’s getting in your way ?

What’s limiting you ? Do you know ? If you don’t know what’s limiting you, how will you remove it ? If you don’t know what’s limiting you, how will you remove it? You’ve probably heard the saying “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” It may sound counterintuitive, yet it’s true.

People who can get a lot done seem to be able to take on even more and remain productive. Why is that ? Do some people simply have high capacity while others don’t ? Have you given much thought to your capacity ?
Most people think theirs is set.

You hear one person identified as “high capacity” and another as “low capacity,” and you just accept it. What’s your capacity ? Have you defined it as high, low, or average ? Do you think it’s set ?

Maybe you haven’t put a label on it, but you’ve probably settled into a level of achievement that you believe is what’s possible for you. That’s a problem. Too many people hear the word capacity and assume it’s a limitation.

They assume their capacity is set—especially if they’re beyond a certain age. People give up on the idea that their capacity or their potential can grow. All they do is try to manage whatever they think they’ve got. A lot of people think this way. Activist Roberto Verzola observed that economists are notorious for this kind of mind-set of limitations.

Worse yet, they try to convince others to adopt it too. Verzola says, The most fundamental assumption in economics is scarcity. This, in effect, assumes away abundance. Thus, most mainstream economists are not prepared to deal with abundance. They have few concepts that explain it.

They have no equations that describe it. Confronted with it, they fall back on inadequate theories based on scarcity.1 In other words, they define the world in terms of its limitations. They also define people in terms of their limitations.

That’s too confining. Instead, we need to define our world and ourselves in terms of our possibilities. While I believe 100 percent that people can grow, change their capacity, and increase their potential, I also acknowledge that all of us have caps on our capacity. Some caps are fixed. But most are not.

We can’t allow these unfixed caps to keep our lives from expanding. We can’t let caps define our potential. We need to see beyond the caps and see our true capacity before we can blow off our caps and expand our capacity. Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, wrote, “Life is like a ten-speed bike.

Most of us have gears we never use.” What he’s saying is that most of us have capacity that is untapped. We have capacity that we’re not even aware of. But we can change that. “Life is like a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use.” —Charles Schulz

2. You Can Become Aware of the Possibilities That Can Make You Better This is where I want us to spend the majority of our time in this chapter. I want us to focus on awareness. All lasting growth requires awareness.

Unfortunately, if you lack awareness, then you don’t know that you are unaware. It’s a blind spot. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t see that you are unable to see. That’s a catch-22.

My journey to self-awareness was simple, but it did take time. It began with others helping me become aware. It took someone who did know to help me see it. This experience created a hunger in me to further develop my self-awareness.

I began to wonder what else I was missing. What else didn’t I know ? I started wondering if there was something else out there for me. This chapter communicates the process I developed. I don’t assume that I’ve arrived. I still keep asking myself, What am I missing ?

But hopefully what I share with you will help you to become more self-aware, because that is essential to your reaching your capacity. Self-awareness is a powerful skill. It enables you to see yourself clearly. It informs your decisions and helps you to weigh opportunities. It allows you to test your limits.

It empowers you to understand other people. It makes partnership with others stronger. It allows you to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. It opens the door to greater capacity.

Here are some things to think about as you work to become more aware of your possibilities: Attention: Looking for What I Need to Know In my book Winning with People, I wrote about the Lens Principle, which says who we are determines how we see others.

In that book, my focus was on how our perspective colors our view of the world, other people, and life. But it’s also true that who we are determines how we see ourselves. We naturally tend to see things as we have always seen them.

If we want to increase our capacity, we must see differently. We need to be willing to look at ourselves and our world in new ways. We need to pay attention and look for what we need to know. Who we are determines how we see others.

Awareness:
Discovering What I Need to Know What stops people from reaching their capacity often isn’t lack of desire. It’s usually lack of awareness. Unfortunately, people don’t become self-aware accidentally. On top of that, there are factors that also work against us and prevent us from developing great self-awareness, such as:

• Excuses
•  Success fantasies that are ungrounded in reality
• Talking without listening to others
• Unresolved negative emotions
• Habitual self-distraction
• Absence of personal reflection
• Unwillingness to pay the price to gain experience

Most people who have developed self-awareness have had to battle one or more of these factors to get where they are. They’ve had to work very hard. It takes a desire to make self-awareness discoveries. It takes discipline to look at yourself and reflect on your experiences.

It takes maturity to ask others to help you with your blind spots. Becoming self-aware also requires help from other people who can see you more clearly than you can see yourself. In the past when I’ve worked with someone who wasn’t self-aware, I’ve followed a process to help them discover what they need to know about themselves:

•  Relationship:
I start by building the relationship and letting them know they are important to me and that I want to help them. This gives them security and me credibility.

•  Exposure:
Once I’ve done the relational groundwork, I try to help them understand how important self-awareness is. They need to realize that if they do not make self-awareness a priority, they’re going to be stuck in life and will be unable to move forward.

But if they can learn to see themselves more clearly and begin to determine their capacity, they have a path forward toward increased capacity and reaching their potential. Then I can begin revealing their strengths and weaknesses to them with as much encouragement as I can offer.

•  Experiences:
Most people need to be shown a way forward to develop greater self-awareness. I’ve found that the best way is to put them in situations where they must acknowledge their weaknesses, utilize their strengths, learn from other leaders, and reflect on their experiences. If I’m their leader, I take responsibility for facilitating that.

•  Questions:
Asking people questions helps you to assess whether they are catching on and becoming more self-aware.

•  Review:
The most critical step in the awareness development process is a review of the results. Developing self-awareness is a process that takes time and repetition.

Each time a mentor or leader sits down with a person and gives honest feedback, if that feedback is well received, the person takes another important step in the process.

•  Repeat:
The last thing I need to point out is that this isn’t a onetime process.
To help people who are unaware, I must teach them repeatedly.

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Using this pattern, you can help an unaware person begin to develop self-awareness. But what if you are that unaware person ?

You need to find someone—a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, or family
member—who can help you, direct you, and provide you with repeated honest feedback. Discernment: Focusing on What I Need to Do As you discover things about yourself, you must try to discern where to focus your attention.

You can’t do everything. As the old proverb says, “Chase two rabbits and you will catch neither.” As you make discoveries, where should you focus your attention? On your strengths. Maybe you already know this. When we focus on our weaknesses, the best we can do is work our way up to average.

Nobody pays for that. No successful person hires someone to do a merely adequate job. Successful people desire excellence. Excellence comes from focusing on your strengths. Whatever you do well, try to do better.

That’s your greatest pathway forward to increased capacity. Later we’ll look at the core capacities that all people possess and how you can develop yours. Intention: Acting on What I Need to Do In my book Intentional Living, I discuss the major difference between good intentions and intentional living.

The former may make a person feel good, but it doesn’t actually do anything positive for him or others. The key is action. We get results only when we take what we’ve learned and put it into action.

When I was in my twenties I became aware that I would have to become highly intentional about my personal growth if I was going to be able to make a difference in the world. So I sat down and wrote out something that I called
“The Mundane Man.”

Here’s how it went: Sad is that day for any man when he is absolutely satisfied with the life that he is living, thoughts that he is thinking, deeds that he is doing, until there ceases to be forever knocking on the door of his soul, a desire to do something greater for God and his fellow-man.

I wrote that because I never wanted to become a mundane person. I believe none of us wants that, yet I think all of us could be in danger of becoming mundane. There is a natural downward pull that threatens to stop people from accepting the capacity challenge. We have to fight that inertia.

You need to become aware that you are currently living below your potential if you’re going to do anything to improve. Even if you’ve been a highly productive and successful person, you can improve.

You can increase your capacity.
You have more in you that you have never tapped.
And there is a path forward to greater potential if you are willing to take it.

3. You Can Remove the Caps from Your Capacity
The next step forward to increasing your capacity involves removing the caps that are holding you back.

Have you ever heard or read about how elephants used to be trained ?
They could be made to stay in one place with only a small rope restricting them. That’s incredible, considering that an adult male Asian elephant is ten feet tall at the shoulder and weighs about four tons. What was the secret ?

When an elephant was very young and weighed only several hundred pounds, it was restricted by having a chain clasped to its leg and connected to a tree or deep stake. When the animal tried to move away and learned that it could not break the chain, it limited itself. It believed that whatever restriction was put on it—even a rope it could have easily broken—was more powerful than it was.

People are like those elephants.
We often believe that some of the restrictions we may have experienced earlier in life are permanent. Or we’ve been told we have limitations that we actually don’t possess, and these things are keeping us from taking the journey in life that we long for.

These are the chains we need to break. Awareness changes everything. As soon as we become aware that some of our “limitations” are artificial limitations, we can begin to overcome many of them.

We can blow off these caps, which opens the way for growth. I’ll talk more about this later. In the book If It Ain’t Broke… Break It! Robert Kriegel and Louis Patler write, “We don’t have a clue as to what people’s limits are.

All the tests, stopwatches, and finish lines in the world can’t measure human potential. When someone is pursuing their dream, they’ll go far beyond what seem to be their limitations. The potential that exists within us is limitless and largely untapped.”2 That process begins with developing awareness of the caps that are restricting you.

4. You Can Develop the Capacities
You Already Possess Everyone has capacities that are based on their natural talents. Some of them require very specific abilities, such as those found in symphony musicians, professional athletes, and great artists. Others are more general in nature and rely on multiple skill sets.

In this book, I identify and examine seven of these capacities:
Energy Capacity—Your Ability to Push On Physically Emotional Capacity—Your Ability to Manage Your Emotions Thinking Capacity—Your Ability to Think Effectively People Capacity—Your Ability to Build Relationships Creative Capacity—Your Ability to See Options and Find Answers Production Capacity—Your Ability to Accomplish Results Leadership Capacity—Your Ability to Lift and Lead Others

I’ll teach you how to maximize the level of talent you have so that you can increase your capacity in each of these areas.

5. You Can Make Choices
That Maximize Your Possibilities You also have other capacities that rely more on your choices. While it’s true that talent is still a factor, it is less important in these areas. I want to help you identify the choices you can make to increase your capacity:

Responsibility Capacity—Your Choice to Take Charge of Your Life Character
Capacity—Your Choices Based on Good Values Abundance Capacity—Your Choice to Believe There Is More than Enough Discipline Capacity—Your Choice to Focus Now and Follow Through Intentionality Capacity—Your Choice to Deliberately Pursue Significance

Attitude Capacity—Your Choice to Be Positive Regardless of Circumstances Risk Capacity—Your Choice to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Spiritual Capacity—Your Choice to Strengthen Your Faith Growth Capacity—Your Choice to Focus on How Far You Can Go Partnership Capacity—Your Choice to Collaborate with Others I’ll teach you how to increase your capacity in these areas, too.

And when you pair the development of your capacities with the maximization of your choices, you start to develop personal momentum toward your potential. Momentum is not the result of one push. It is the result of many continual pushes over time. Momentum is not the result of one push.

It is the result of many continual pushes over time.
How Far Can You Go ? Recently I came across a story told by Jesse Itzler that illustrates the limitations many of us allow to be put on ourselves.

Itzler is someone who started his career in the music business as a rapper, became an entrepreneur, cofounded Marquis Jet, and later became one of the owners of the Atlanta Hawks.

A very accomplished person, Itzler also enjoys participating in endurance races.
Itzler describes running a grueling endurance race as a member of a relay team and spotting another man running the race as a solo participant. He later found out that the man was a Navy SEAL.

Itzler ended up asking the man to spend time with him and his family so they could learn from his experience and wisdom. Itzler also wanted the SEAL to train him.
The SEAL agreed to do it—as long as Itzler promised to do everything he asked and didn’t use his real name.


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Introduction Potential is one of the most wonderful words in any language.

It looks forward with optimism.
It is filled with hope. It promises success.
It implies fulfillment.
It hints at greatness.
Potential is a word based on possibilities.

Think about your potential as a human being and you get excited—at least,
I hope you do. What a positive thought.
I believe in your potential just as much as I believe in mine.
Do you have potential? Absolutely. What about unfulfilled potential ?

That phrase is as negative as the word potential is positive. My friend Florence Littauer, a speaker and author, wrote a story in her book Silver Boxes about her father, who always wanted to be a singer but never was.

She says he died with the music still inside of him. That’s an apt description of unfulfilled potential. Not reaching your potential is like dying with the music still inside of you.

Since you are reading these words, I believe you have the desire to reach your potential. So the question becomes, how do you do it ? I have no doubt that the answer is growth. To reach your potential you must grow. And to grow, you must be highly intentional about it.

This book is my effort to help you learn how to grow and develop yourself so you have the best chance of becoming the person you were created to be. My desire is to help you develop the right attitude, learn more about your strengths, tap into your passion, become more in touch with your purpose, and develop your skills so you can be all you can be.

You may be aware that this is the third Laws book I’ve written. The first was developed to help leaders understand how leadership works so they could become better leaders.

The second was to help people understand teamwork and develop stronger teams. This book is dedicated to helping you understand how personal growth works and to help you become a more effective and fulfilled individual.

While it’s true that I may include a few leadership insights along the way, you don’t need to be a leader for this book to help you. You don’t need to be part of a team to grow (though it certainly helps). You just need to be a person who wants to grow and become better than you are today.

What do I mean when I write about growth ? That will be as unique as you are. To discover your purpose, you need to grow in self-awareness. To become a better human being, you need to grow in character. To advance in your career, you need to grow in your skills.

To be a better spouse or parent, you need to grow in relationships. To reach your financial goals, you need to grow in your knowledge about how money works. To enrich your soul, you need to grow spiritually.

The specifics of growth change from person to person, but the principles are the same for every person. This book offers laws that will teach you how to approach the worthy goal of growing.

It is a key that unlocks the door. You will have to put in the work to actually grow. My recommendation is that you tackle a chapter of this book every week. Discuss it with some friends.

Do the application exercises that are at the end of each chapter. Keep a growth journal. And incorporate what you’re learning into your everyday life. You cannot change your life until you change something you do every day.

By learning the laws and then living them, you will be on your way to reaching your potential. If you keep learning and growing every day over the course of many years, you will be astounded by how far it will take you.

1 The Law of Intentionality Growth Doesn’t Just Happen Life is now in session. Are you present ? Do you have a plan for your personal growth ?” Curt Kampmeier, the man who asked me the question, waited patiently for my response. It was a question that would change my life.

I fumbled for answers. I listed my accomplishments from the previous three years. I talked about how hard I worked. I outlined my goals. I explained the things I was doing to reach more people. All of my answers were based on activity, not on improving. Finally I had to admit it.

I had no plan to become better. It was something I had never considered before, and it exposed a major flaw in my approach to work and success. When I started my career, I was intentional about working, reaching my goals, and being successful.
I had a strategy: hard work. I hoped that would get me where I wanted to go.
But working hard doesn’t guarantee success.

And hope isn’t a strategy.
How do you get better at what you do ?
How do you improve your relationships ?
How do you gain more depth and wisdom as a person ?
How do you gain insight ?
How do you overcome obstacles ?
Work harder ?
Work longer ?
Wait for things to get better ?

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That conversation happened over lunch at a Holiday Inn restaurant in 1972. At the time, I had just been given the opportunity to move up in my career. I had been offered the best church in my denomination. Think about being offered the top leadership job in the premier location in your company.

That’s what it was for me. The problem was that I was twenty-four years old, I was in way over my head, and I knew that if I didn’t rise to the occasion, I would fail spectacularly. Curt was a salesman who was selling a growth kit—a year-long plan with materials designed to help a person grow.

He slid the brochure across the table to me. It cost $799, which was nearly a month’s salary for me at the time. My mind was racing as I drove home. I had believed that success would come to anyone who poured himself into his career. Curt helped me to realize that the key was personal growth.

It occurred to me that if you focus on goals, you may hit goals—but that doesn’t guarantee growth. If you focus on growth, you will grow and always hit goals. As I drove, a quote from James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh came to mind.

I had first read that book in seventh grade and had subsequently read it nearly a dozen times. Allen wrote, “People are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”
I couldn’t afford what Curt was offering.

Yet in my heart I knew that he had uncovered the key to the ability to meet my next leadership challenge and go to the higher levels in my career. I could see the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be—where I needed to be! It was a growth gap, and I needed to figure out how to bridge it.

Growth Gap Traps If you have dreams, goals, or aspirations, you need to grow to achieve them. But if you’re like I was—and if you’re like most people—you have one or more mistaken beliefs that create a gap that keeps you from growing and reaching your potential. Take a look at the following eight misconceptions about growth that may be holding you back from being as intentional as you need to be.

1. The Assumption Gap—“I Assume That I Will Automatically Grow” When we are children, our bodies grow automatically. A year goes by, and we become taller, stronger, more capable of doing new things and facing new challenges.

I think many people carry into adulthood a subconscious belief that mental, spiritual, and emotional growth follows a similar pattern. Time goes by, and we simply get better. We’re like Charlie Brown in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, who once said, “I think I’ve discovered the secret of life—you just hang around until you get used to it.”

The problem is that we don’t improve by simply living. We have to be intentional about it. Musician Bruce Springsteen commented, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” No one improves by accident.

Personal growth doesn’t just happen on its own. And once you’re done with your formal education, you must take complete ownership of the growth process, because nobody else will do it for you.

As Michel de Montaigne observed, “No wind favors him who has no destined port.” If you want your life to improve, you must improve yourself. You must make that a tangible target. “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”
—Bruce Springsteen

2. The Knowledge Gap—“I Don’t Know How to Grow” After my meeting with Curt Kampmeier, I talked to everybody I knew and asked the same question Curt had asked me: “Do you have a growth plan ?” I was hoping that somebody had figured this out and I could simply learn from him. Not one person said yes.

Nobody in my world had a plan for growing and improving. I didn’t know how to grow, and neither did they. Designer, artist, and consultant Loretta Staples says, “If you are clear with what you want, the world responds with clarity.” I knew what I wanted. I wanted to grow into the new job I was taking.

I wanted to become someone capable of accomplishing the big goals I had set for myself. I just needed a way to do that. Many people learn only from the school of hard knocks. Difficult experiences teach them lessons “the hard way,” and they change—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

The lessons are random and difficult. It’s much better to plan your growth intentionally. You decide where you need or want to grow, you choose what you will learn, and you follow through with discipline going at the pace you set.

After I met with Curt and came to realize that I didn’t know anyone else who could help me, my wife, Margaret, and I talked about ways we could scrimp, save, and go without to put aside $799. (You have to remember that this was before credit cards!) I skipped lunches.

We canceled the vacation we had planned to take. We made do. It took us six months, but finally we did it. You can’t imagine my excitement as I opened up the growth kit and started to flip through the five areas it covered: attitude, goals, discipline, measurement, and consistency.

Outside of my faith, the decision to grow has impacted my life more than any other. I look back now and I can see how basic those things were that the kit taught me. But that’s what I needed. Learning those lessons opened the door of personal growth a crack for me.

And through that crack I began to see growth opportunities everywhere. My world began to open up. I accomplished more. I learned more. I was able to lead and help others more. Other opportunities began to present themselves. My world expanded. Outside of my faith, the decision to grow has impacted my life more than any other.

3. The Timing Gap—“It’s Not the Right Time to Begin” When I was a kid, one of my father’s favorite riddles to us went like this: Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left ?

The first time he asked me, I answered, “One.” “No,” he responded. “Five.
Why ? Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing!” That was a point that Dad often drove home with us.

American politician Frank Clark said, “What great accomplishments we’d have in the world if everybody had done what they intended to do.” Most people don’t act as quickly as they should on things.

They find themselves subject to the Law of Diminishing Intent, which says, “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.” The Law of Diminishing Intent says, “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.”

Back when I was deciding whether to try to buy that first personal-growth plan, in a way I was lucky because I knew I was headed to a job where I would be in way over my head. I would be challenged beyond anything I’d ever done before.

I would be under a microscope, with high expectations (some for me to succeed, some for me to fail) from everyone who knew me. And I knew that if I didn’t get better as a leader, I would fail. That prompted me to act as quickly as I could. You may be under similar personal or professional pressure right now.

If you are, you’re probably anxious to start growing and developing. But what if you’re not? Whether you feel prompted to or not, now is the time to start growing. Author and professor Leo Buscaglia asserted, “Life lived for tomorrow will always be a day away from being realized.”

The reality is that you will never get much done unless you go ahead and do it before you are ready. If you’re not already intentionally growing, you need to get started today. If you don’t, you may reach some goals, which you can celebrate, but you will eventually plateau. Once you start growing intentionally, you can keep growing and keep asking “What’s next?”

4. The Mistake Gap—“I’m Afraid of Making Mistakes” Growing can be a messy business. It means admitting you don’t have the answers. It requires making mistakes. It can make you look foolish. Most people don’t enjoy that. But that is the price of admission if you want to improve.

Years ago I read a quote by Robert H. Schuller, who said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail ?” Those words encouraged me to try things that I believed were beyond my capabilities.

They also inspired me to write the book Failing Forward. When I received the first copy of that book from the publisher, I immediately wrote a thank-you in it to Dr. Schuller and signed it to him.

And I made a trip to Garden Grove so I could present it to him and thank him for the positive influence he had on my life. A photograph that was taken of us on that day sits on the desk in my office as a reminder of his investment in me.

If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you may have of making mistakes. As author and professor Warren Bennis asserts, “A mistake is simply another way of doing things.”

To become intentional about growing, expect to make mistakes every day, and welcome them as a sign that you are moving in the right direction. “A mistake is simply another way of doing things.” —Warren Bennis

5. The Perfection Gap—“I Have to Find the Best Way Before I Start” Similar to the Mistake Gap is the Perfection Gap, the desire to find the “best” way to get started in a growth plan. When Curt presented me with the idea of a growth plan, I went looking for the best way.

But what I discovered is that I had it backward. I had to get started if I wanted to find the best way. It’s similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you’d like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving.

6. The Inspiration Gap—“I Don’t Feel Like Doing It” Many years ago, I was stuck in a doctor’s waiting room for a really long time—so long, in fact, that I had completed all the work I’d brought with me for the wait and was looking for something productive to do.

I flipped through a medical journal and found the following text, which has become one of my favorite examples of the inertia of motivation (and by the way, this was before Nike coined the phrase): Just Do It We hear it almost every day; sigh, sigh, sigh. I just can’t get myself motivated to…
(lose weight, test my blood sugar, etc.)

And we hear an equal number of sighs from diabetes educators who can’t get their patients motivated to do the right things for their diabetes and health. We have news for you. Motivation is not going to strike you like lightning.

And motivation is not something that someone else—nurse, doctor, family member—can bestow or force on you. The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation and then guess what.

After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it. Motivation is like love and happiness. It’s a by-product. When you’re actively engaged in doing something, it sneaks up and zaps you when you least expect it.

As Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner says, “You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.” So act! Whatever it is you know you should do, do it. When Curt suggested I needed to be intentional about growing, I had thousands of reasons not to do it.

I didn’t have the time, the money, the experience, and so on. I had only one reason to do it. I believed I should do it because I hoped it would make a difference. That certainly didn’t feel inspirational.

But I started. To my astonishment, after a year of dedicated growth, I started to pass some of my heroes. My reason for putting in the work changed from getting started to staying with it, because it did make a difference.

After that, I didn’t want to miss a single day! You may not feel inspired to aggressively pursue a growth plan if you haven’t started yet. If that’s the case, please trust me when I say that the reasons to keep growing far outweigh the reasons to start growing. And you discover the reasons to stay with growth only if you stick with it long enough to start reaping the benefits.

So make a commitment to yourself to start and stick with it for at least twelve months. If you do, you will fall in love with the process, and you will be able to look back at the end of that year and see how far you’ve come.

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7. The Comparison Gap—“Others Are Better Than I Am” Fairly early in my career,
I attended an idea exchange with three other leaders in Orlando, Florida. I went because at the time I realized that I needed to be exposed to bigger and better leaders outside of my own small circle.

At first when I arrived, I was intimidated. As we talked and shared ideas, it became clear very quickly that I was not in their league. Their organizations were six times the size of mine, and they had many more and much better ideas than I did. I felt like I was in over my head and trying to swim.

Despite that, I was encouraged. Why ? Because I discovered that great men were willing to share their ideas. And I was learning so much. You can learn only if others are ahead of you.

The first ten years that I was intentionally pursuing personal growth, I was always behind trying to catch up. I had to get over the comparison gap. I had to learn to become comfortable with being out of my comfort zone. It was a difficult transition, but it was well worth it.

8. The Expectation Gap—“I Thought It Would Be Easier Than This” I don’t know any successful person who thinks growth comes quickly and climbing to the top is easy. It just doesn’t happen. People create their own luck.


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