“I can’t go on…”
I was lifting weights the other day when that thought crept into my head. I was reaching a point where I was doing more than I normally did – past my limitations.
I almost listened to it. I almost packed up my stuff and left.
But I didn’t. I know that the only way to get anywhere in lifting is to go beyond your limits. That’s how you get stronger and build muscle.
When You’ve Reached Your Limit
It’s funny how limitations creep into your head like that. Your mind just seems to know where that point is and always steps in to remind you when you’ve reached your limits.
As a regular gym-goer, I’ve had to struggle with limitations. It’s that point where you go to the gym over and over again, but never make progress. You just keeping doing the same workouts and never see any results.
You know what I’m talking about, right? I’m talking about the plateau.
When you plateau, you:
- Do the same things over and over again
- Never see any better results
- Feel as if you’ve reached your highest level
- Struggle to push yourself past it
You hear about the plateau a lot in the gym, but the same thing happens in any situation when you’re trying to build a skill.
The concept applies to pretty much anything that requires motivation and willpower.
There’s another term for a plateau. It’s called limitation.
It’s when you’ve reached a point when you don’t think you can push yourself to learn and grow anymore. In other words, you’ve hit a ceiling and your brain is telling you that you can’t go on.
Busting Through the Plateau
I’ve hit a lot of limits inside and outside of the gym. Each time it took a lot of concerted effort to push past my previous level.
In each instance, I hit points when I didn’t think I could push myself to do any more.
But I was always wrong.
The truth is that limitations are an illusion. They appear real, but fade away when you examine them more closely.
What seems so real at first turns out to be nothing but a mirage.
Don’t get me wrong, they can still hold real power over you. Perception can be a powerful thing.
But it all takes place in the mind.
Your mind acts like a map. It knows the territory you’ve visited already and feels comfortable there.
When you push past your limitations, you enter new territory. You’re doing things you haven’t done before so it’s brand new.
Entering that new territory makes your mind feel lost. It gets uncomfortable.
So it tells you things like:
“Stop, you’ve never done this before.”
“Are you sure you can handle this?”
“You shouldn’t do this, stick with what you’re familiar with.”
That’s what limitations are. They’re your brain being uncomfortable with territory it’s unfamiliar with.
It’s telling you what you can’t do, but not because you can’t do them. It’s because it’s unfamiliar with you doing them. That’s the illusion.
Here are some ways to break through that illusion:
1. See through your limitations
It’s easier to see the illusion of limitations once you’ve passed them. Look back on another time in your life when you did something you never thought you could do.
I remember a time when I was a little kid and I saw older kids studying things for school – things I couldn’t understand. I knew I would eventually study those same things, but in my head I never thought I would be able to grasp it.
Of course, when I finally reached that grade level, I understood it. The limitation was only in my head.
The trick is to remember moments like that and how it felt to look back at them. Those limits don’t seem so powerful once you’ve passed them.
Now imagine yourself in the future after you’ve pushed past the limits you’re currently facing. Remind yourself that they really aren’t there – just like they were never there all those other times.
2. Remember that doing the same things gets you nowhere
Sometimes a limitation appears to be there simply because of your approach. Simply put: do the same things and you’ll see the same results.
I’m trying to build muscle when I lift weights. That means pushing my muscles to lift more than they ever have.
So when I do the same lifting routines over and over again, I don’t see results. I only see results when I change something: the reps, weight or number of sets.
When I don’t change any of those, I don’t see any results. All I do is plateau. And when I plateau, I think I’ve reached my limits.
The same goes for any skill. Your limits might be there simply because you keep doing the same things over and over again.
Change it up. Increase the pressure and keep going past the point when you think you should stop.
3. Train yourself to ignore limiting thoughts
Your limitations are formed by how you think.
How far do you think you can go? How much do you think you’re capable of doing?
The trouble with our brains is that we often only believe things we see. So if you have never seen yourself do something before, your brain has a hard time accepting that you can do it.
Sometimes you have to override your mind. Do something despite those thoughts.
Train your body to take over when your mind is negative. Your body doesn’t tell you what you can’t do, it’s only there to act. That makes it perfect to overcome limiting thoughts.
Want to talk to that cute person you see in the bar despite those limiting thoughts?
Train your body to go over to the person without thinking.
Want to finish running a marathon, but your mind is telling you to quit?
Train your body to keep going.
The Only Limit
Since most limitations are made in your head, they exist only when you accept they exist.
Get used to pushing past that point and bust through the illusion. Once you’re able to break that hold over you, there’s no telling how far you can go.
photo credit: Keith Davenport