To Accept Limits or Not – That is the Question
There are limits; it’s dangerous to believe otherwise.
Accepting limits enables peak performance. For example, cars are designed for peak efficiency while running within a limited rpm range.
Surpassing limits lowers performance. The more frequently you exceed limits the sooner you fail. The further from boundaries the more devastating the failure – think of holding the gas pedal to the floor and over-revving an engine until it fails.
- Physical limits. Junrey Balawingm, the shortest man alive – 23.6 inches (60 cm) – will never be a professional basketball player.
- Emotional limits.
- Intellectual limits. Yes Johnny, some people are smarter than you.
- Skill and ability limits.
- Aptitude limits.
Pressing through limits:
On the other hand, many limits should be rejected. Reject self-imposed limits by embracing or creating discomfort.
Limits and comfort are separate things. If you feel comfortable you’re functioning well below your limits. It’s time to push.
Breaking through requires:
- Discipline – pressure from within.
- New challenges – pressure from without.
- Development – education and training.
- Crisis – unexpected, unmanageable circumstances.
- A believer – someone who knows you have more in you than you think.
In a word, breakthroughs require discomfort coupled with belief. Excellence is never easy.
The next level:
Leaders make others uncomfortable so others can exceed self-imposed limitation.
The context of making others uncomfortable is encouragement – believing in them. In other words, successful leaders prod and poke with one hand while comforting and encouraging with the other.
Combine new challenges with support. Remember however, don’t support too much; less is more. The less support you give the stronger they become. You’re developing leaders not needy co-dependents.
Warning, less support means more frustration. Frustration is good until it becomes distracting. Support isn’t removing discomfort; it’s enabling through it.
Have you accepted the reality of limits?
How do you press through self-imposed limits?
How do you help others press through limits?
Great article about understanding limits!
We break through limits by discipline. The msot important thing here, I think is to recognize the limits, and to be honest in our assessment of what is working and what is not; what is truly helping us move toward our goals and what is keeping us stagnant.
But if we are honest, transparent and get help when we need it, we can move well betond self-imposed limits.
Good morning Martina,
Thank you for starting the conversation today. I hadn’t thought about the term “stagnant” but I like it. I think it applies when we accept self-imposed limits. It’s an uncomfortable word.
I think we can be working hard and still be stagnant… that is, not breaking through.
Best to you,
I agree with both Martina and Dan. The word that got my attention was found in #5, believer. If I can believe it, I can achieve it.
But as Martina says, if we are honest…
I think we become stagnant because we don’t believe in what we can’t see. New opportunities are waiting for us everyday we have to believe that in order to see beyond self- imposed limits.
Great conversation… thanks for sharing,
Very intriguing topic, Dan. It’s interesting that we try to reject the idea of limits. We try to motivate with statemetns like, “The only limit to what you can do is what you can imagine.” But in a physical sense a world without boundaries would be chaos. Could it be that in a relational sense our limits are actually something like the edges of puzzle pieces? They shape us, and they compel us to seek out someone with a corresponding strength, but they also enable us to fit together into teams.
As leaders, we’re in the business of setting limits too. That’s worth thinking about in the context of this post.
As to self-limits, the hardest thing is recognizing them. I try to not accept a limit that I haven’t validated by experience. In other words, I make myself try.
For others, I try not to accept less from them than I know they’re capable of. It’s a joy watching people move from reluctance through frustration to discovery and then eagerness.
You comment is intriguing! I love all the topics and insights you bring to the table. Fantastic ideas.
The puzzle piece illustration rocks… limits are opportunities to connect. One reason we don’t connect well is we mistakenly feel we have no limits. It’s touch being friends with superman/woman.
Your last paragraph is the heart of what motivated this post. Leaders help others break their self-imposed limits.
You took this post to new levels. Thank you
Greg is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. If I ever get his bio and picture up you can go see it. Thanks Greg. Greg blogs at: http://hippocketleader.blogspot.com/
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: ““People only wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”
My personal approach to limits engages what I call the “Internal Emotional Compass.” But first, I like to assess a limit for it’s origin and why I perceive it as a limit. Why do others see it as a limit? What are others accepting as facts about this limit? How was it established?
Than I ask what is uncomfortable about it?
Discomfort is just another, often important, signal as to our habitual thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about something or someone.
Once I assess the limit, and assess the discomfort, I then tune in to what feels most appropriate, in terms of expansion or improvement that makes sense.
Often where a huge leap will bring an epic fail, small steps will get us there more quickly than anyone has imagined. Figuring the size of the step can balance a workable level of discomfort with a promising breach of limit, and gain.
Lastly, three suggestions regarding mitigating the drag of discomfort:
~Acknowledging and accepting some discomfort as part of the expansion or improvement, while emphasizing the gains from expansion or improvement, lessens the discomfort.
~Having influence or control over some relief from discomfort can help us through it, allowing us to strengthen our resolve.
~Desire is more powerful than compliance or self-supervision when getting through discomfort. Self-supervision is an exhaustible resource, whereas desire is not. Compliance and supervised discipline will always produce lesser quality than the emotional engagement of desire pulling us forward through discomfort .
I thought this one might invite a response from you. Good to see you and read your thoughts.
Emphasizing gains is a useful strategy. Sometimes looking back to see how far we’ve come rather than looking forward to see how far we have to go gives welcome relief.
I’m thankful you added to this conversation.
I think this topic blends nicely with the self-awareness topic you wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Physical and to some extent aptitude limits are seen as outside imposed and are easy to admit because they are not our fault. But the emotional, intellectual and ability limits are the ones it takes some self-awareness to recognize.
The only thing I disagree with you on is the idea that in breaking through limits the belief that you have something more to give is a bonus. I believe that it is a requirement. Without that belief most individuals can’t be disciplined enough to push through.
I am currently working with a future leader is being held back only by her own lack of belief in herself. She struggles because she is having trouble believing, in spite of all the evidence and encouragement, that she can break through to the next level.
Agreed! Belief is a requirement.
Your leader is fortunate to have you in her corner.
Best to you,
PS … I can’t remember what I wrote yesterday much less two weeks ago. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know you read and remembered a post. I appreciate it.
This summer, I began learning the sport of sculling – rowing those long narrow boats that are designed for speed, not floatation nor comfort.
The experience has been a fitting metaphor for your points in this post:
After several weeks, I wanted to row with a more experienced group. To keep up, I’d have to increase my speed. (New Challenge from without)
I learned that to increase my speed, I’d have to increase the number of oar strokes per minute. (Development)
But when I was rowing, I’d allow the oars to drag on the surface of the water, during the recovery stroke. I did this, because it gave me a better sense of balance, and helped me to manage my fear of capsizing into the cold Atlantic. (Subconsciously, I was choosing to stay comfortable.)
But dragging the oars caused resistance; it slowed the boat speed, and prevented me from getting the oars back in position to take another stroke, sooner. So, I realized that to increase my strokes per minute (to increase my speed, to row with the more experienced group), I would have to make myself uncomfortable, and face the real fear of capsizing.
I began to do it (and yes, I did capsize a few times.) But as I did it more, I became more comfortable and capsized less often. I began to increase my rate of strokes per minute, and increased my speed.
By learning specifically what prevented me from improving a key element of performance, and by having the discipline to “get uncomfortable” in order to move to the next level, I was able to accomplish a goal, and perform at a higher level.
Experience that process personally allowed me to understand the improvement process intuitively; your blog post has put it into works, and helped to reinforce it.
Super illustration. I loved reading it.
There is a feeling of accomplishment in your comment but I also deeply hear the discomfort that the pursuit of excellence causes.
Thanks for bringing a great illustration to the conversation.
I love this post! It is very timely for a strategic planning session being conducted with my managers team. Thanks!
Another perspective on limits is that they are the force behind creativity.
Think of the scene in Apollo 13 when the engineers are told: “we need to make this fit into this…using nothing but that”. Once an individual or the team is clear on the limits (be they physical realities, time, resources, personnel, or desired outcomes), then real solution-focused creativity can begin.
Take care and thanks,
Risk taking…as you noted well Dan, do it with skill and wisdom. The second can be a challenge. Be wise enough to know the limits and still wise enough to know if those limits are real or perceived.
I would add to the skill and wisdom…with passion. Be 100% in the moment, anything less and self imposing limits and options.
At different stages of our lives, we seem to self-impose with abandon. Recognizing that imposition is vital. Denial is a long river.
As far as helping others, asking questions(in a very directed way) that might point out other paths and options. There may be opportunities to walk ‘with’ to gain comfort with the new path and then carve a distance so that mastery can be internalized.
I like this post. I’m inspired now. I feel like I’m a learder
I think limits minimise options and stretching limits maximise options. I agree that self imposed belief actually create boundary and shows our limitation of thoughts. Man made things and technology have limits but human brain does not have limit. Our thought process, ideas don’t have limits. They in fact create things that have limits. Belief is the potential force that breaks our self imposed limits. I always believe, thinking about limits actually limit our belief. So, we need to keep our belief high and putting more effort always. Ideally, I do not accept the reality of limits but in practice I do so. YES, I press through self imposed limits. We usually create our own limits/boundary and suffer in those boundaries. Most of the things that matters most in our life for failure, are created by us. I always believe in challenging belief. I ask my students to challenge belief that actually hinders growth. Blind belief, illogical belief and irrational belief are created by some people in the past or society need to be relooked, verified in current perspective. If needed, they should be changed, modified or even removed.