In the never-ending quest for self-improvement, external factors sometimes interfere with achieving goals. A bad boss, a health problem, or a loved one’s setback can hijack our personal upward trajectories.

But more often than not, key stumbling blocks to optimization are internal. With self-limiting beliefs, we actually stand in our own way without ever realizing it.

Fulfilling our full potential is, at its core, an inside job.

In his 2019 book, Elevate, which collates insights from a decades-long career as a business columnist and leadership capacity expert, Robert Glazer outlines simple techniques to get started and form positive habits.

Glazer outlines four essential capacities: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional. Integrating active strategies within these four elements can unlock potential and have a cumulative, life-changing effect.

“Capacity building is not about doing more,” Glazer writes. “It’s about doing more of the right things.”

I’m Ali Pattillo and this is Strategy, a series packed with actionable tips to help you make the most out of your life, career, and finances.

How to elevate your life — In Elevate, Glazer defines capacity-building as the method by which individuals seek, acquire, and develop the skills and abilities to consistently perform at a higher level in pursuit of their innate potential.

“People who consistently elevate have a competitive advantage, but it’s one that you can replicate,” Glazer writes.

Any individual’s capacity isn’t fixed, Glazer says, drawing on a concept established by psychologist and education expert Carol Dweck. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point,” Dweck wrote in 2015. “This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

This attitude runs counter to believing your abilities are fixed and can’t evolve with effort. Every person is capable of change, Glazer stresses.

Where to start — To reach your full potential, Glazer suggests focusing on four key dimensions of your life: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities.

  1. Spiritual capacity is about understanding who you are, what you want most, and the standards you want to live by each day. It’s the process of developing your “North Star,” Glazer describes, and the principles that guide your actions and shape your major decisions. To extend your spiritual capacity, do exercises that clarify your core values and help you learn your true purpose. You can also take tests that assess your personality, strengths, and general tendencies. You can also write your own obituary. This exercise can help you identify how you want to be remembered, a process that can reveal the life you hope to lead. Ultimately, spiritual capacity is rooted in getting to know yourself, then taking action based on what you learn.
  2. Intellectual capacity is about how you improve your ability to think, learn, plan, and execute with discipline. The first step in increasing your intellectual capacity is simple, Glazer says: believing you can. It also requires a commitment to lifelong learning, openness to feedback and failure, and being proactive. “Being reactive is rarely a recipe for success,” Glazer writes. Establishing a routine and clear daily goals helps, too. To heighten the chance of achievement, Glazer says to create goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
  3. Physical capacity is defined as your health, well-being, and physical performance. “Your physical capacity acts as either an accelerant or a drag on your overall quest to build capacity,” Glazer writes. It’s basic, but crucial, to focus on sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising on a regular basis to avoid these negative side effects. To get started, Glazer suggests taking two 15-minute tech-free activity breaks throughout the day, preferably outside. Aim for eight hours of sleep nightly or sign up for a local intramural sports league or a physical event, like a 5K or triathlon.
  4. Emotional capacity is how you react to challenging situations, your emotional mindset, and the quality of your relationships. It’s about how you “manage the little voice in your head” and interact with others, Glazer says. To build emotional capacity, embrace vulnerability even if it’s uncomfortable, get outside your comfort zone, and surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Think about five of your closest relationships and ask: Do they help you build your capacity? Or do they pull you down to their level of mediocrity?

Ultimately, Glazer offers starting points to reflect and actively improve your life. They aren’t shortcuts or life hacks, but instead, sustainable strategies to work on daily. And the job is never done.

“It’s easier and more convenient to make excuses,” Glazer writes. “It’s more difficult — and far more rewarding — to believe you are fully in control of your own destiny.”