Expanding Your Limits

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One of the things I’ve tried to do my whole adult life is expand my personal limits. Early on, I realized I inherently gave little or no credence to the limitations that others tried to put on me (“You can’t do that!). Where I faltered was in my encounters with the limits I subconsciously or fearfully put on myself (I’m not capable of that!)

Although I’ve been pretty successful, I’m still working to expand on those self-imposed limits. In fact, I’ve recently recognized for the first time a whole new batch of them, and so this internal struggle is once again in the forefront of my mind.

That’s a big reason why I’m interested in exploring, and laying out for you, some of the ways we can stop holding ourselves back from the full measure of productivity and success we could chalk up.

Here are some suggestions on how to do this:

Identify the Obstacles

It seems an obvious step. But when you’re working to expand your self-imposed limits, there’s a good chance you may not even recognize what they are. For example, if you’ve never taken a music lesson, you may not realize you’re holding yourself back from expressing those tunes that sometimes pop into your head.

This is one reason it’s helpful to pay attention to the people and events around you, and – from time to time – imagine yourself more involved. For example, if you’re at a concert, imagine what it might feel like to be up there on stage. If you’re in a meeting, imagine what it might feel like to be offering one of your most cherished ideas for others to absorb. When you’re with friend, imagine what it might feel like to have their job, live in their house, be part of their family, or participate in some of their activities.

It’s also helpful to objectively inventory your likes and dislikes. Write them down. Keep them in mind. Think about when and where they originated. Your sources of pleasure and pain offer important clues to your self-imposed limits – both those you’ve already transcended and those you have yet to transcend.

Do the Necessary Work 

The human mind is geared toward finding the easiest way to accomplish tasks. But when you’re aiming for a distant and/or difficult goal, even the easiest way forward can require a great deal of work.

That‘s why it’s important you resolve to do whatever work is necessary to get where you’re going. In many cases, there is simply no substitute for putting in the tedious, time-consuming effort. For example, you can’t hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and get all the immediate and long-term enjoyment that experience offers, without walking its 2600 miles (or whatever Section Hikes you decide on). You can’t receive a degree or certification without making the effort and demonstrating your grasp of the relevant subjects.

Shortcuts are fine, but not when they require you to lower your standards, eliminate important interim steps, or avoid the preparation that will enable you to meet your goal.

Resist the Urge to Cower or Hide

Expanding your limits necessarily involves moving out of your comfort zone. You will be called upon to entertain ideas, meet people, go places, and do things that are new to you. Some of this will inevitably feel scary.

Whenever that inner fright arises, it’s wise to remember that “courage” is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to go ahead despite any fear you may feel.

No one is forcing you to bungee-jump off the tallest building in Macao. But you can get better at resisting the urge to cower or hide by taking gradual steps into your zone of discomfort. Taking a series of small steps into new territory will not only produce a good deal of progress, each step forward will also make it easier for you to take the next step, perhaps a slightly bigger one.

It’s a sad truth that many people allow their inner demons or unspoken fears to sabotage their strenuous efforts to maximize the success of their work and their life. Fortunately, you’re now aware of some effective ways to avoid any hidden tendencies that might otherwise hold you back.

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