Potential is a priceless treasure. All of us have gold hidden within, but we have to dig to get it out.

Joyce Meyer

Imagine having something within us that we don’t yet know about. Or finding that there is a new ceiling to our already acknowledged skill set. Quite simply, latency is the state of existing but not yet being developed; a concealment of our true potential. Our true potential can be both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Let’s explore some strategies and see if we can discover what we are truly made of.

There are a couple of things that cantrip us up and prevent us from unlocking this latency and understanding them is helpful in overcoming them. Firstly, as Stephen King once wrote: ‘Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free.’ I guess we can all recognise a situation where someone would rather not try, and fail, than give it everything they’ve got and fail. This self-sabotage will not help us unlock our potential. Whilst stepping into the unknown can be terrifying, it can also be hugely rewarding. I was never a volleyball player (I’m only 5ft 2ins “tall”), nor was I a canoeist, yet stepping up to both these challenges unlocked potential in me and consequently led to opportunities I could never have imagined.

It would have been easy to retire immediately upon crossing the finish line in Rio 2016, with the gold medal tucked in my pocket. Plenty of athletes do when they reach this pinnacle. I could have retired unbeaten. I could have retired at the top of my game with no fear of losing that status. But retiring then would have meant I never knew how fast we could actually make the boat. In truth, the thought of retiring could have been tempting, but the thought of being bold, brave and seeing what we could achieve was more enticing.

Many people never really look inside themselves to see what’s there. Our aversion to fear can keep us from ever really putting ourselves in a truly challenging situation. By understanding the process of performance, I knew I had more to give but I didn’t know if this would pay off. Would trying and failing mean my past achievements meant less? Or would not trying and never knowing what we could have achieved be worse? It’s a balancing act of risk vs. reward. Two of my values are challenge and passion; both within my control and both fundamental to how I behave. So whilst acknowledging the incredible situation I found myself in, I wanted to see what else was possible. I wasn’t done yet.

The second potential blocker is a tendency to experience Imposter Syndrome. This is a psychological pattern in which we doubts our accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. At times in my career I’ve experienced this, attributing a good performance to luck, a fluke or a big tailwind. If I let these thoughts stagnate it would, of course, prevent me unlocking my true potential. However, grounding ourselves in a clear understanding of our values and the behaviours they produce will ensure we make decisions based on careful thought and strategy. Acknowledging what we have achieved (and crucially, why or how) is an important step to allow us to move on and be open to what is still to be discovered within us.

We now understand two things that can impact us and keep us locked in latency. It is also important to recognise that we don’t have to always take every opportunity. The power comes in questioning ourselves to ensure we are applying rational thinking to each opportunity. The grass isn’t always greener. Allowing ourselves to stay in what could be considered a latent period, where we don’t endlessly seek to develop or progress, may, in fact, be just what we need. It could be a little oasis for a period of time where we allow ourselves more reflection, more time to gain a balance and more time to think, thus promoting better decisions in the future. The important thing to remember is that if we take an opportunity to unlock our potential and it doesn’t quite pan out, we evaluate the situation to ensure it doesn’t inhibit future attempts to discover our true potential. We can ask ourselves honestly: ‘Was it the right situation?’ ‘Was it the right time for me?’ ‘Did I do everything I could have?’ ‘Is the outcome or success under my control?’ Simply taking some time to assess can help ensure we keep a can-do attitude and that we empower ourselves by learning. That will be the difference in steering our drive and desire towards the next goal or opportunity.

Sometimes a period of latency could be exactly what we need. Have you ever thought: ‘I’d love to do that but I don’t have the time.’ Or: ‘I don’t have the energy to do that?’ Simply taking a time out and acknowledging what we have is a hugely beneficial process. Being grateful and recognising what we have achieved and how we have done it can help us make sound decisions in the moment as to what to pursue next. Equally, it can help identify areas where we might find new heights to our existing talents. An injury provided me with a period of latency. One that I didn’t want. One that derailed my progress towards my goals. But equally it was one that was crucial in getting a better understanding of my own mental health and allowed me the time to develop better, more resilient strategies to cope with the demands of a high performance environment.

It also allowed us to focus on areas that we would usually ignore, the hard-to-reach small performance gains that take time to realise. It is possible that coming through a period of latency is actually a hugely powerful moment of learning that we should consider taking into our next ambitious drive for performance, refocused and with our batteries recharged.

So, whatever your gold medal maybe, ask yourselves the following questions to ensure you make an informed decision to allow you to unlock your potential and leave latency behind.

Coaching Question

Explore: Does this possible challenge excite you?


Meta: Ask yourself if you will regret not stepping out of your comfort zone.

This article is based on the Amazon No.1 Hot New Release in HR, The A–Z of Human Performance. For more coaching questions and habituators on this topic and 25 more chapters from Jonna Sercombe, Emma Wiggs, and Steve Eaton, pick up a copy in paperback or eBook.