By Margaret Lucke
One of the biggest laughs I ever got from an audience came from a remark that was not intended as a joke. The audience was just one person, a close friend. I was bemoaning some goal I'd failed to achieve, some finish line I’d fallen short of, while she murmured words of encouragement.
"I just had an awful thought," I wailed. "What if I am living up to my potential?"
Her laughter was warm and hearty, and it immediately made me feel better. The absurdity of my statement hit me, and I laughed, too, at the low bar I was setting. Of course there was hope for me. Greatness might (or might not) still be in my future.
Because the future is what potential is all about. Dictionary.com defines the adjective potential as "possible, as opposed to actual" and "capable of being or becoming." As a noun, it means "a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed." In other words, potential refers to something that hasn't happened yet.
A few years ago it was popular to do affirmations, which involve writing, over and over, positive statements about what you want to do or become. The idea is that we're all held back by the negative chatter that clutters our minds--I can't do it, I'm not good enough, I don't deserve it. The repetition of the affirmations helps us reprogram our thinking so that we believe in ourselves a bit more.
In the workshop where I learned about writing affirmations, I was told that the trick is to frame them in the present tense, not the future tense: I am achieving success as writer, not I will achieve success as a writer. What's in the future is always elusive, always just beyond our grasp. It's happening next week, next month, next year, and those times never arrive. Next week is never now.
This concept was illustrated by a sign I saw last year on a trip to southern China. Handwritten in English, it hung at the entrance of a bar catering to foreigners in the city of Shenzhen. In bold capital letters it said: Free beer here tomorrow. If we came back the next day, or the day after, the sign would say the same thing. Tomorrow is never today, and the beer is never free.
Having mastered the art of procrastination, I know all about living in the future. But maybe it's a habit that doesn't serve me well. It's time to write some affirmations:
• My thoughts are positive and productive.
• I focus on the present moment and do things in a timely manner.
• I am living up to my potential, developing my latent excellence and bringing my capabilities to the fore.
We’ll see how that works. Free beer, anyone?