The Big Con is stealing your potential

David Engwich
August 24, 2019

There are three thieves sneaking around your neural pathways stealing your potential. The Big Con is stealing your potential by getting you to tell stories that sabotage your success.


In this three-part series, I have suggested that we would all like to reach our fullest potential and create the best possible version of ourselves. We all want to get to the end of our life and look back with pride and satisfaction at the life we have created.

But there are three bad, bad people living in our brain who profit from stealing our potential.

We have already unmasked The Trickster and Mr Pickpocket. Today we unmask thief number three.



I recently worked in a town where the main shopping street is a state highway. In a workshop, one of the retailers stated emphatically, ‘Our biggest problem is the highway. The traffic makes the street inhospitable and is sending us broke’.

Not that I needed this retailer to tell me that this was the dominant story being told by the businesses.

At one shop you could write your name in the years of accumulated dust on the tiles in front of their shop. The awning was covered in decades of cobwebs and mould. Virtually no shops were making active use of the footpath – either to display product or provide seating for their customers. Instead of interesting window displays, they had closed off their front windows with large signs.

These actions, or lack of actions, told me loud and clear that the owners of these businesses had psychologically divorced themselves from the footpath and street. Like a disillusioned ex-lover, they could only see the bad side of the state highway.

And the story they told about their street, and the traffic on it, was robbing them blind. Literally.

While they were bemoaning the traffic, THE BIG CON had his hand in their till.


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So I challenged these businesses to change their story. Instead of looking at the highway as their biggest deficit, start seeing it as their greatest asset.

Lots-and-lots of people are driving right past their front door. Every one of them is a potential customer – begging to be seduced into stopping and parting with their cash in exchange for a memorable experience.

Changing their story would change their behaviour. They would clean their shop fronts and make them inviting. They would put intriguing things outside their shops. They would put out furniture to encourage people to linger outside their shop, because people lounging around would invite others to come and join them. They would make the doorways into their shops more inviting. They would take the giant signs out of their front windows and create enticing displays.

These businesses would say to themselves, ‘No one is going to stop in a place that feels like a ghost town. So let’s make it feel alive and inviting… as if someone who cares lives here.’

The older I get, the more I become aware that people’s behaviour is governed by the stories they tell about themselves and the world around them. Many of these stories are totally unconscious. In fact, many are handed down to us from generation to generation. Some are thousands of years old.

For example, I do a lot of work for local government. I have worked alongside some of the most good-hearted people you are likely to meet. They see themselves as a ‘public servant’. They took their job because they are passionate about making a difference in the world. But almost without exception, every one of them tells a similar story about those in authority above them: they’re all anally-retentive bureaucrats without a creative bone in their body. This story is standing in the way of them making a difference in the world.

THE BIG CON has pilfered their sense of purpose.

What if they changed their story? What if they said, ‘My boss is a highly creative individual who, like me, has a passion to make a difference in this community. Like me, they are frustrated and beaten down by the culture of this organisation.’ Suddenly their behaviour would change. They would forge an alliance of shared interest with the boss. Together they would search for innovative ways to work within the constraints of the organisation.


To compound his devious ways, THE BIG CON not only gets us to tell stories that deceive us out of our potential. He also seduces us into labelling these stories as ‘reality’.

The most liberating thing you can do for yourself is practice discerning the difference between ‘reality’ and the stories you tell about it.

For the retailers in the example above, the reality is that the street in front of their shops is a state highway. But the story they tell about this is entirely at their discretion – and the story they choose will either enable them or disable them. For the staff in local government, the reality is that they have bosses they are answerable too. But the stories they tell about these bosses will either assist or hinder their ability to make a difference in the world.

Make a list of everything you believe about a situation you want to change. This may be to have a better relationship with someone, or to reinvent yourself, or make a difference in your community.

Now examine whether these beliefs are ‘reality’ or your story about it. Let’s say you believe that your partner is stubborn. The BIG CON is going to smoothly whisper in your ear, ‘Look at the evidence. Your partner is stubborn. Remember what they did last night, and last week. It’s a fact, not an opinion.’

But this is a story, not a fact. This story has evolved over time in response to particular actions. (In fact, I will bet my bottom dollar you didn’t tell this story when you first met your partner. The story was very different back then!) The actions of your partner are real, but how you interpret those actions is pure story. And there is always a different way of explaining their actions.

For example, during the three-year campaign against the road widening through my neighbourhood, people looked at my dedication to the cause and said, ‘We admire your stickability’. My wife and kids called it ‘pig-headedness’. Same actions, different stories.

If your stories are not helping to release you potential, then you are being conned.

Tell a different story and see if it doesn’t give you wings.

Hey let me know if you want me to write more blogs about the power of stories to lock up your potential… how to uncover them… and how to write more empowering stories. There is a lot of material on this subject in my book Your New Wings – but I would love to expand on it.

If you missed the first two blogs in this series, here they are:  The Trickster and Mr Pickpocket.

I have created a Creative Solutions Generatora one page canvass that helps you think outside the box. I am offering a free 5X5 minute mini-course on how to use this simple tool. Get more info here.

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Become the hero in your own story

Tap into the ‘creativity factory’ inside your head, transforming the mundane of everyday living into an extraordinary life.

Buy the book