Human Potential

Human Potential. Psychology Fanatic article header image

The majestic oak, towering above the ground, once as a small seed. The unrooted acorn contains great potential. In the right environment, the outer shell splits and life emerges. The roots sprout, pushing deep into the soil and soon a tender shoot breaks through the ground. Sun and rain, along with nutrients in the soil nourish the young seedling as it grows strong and tall. We, much like the acorn, have great potential. We can reach our human potential when our environments support growth.

Environment and Potential

​​Many acorns, the potential oak trees, will not survive—never achieving full maturation. Some acorns fall on stony ground and never take root; others dry by the powerful rays of sun, others carried off as food, and some perish from disease. Like the acorn battling for life, we also are susceptible to harsh and toxic environments. Our young lives are fraught with experiences that hamper or encourage development.

Empowered to Achieve Potential

Unlike the dependent acorn, we are empowered; we are involved in the development or decay, capable of reaching potentials beyond the dictates of our current environment. We can choose a different environment, changing givens and adopting new norms. We make choices that increase or decrease the likelihood of achieving our great human potential. Knowledge, skill and loving support guide us in this endeavor human endeavor.

New Age concepts of human potential with their grandiose thinking has hurt the definition. The human potential movement loves to preach unlimited potential. Singing, ‘we can become anything we want to become.’ They ignore our significant human limitations. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a distinguished professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, wrote, “the human potential and other New Age movements of the past thirty years have tried to restore to men and women the dignity lost to scientific reductionism. In so doing, however, they have often overshot the mark and fallen into the opposite sort of excess. Their often romantic visions of human perfection have encouraged a great deal of wishful thinking, and in the process have set people up for unnecessary disillusion” (2009, Kindle location 562).

Our potentials are typically greater than our current trajectories. Many fall way short of what they could become. However, our potential is not unlimited. We just don’t know exactly how far we can reach.

​How Do We Achieve Our Human Potential?

​​Growth toward potential requires courage, venturing into the darkness that lies between where we are and the light of where we want to be. Often, the darkness we must transverse is within. Our faulty thoughts, weakened self-discipline or destructive habits create ominous barriers, foreboding the weary traveler from venturing further.

However, this journey into self betterment requires deeper knowledge of ourselves. Self knowledge is tricky. We tend to create handy little kind narratives about ourselves that make overlooking flaws easy. Basically, we are self deceptive. We must engage in deep self reflection conducting mindful self check-ins. Working our way past the fundamental attribution error and seeing ourselves as we truly are, weaknesses and all. This requires self honesty.

John D. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, says, “personal intelligence speaks both to our human potential and to our capacity for well-being. But although it contributes to our growth as individuals and to our skills at engaging with society, it also speaks to the value of knowing our boundaries and limits” (2014).

​We must extinguish limiting thoughts that previously provided protection for growth to continue. While defensive thoughts make life more palatable, soothing emotions, the thoughts inhibit growth, interfering with relationships and careers. Our thoughts may successfully narrow our human potential. Narrow thoughts lead to a narrow life.

​”Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not. When I see a person beginning to separate themselves from the pack, it’s almost always due to personal growth.”

~John C. Maxwell

​What is Human Potential?

​Human potential is not material accumulation. A new car and a big house is enticing but blind materialism reveals a poverty of ambition. Life should be rich with meaning beyond possessions and titles. We can achieve much more. Our potential is richly displayed through character and relationships. As we grow in kindness, compassion and integrity, our self-confidence waxes strong. With new growth, a sense of purpose evolves, becoming the branches and leaves of creative expression.

Come, join with me in this fabulous adventure of growth, reaching beyond our environments, breaking free of the confining shells, and reaching for the vast blue skies of our magnificent human potential. Let us be the majestic trees the decorate the landscape, provide shade for the weary, and plant new seeds for future generations.

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Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2009). The Evolving Self: Psychology for the Third Millennium, A (Harper Perennial Modern Classics). HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition.

Mayer, John D. (2014). Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How It Shapes Our Lives.‎ Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

1 thought on “Human Potential”

  1. This article was very informative, and made me feel better about where I am in life, thank you for sharing it. I am trying to re-do my life while recovering from addiction. I felt silly doing this, having to learn about myself, at 35. It felt like I was behind a metaphorical eight ball, sorry for the bad pun… Reading this, helped me see that while my reasons for having to do this are what they are, the whole process is something that others undergo for different reasons, and I should focus on the process itself, not on blaming myself for why I have to undergo it. Thank you for this, it brightened my day a little.

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