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Motivation: Tearing Down Your Own Limitations


Q.: I've always been sort of cynical about all this motivational stuff. Lots of rah-rah but no how-to. Now I see all these commercials that talk about no limits, no boundaries, etc. But there are real limits, and I think this stuff misleads a lot of people. What do you think?

A.: You are absolutely right on at least two counts.

Most of the motivational stuff out there is too much rah-rah and not enough what-to-do.

You are also correct in saying there are limits in our lives. Gravity is one. You can ignore it, not believe in it, or act like it does not apply to you, and gravity won't care at all. There are limits. I'm not going to lose 20 pounds in a day, barring amputation.

Where you are stuck is in the difference between limits and limitations. A limit is a physical restriction, an unchangeable part of life. A limitation is a psychological restriction, a changeable part of life.

We get stuck when we believe that our changeable limitations are unchangeable limits.

Here's an example:

An elephant is a large and powerful animal. But a baby elephant can be tethered around an ankle with the tether firmly staked into the ground. Over time, it learns that the tether will hold it and behaves accordingly. A mature elephant could easily break the tether or pull up the stake, but it believes in the limitation that it cannot.

For the most part, people are smarter than elephants. Unlike elephants, we can get past most of the limitations in our lives. Here's how:

A limitation is nothing more than a firm belief regarding something about yourself. For our purposes here, a belief is merely a feeling of certainty about something.

Think of a limitation as a tabletop, and the beliefs that support the limitation as the legs that hold up the table. If you knock the legs out from under a table, it will fall. In the same way, if we knock the beliefs out from under the limitation, the limitation will fall, too.

Let's say you believe that you could never go to a fitness center because you would be too embarrassed. The beliefs that support your limitation are:

(1) You are too out of shape and everyone else is in great shape;

(2) everyone else will look at you;

(3) your dad told you that you were not much of an athlete.

Let's tear down those beliefs:

(1) Thinking you have to be in shape before you go to the gym is sort of like saying you have to know how to drive before you get behind the wheel of a car. You learn by getting behind the wheel with someone more experienced than you. Gyms are for people who are out of shape.

(2) Most people are too busy looking at themselves in the mirror to pay much attention to you.

(3) Your dad was wrong.

Once you tear down the lies of a limitation, you can put up some truth in their place. The truth is that fitness centers were made for people like you, and all you have to do is walk in and join.

I challenge you to take a hard look at some of the limitations in your life, knock out the false beliefs, tear down the lies and put up some truths. After all, it's not what we don't know that hurts us as much as what we know that is not true.

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MORE RESOURCES:

blogs.hbr.org (blog)

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