If I asked you to tell me where your physical and mental limits are, would you be able to? How would you know they’re there? These aren’t easy questions to answer.
But still many people go through their lives with the assumption that those limits are there. We tell ourselves that we can’t do something because of some limitation we imagine and come up with ways to justify these self induced restrictions. But the limitations you think you see are actually an illusion. And I’ll prove it to you.
One early morning in 1939 on the campus of University of California-Berkley, George Dantzig, a graduate student, was running late for class. Arriving in his math class, he saw two statistics problems written on the board. Thinking it was part of his homework, he wrote them down, worked on them over the weekend and handed in his answers.
Six weeks later his professor excitedly informed him that those two problems were the two most famous unsolved problems in statistics – and he had just solved them.
You may have heard this story before and possibly you shrugged it off as an urban legend. But this story actually happened.
To him, the problems weren’t some huge impossible undertaking. He didn’t frame the difficulty through limitations, but possibilities. He never saw them as intimidating monolithic math problems, but as questions with answers he could solve. So he solved them.
October 14th, 2012, was a groundbreaking day for Felix Baumgartner. Not only did he set the altitude record for a manned balloon flight, but also set the record for highest altitude parachute jump and greatest free fall velocity.
And because of this jump, Felix also became the first person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle.
Felix didn’t stop from attempting something simply because no one had physically done it before. He didn’t see it as impossible. What he did was set a goal, train hard to reach it and then made it happen.
This feat was a huge undertaking. He had to break four records in order to achieve it. If Felix hadn’t already done it, I think most people would consider this task physically impossible.
Of course, these two examples are extreme ways people have broken through mental and physical limitations. Yet they contain lessons useful for everyday common limitations people set for themselves.
When I was in college, I never thought I’d be able to learn anything in my advanced algebra class. All those equations looked so complex and intimidating. I just assumed I didn’t have the mental capacity to put all those numbers and letters together in a meaningful way. My goal for the class was to get a C.
But to my surprise the equations became easier and easier to understand. So I did better in the class than I ever expected. As I look back, I can see I put a mental limit on what I thought my math abilities were. In reality, I was selling my abilities short.
The thing is that my mental limit seemed so real. I could swear it was right there beating down on me and preventing me from learning. But the truth was that the limit I so realistically imagined was nothing but an illusion.
Breaking Through Limits
This struggle happens much more often than you might realize. How often have you stopped yourself from trying something because you imagined it to be beyond your capabilities? Have you ever thought something was too mentally or physically challenging for you to handle so you didn’t even try?
The major difference between my experience in school and an experience out in the real world is that I was forced to confront my limitation head on. In the real world, there is no requirement.
Since I was required to take that class, I eventually could see that limitation for exactly what it was: an illusion. But if I never had that requirement, I would never have seen the illusion behind the limitation. In the real world, these limitations seem equally real. And no one is going to make you push through them.
But there are ways to see if those limits are really there.
Ask yourself these questions:
• Have I ever pushed myself so far that I couldn’t go any further?
• Is there absolutely no other way to get more out of myself?
• Have I actually met my limits? Really?
• Could I be selling my abilities short?
If you haven’t actually pushed yourself so far, so fast that you completely understand your limits, you truly don’t know where those limits are. Your physical and mental limits are an illusion simply because you’ve never actually seen them.
You just think they are real.
Until you test your physical and mental limits, you’ll never know how far you can take yourself. It will be just like how I was walking into algebra class. You might be blinded to your true capabilities. Make it a regular habit to test how far you can take yourself. Otherwise you might not be living up to your true potential.
photo credit: Picture Perfect Pose